It is hard to be a Manchester United fan and criticize the finances of football as we are as embroiled in the situation as any Club, but the plight of Glasgow Rangers brought home to me the fact that history is no immunity to financial failure.
Over recent years we have seen the lack of player investment leave our mercurial manager shaking his head at the success we have had. I am sure that Sir Alex Ferguson’s final memoir will be full of references to this, as the team won a championship with a fading side largely because of a fading league and the emergence of two horses in the race on a regular basis. England has become Scotland, and Manchester United have become Glasgow Rangers, take note!
Whether the Middle Eastern oil can beat the gas driven Oligarch to the Premiership is the new paradigm, which may be answered by the ambition Roman shows when he scythes apart the current team in the summer. If he doesn’t buy well and attempt to match Manchester City then we may see a period of dominance by those pretenders, maybe even learning why they have 3 stars on their shirt. Citie are a massive club!
But for United the problem is that we know the owners want to sell a share of the club, that they need to sell a piece of the club and that they seem to want to sell a minority stake at a price that equals their purchase price so that they get control for free, inflate the valuation and then pay off their debt while raking cash out of the brand.
Yes we care; no, this isn't good for the club.
Manchester United protests, a mysterious consortium bid and a floating on the Singapore stock exchange won’t aid the fact that you can’t pay players more than 50% of revenue and run a profitable club. Perhaps you can for short periods when success and a young stable of players means transfer budget needs are small but you certainly can’t when you need to replace Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney over the next couple of years.
That’s $300 of capital outlay for a Club in debt to the eyeballs. Its not going to happen unless a rich benefactor takes over the Club, and at the price the present owners are seeking that won’t happen.
Additionally, Old Trafford remains a 1920's Stadium in many ways, the seat spacing is terrible, the climb to the upper tier is by stairs and needs to be easier for an ageing population and match day catering is far below modern standards. The Stadium needs cash, and the offer in 2000 of an 80.000 seater stadium at Eastlands looks an increasingly poor decision by Edwards, but why should he care now?
The problem for United is that revenue will fall this year due to the early Champions League exit and the needs of the team are great, a major investment is needed to create a squad capable of maintaining a challenge. Lower income, higher outgoings, with a huge debt means that something has to give.
Without capital investment United needs to turn to youth, and that is an interesting problem in itself.
Presently purchases like Ashley Young and Phil Jones suggest that the reserves aren't good enough. Releasing Paul Pogba (if it happens), Mame Diouf and Bebe and Darron Gibson says we aren’t good at spotting bargains or developing talent. If Pogba leaves then only Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck will have made the transition.
Without a pipeline we need investment in the best young players in Europe, unearthing Javier Hernandez was a gem of a find but won’t save our slide.
I want United to compete at the highest level but without cash it’s hard to see how Fergie can keep us there. Leeds United are an example of overstretching, how far behind them are we?
By Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve