Although the Premier League champions did not want to go on the record, the official stance from Old Trafford is that the deal is not going to happen. The information comes from boardroom level, with the chief executive, David Gill, giving his approval for it to be known that United are not actively trying to sign the Dutchman.
That position can feasibly change – Sneijder could, in theory, drastically lower his salary requirements and Inter may offer him at a reduced fee – but this is to be regarded as unlikely, according to United. If that remains the case, it threatens to be a significant setback to Sir Alex Ferguson's hopes of building a team with realistic aspirations of closing the gap on Barcelona over the next few years.
Ferguson has spent £50m this summer on Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea but regarded the signing of a top-quality central midfielder as a priority. The manager has missed out on Samir Nasri of Arsenal while another target, Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric, favours a move to Chelsea. Nasri's talks with Manchester City are at an advanced stage although time may be running out for their hope that the transfer can be finalised in time for him to make his debut at home to Swansea City on Monday.
Sneijder has said there have been "unofficial talks" with United and there remains an element of confusion about the exact order of events leading to Thursday's development. United first notified journalists at the start of the team's pre-season tour to the United States that Sneijder did not feature in their plans. They are now reiterating that this is the case.
Yet in between Gill admitted there had been contact with Inter. He qualified that by saying "we didn't progress that one", but stressed the situation could change before the end of the window. "The important point is that you never know. I've been around in football long enough to know things change quickly."
Sneijder has been told he can leave San Siro – Inter offered him to Manchester City a few weeks ago – and Ferguson privately admitted during the US tour that the club were heavily embroiled in the process of trying to negotiate a deal and that a contract offer had been made. Yet Gill has told colleagues something entirely different, saying it was ruled out some time ago. The two accounts do not match and, as yet, there is no clear explanation.
The latest briefing from Old Trafford is, however, emphatic and, at boardroom level, United rarely offer guidance on transfers unless their position is clear. No reason has been offered, but it could simply be that the cost of Sneijder is beyond United's financial means – at least, as things stand.
The Holland midfielder likes the idea of moving to Old Trafford but it would mean a huge investment on United's part, possibly breaking the club-record £30.75m they paid Tottenham for Dimitar Berbatov in 2008. Sneijder would command a salary of around £12m a year and, perhaps crucially, he fits outside the club policy of not spending huge transfer fees on players who are aged 26 and above.
The club made an exception for Berbatov, who was 27 when he signed, but Gill described that at the time as "the last of its kind". Sneijder was 27 in June, meaning his resale value would sharply depreciate towards the end of a four- or five-year contract.
That still leaves several unanswered questions, such as why United would have explored the possibilities of signing him in the first place if they had no intention of breaking this policy. Ferguson supported the introduction of the age restrictions but, in this case, he has clearly been willing to make an exception at a time when Barcelona are bringing in Cesc Fábregas and Manchester City are close to establishing themselves, once again, as the biggest transfer-window spenders in English football.
United were the first club to bid for Nasri this summer but Arsenal made it clear they would not entertain the idea of doing business with the champions. Arsenal's position has been different with City and a deal in the region of £23m is close to being finalised. The player has agreed personal terms, with reports in France stating it will be a five-year contract with a weekly salary of £160,000.
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