In the last week there have been two articles; one in the Manchester Evening News and today in the Daily Mail speculating on Danny Cipriani's short-term and long-term future at Sale Sharks.
Both articles made clear that a decision on his contract is not forthcoming for Cipriani (likely not until the new year when he can speak freely to other teams and see what they have to offer) but precious little else that we have not heard already, so unfortunately its up to me to have to do some serious reading between the lines quoted and try and elucidate the current situation between club and player.
Cipriani's comments are pretty clear: ‘I’m not eager to get a move, I just want to make sure the team shows the right ambition then it is somewhere I would want to stay. You do grow fond of a place, but play-off rugby is what I want to be involved in.’
How do Sale match that ambition? This current squad and coaching set up, in my objective opinion, is good enough to be a top-six team but little more. Cipriani, a huge presence both on the field and off it for the club, wants to be challenging for the play-offs and thats perfectly reasonable. He's a marvellous talent, in the prime of his career and someone who could walk into nearly every starting lineup in the world (except England's seemingly). Simply put, to match Danny's ambitions and push themselves into top-four contention, Sale need to actively recruit a small number of international quality (from Tier 1 sides, not the Italys and Russias of world rugby) to supplement a squad that is high on experience, enthusiasm and graft but is slightly lacking in game-breaking ability (although lets see how Mike Haley continues to develop).
However Diamond's comments in both the MEN and Mail were equally surprising considering the shoe-string budget Sale are forced to operate on and shows that they are aware of what must be done to retain Danny. Dimes is quoted as saying earlier this week - "We’re targeting two or three very good players. Two of them, we are meeting again this week – non-Premiership players." Now what defines 'very good' is incredibly subjective and often, myself and Diamond have not seen eye-to-eye when it comes to evaluating talent but it is at least reassuring to hear Diamond already has some ostensibly top class players lined up to push the club onwards. Additionally I noted there was a curious statement Cipriani made in both interviews where he said: "If the club shows ambition and signs certain players, that’s what I want to see and shows we’re going in the right direction."
I am fully of the opinion that no-one, not even someone as uniquely gifted as Danny Cipriani, should be bigger than the club he represents, but his use of the phrase "certain players" makes me wonder, perhaps overly optimistically, whether Cipriani and Diamond are collating on transfer policy and these 'very good' players Diamond is meeting next week are of Cipriani's choosing. If so, does this make a Cipriani re-signing a certainty if Diamond is able to conclude a deal? Probably.
Cipriani is a massive asset for Sale to have on and off the field (he makes up the bulk of their advertising and marketing material) and re-signing him is Sale's number 1 priority this season. That should be reflected in Diamond being given the funds to attract the calibre of players Cipriani desires to play with (and remember Cipriani himself is a major recruiting tool). Its a short-term investment needed to be made by majority owner Brian Kennedy and the club if they wish to keep perhaps the most talented player Sale have had for a number of years even if the short-term finances are still struggling. A top-four calibre team with Cipriani playing alongside another two world-class players is what Sale need if they are ever to compete in the football-dominated market that is Greater Manchester.
What do I think happens RE: Cipriani's contract? Like the linked Mail article suggests, I see Cipriani re-signing on a one-year deal based on who Diamond is able to initially recruit for the 2015/16 season with an eye on both his England prospects following next year's world cup and who Diamond can again bring to Salford with the traditionally post-world cup exodus.