Arturo Vidal caught a plane at Milan's Malpensa airport on Sunday night. His destination wasn't Manchester. The Chilean was instead bound for Jakarta. Juventus are touring Asia and Australia over the next fortnight. His presence in the squad and United manager Louis van Gaal's comments that "maybe we don't need other players" has made supporters of the Bianconeri a little more hopeful that his future lies with their club. It has been a cause of understandable anxiety to them.
Vidal is the Italian champions' most decisive player. No one has scored more goals for them (40) over the course of his three-year spell at the club, which of course has also coincided with their return to the top of Serie A and a domination not seen by the Turin club since the 1930s.
While many consider his teammate Andrea Pirlo to be the hinge on which the balance of power swung in 2011, no one better expressed Antonio Conte's spirit and philosophy on the pitch than the player known as "El Guerrero," or "The Warrior." Vidal, for instance, attempted more tackles per 90 minutes than anyone else in Serie A last season. "If I had to go to war," Conte said, "I'd take Arturo." He does both phases of play and is a complete midfielder with few peers in his position in the game.
As such last winter, Juventus made him their highest paid player with a new contract that runs until 2017, netting him 5 million euros a season after tax. These days news stories like that are interpreted less as a pledge of commitment and a curtain call on speculation about a player's future and more as a club protecting an asset's value in anticipation of a sale. Juventus' request that Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarin be included in any possible deal with Inter for Mirko Vucinic in January -- a transfer that collapsed -- did little to discourage that reading of their actions. Did it hint at a possible succession strategy ahead of selling either Vidal or Paul Pogba in the summer?
President Andrea Agnelli had laid bare the club's financial state of affairs at the Leaders in Football conference last October. "I am trying to think what will be of us in two or three years' time if we get a massive offer for one of the best talents we've got today, Pogba," he said. "Will we be able to retain him? I don't know. I don't think at the moment we have the strength to retain such a player."
Note he said "two or three years' time." Let's be clear, Juventus aren't in financial strife. They're not like AC Milan, nor operating in the austerity of Inter. On the contrary, they are the best-run club in Italy, they own their own ground, their medium- to long-term prospects look good. New TV, sponsorship and commercial deals come into effect at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. At the moment, however, relatively speaking they are having to be a little bit more restrained than in the last three years.
Juventus made less money last season than they did in the previous campaign. But that was always on the cards. In 2012-13, there were only two representatives from Serie A in the group stages of the Champions League as Udinese didn't qualify from the playoffs. That meant Juventus and Milan got to split the huge amount of cash in the Italian TV market pool between themselves. And because Juventus went further than Milan they were also entitled to even more prize money. It was a freak season. No one -- not even the winners Bayern Munich -- received more revenue from the Champions League than Juventus.
Of course last season was different. Three Italian teams qualified for the group stages. The TV money had to be divided between more teams and so even if Juventus had won the competition they wouldn't have made what they did the previous year. As it happened they were eliminated before the knock-outs and only limited the shortfall by reaching the semifinals of the Europa League. Their costs have gone up in the meantime, too. Player wages climb year on year. It might be said Juventus are also victims of their own success as a winning team also has to pay out bonuses and performance-related add-ons.
With income not what it was (for now) and expenses rising, an injection of cash from a huge capital gain realised through a big player sale -- a la Zidane to Real in 2001 -- would improve the appearance of the balance sheet. Which brings us to Conte. After three years, it's thought he wanted to redimension the team to stop it from going stale and for it to be more competitive in Europe. The only way to finance that scale of spending however -- and it's reported he was after Alexis Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado -- was to do something he would never contemplate: sell one of Pogba or Vidal.
The prospect is believed to have contributed to his resignation. But it wasn't the reason behind it. Instead, the consensus is that Conte felt he had achieved everything he could at Juventus and couldn't possibly improve upon it at least in Serie A. He had won the Scudetto each year, winning it with more panache each time. What motivation was there to continue? Juventus' hope was that Conte might feel different after a summer break, but upon returning for preseason he didn't and couldn't pretend anymore.
The repercussions of his decision are intriguing. Let's wonder how it might possibly have changed Juventus' approach to the market? One imagines that Juventus, although reluctant, would have been happier to let Vidal leave had Conte stayed and somehow given his blessing to it. They'd trust him to keep the team competitive without him. Is the same faith extended to his successor Max Allegri? His appointment was taken by some as another indicator of an imminent sale. He had absorbed those of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Milan after all and kept them respectable for a year.
But how would letting Vidal go look now? Could Juventus justify the loss of another figure considered crucial in the team's renaissance after already unexpectedly losing a symbol like Conte? Wouldn't parting with him and Vidal in the same summer be too much? And does Allegri not need all the help he can get to keep this team successful and win over the fans? Wouldn't retaining Vidal give him the best chance to do that?
Also bear this in mind: Allegri won't make the demands that Conte was supposedly making of Juventus. He is not going to ask for a Sanchez and/or a Cuadrado that would have necessitated Vidal's sale. Instead he'll more or less make do with what he's got or what they've done up until now, which might make selling Vidal less of a consideration. At the moment, general manager Beppe Marotta is fronting to the effect that the player is not on the market, that Juventus haven't received an offer and that the player hasn't expressed a desire to move. King Artur's throne is still in Turin.
United can pay Vidal more, give him the opportunity to play in a league that, along with La Liga, everyone wants to be in right now. Their standing in the game is also higher. But unlike Juventus they're not a reigning champion nor are they in the Champions League this season. "It would be difficult to leave this dressing room," Vidal said upon signing his new contract. One imagines it would still be difficult now even after Conte's exit.
With 29 days until the window closes, of course a lot could change. But Marotta said this weekend: "If a player asks to leave, he needs to do it in logical times." By that he means now, very soon or not at all. Because were Juventus to be persuaded into selling, they'd want as much time as possible to regroup and reinvest to appease the supporters. Sensibly they wouldn't let it go close to deadline day.
For now, the Old Lady gives the impression she is not for turning, but then, according to Marotta, an indecent proposal has not yet been made to turn her head. All that's left to do is watch this space.