The point of the buy-out clause in Lionel Messi’s contract was to put him beyond the spending power of every club on the planet.
Then Anzhi Makhachkala met the asking price of £205million and Barcelona discovered the universal truth that someone, somewhere is always willing to pay.
As Leeds United’s assistant manager conceded last weekend there are teams in the market who would take Luciano Becchio and Sam Byram at the right price. In the case of Byram there are teams who would take him now if Leeds named the fee.
Mick Jones risked starting the auction by discussing their saleability so freely but it is better to be honest than delusional. “If you’ve got good players, everyone else wants them,” he said.
Don’t United know it. Only one thing is more concerning than the suggestion that Leeds might be compelled to sell their more valuable assets – the unequivocal promise that they will not.
Jermaine Beckford is a unique figure in the post-administration years at Elland Road is so far as the club had a glaring opportunity to sell him and chose to leave the money alone. No other player in that period was retained at all costs; not Fabian Delph, Jonathan Howson, Max Gradel or Robert Snodgrass.
In at least three of those examples, the players were as enthusiastic about leaving Leeds as the club were to see them go but that collections of names represents a litany of talent sold.
The legacy is a recurring theme during each and every transfer window: the pensive wait to see who will be next. In the event that the list increases this month, we know where Jones’ money lies.
His manager, Neil Warnock, seems altogether less concerned. He claims to have been promised two things by the representatives of United’s new owner, GFH Capital: firstly, that there is no need to sell players or balance the club’s books and secondly, that the decision on which bids to accept and which to ignore will be left to him.
It would do little for the popularity of GFH Capital if the firm was twisting Warnock’s arm at the first opportunity but guarantees of that nature are not cast-iron.
As the sale of Snodgrass demonstrated, not-for-sale signs come with a caveat – an admission that certain offers are too good to refuse and players who want to be sold generally are.
Under new ownership, the retention of Becchio and Byram this month should depend less on money than it does on the contentment and attitude of those two players.
The majority of United’s supporters know the game and understand the philosophy of the transfer market.
They realise that players come and go and they appreciate the disparity of financial incentives in the Championship and the Premier League. After almost 10 years in the Football League, most can see that the voices telling professionals to sit tight and win promotion at Elland Road are asking them to close their eyes to the past decade.
Under the previous regime at Elland Road, Leeds were no more likely to gatecrash the Premier League than the average Championship club.
Howson and Snodgrass in particular reached that conclusion themselves.
It is not the sale of players per se which has caused so much gnashing of teeth at Elland Road. Football as it is, it stands to reason that Leeds should by vulnerable to offers from clubs with more money than them. The irritation has been United’s failure to make much of the money earned from outgoing transfers or to adequately fill the wholes they created. Many of the departures felt like collateral damage amid a lack of ambition.
That trend extends far beyond 2007, back to the transfers of Jonathan Woodgate and Rio Ferdinand, but between Delph, Howson, Gradel and Snodgrass, Leeds pulled in more than £10million in cash.
They were never replaced by permanent, like-for-like signings and in three of the last five financial years, transfer fees were needed to avert annual financial losses at Elland Road.
This might be an era of prudence but clubs on United’s scale are pushing their luck by asking supporters to accept a steady balance sheet as a good exchange for high-calibre footballers.
Promotion from League One not withstanding, United’s evolution on the pitch has been painfully slow since 2007.
The effect can be seen in Elland Road’s stands every fortnight.
Outgoing transfers have held Leeds back, largely because of the club’s response to them.
GFH Capital must have enough knowledge of football to accept that no player is priceless.
There are some who you would rather not sell and the thought of this Leeds team without Becchio and Byram induces a shudder but the transfer market is what it is; an arena where the richest thrive and bully the rest.
It is cheap to criticise Leeds for the talent they lost but fair to take issue with the way in which that talent was replaced.
Everyone concedes that from time to time, clubs will give in and take the money. The bone of contention is what they do with that cash. It would be far better for Leeds if short shrift was given to any approaches for Becchio or Byram.
It would be wholly unforgivable if either player moved on without a contingency plan in place.