Financial Boon Over Sustainable Success: Can The Real Manchester United Please Stand Up?
Money making model? Check. An inclination to be competitive again? Miles away. Here is a damning verdict on United’s Corporate governance post the Ferguson Era by ardent United fan Utkarsh Gokhale.
Manchester United, the most famous club in the world with an enormous fan following have not won the Premier League since 2013 and it doesn’t look like the trophy will be heading to the red side of Manchester anytime soon. United fans have seen 3 managers since Sir Alex retire but none have come close to conquering the summit. Fans, so often have seen the club under one man who used to find solutions even in the darkest of days that seeing millions spent on players who do not offer even a ray of hope is a hard pill to swallow. Though the fans blame the manager for not bringing in reinforcements, there is a much bigger problem in the structure which currently exists at the club. And it has all come down to the recruitments made after Sir Alex retired.
People say Ferguson left an ageing squad and he should have finalized transfers for the new manager. That is partially true because the Scot won the league with players like Cleverley and Anderson and the backline consisting of defenders in their 30s. Van Persie, who took the team to the title along with stellar performances from Michael Carrick (underrated by both his peers and the media) and David De Gea, who had settled down after an underwhelming season the year before, new players were necessary to keep the squad fit and fighting for places. There was a change of guard at the top with David Gill leaving to join the UEFA executive committee in May.
David Moyes stepped in to fill the gap left by the legendary manager and Ed Woodward replaced Gill as executive vice-chairman. This was the start of the turmoil which still persists. Moyes, who spent 11 years at Everton ended up with no silverware. Big shoes to fill, he decided to take up the job as it was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’. On the other hand, Ed Woodward has no background when it comes to the football, he is a businessman who knows how to generate revenue. By profession, he is an accountant and investment banker. Two misfits, or rather two square pegs in a round hole.
The problem with the first transfer window under new management was the recruitment policy. United signed one player in the summer after getting rejected by 6 top transfer targets- Bale, Fabregas, Thiago, Ander Herrera, Sami Khedira & Leighton Baines. The only player who signed for United was Marouane Fellaini for 27.5 million. The club actually overpaid when his release clause was 23 million. Desperation, and not planning lead to the signing because the media would have any way bashed United if they had failed to sign someone for the new season. Fun fact: Fellaini was named on Daily Telegraph’s “10 worst buys of the premier league season” in 2014.
United’s season crumbled, till they made another “marquee” signing in January. Juan Mata was not needed but had to be bought because the CEO had to exhibit United’s spending power. Overpaying didn’t stop at Fellaini, it still continues but then why worry? United have cash, other clubs want money- It’s a sweet deal for both the parties. Woodward paid £37.1 million for Mata, almost £12 million more than the actual price because the club was desperate, Mata wanted game time and Mourinho was happy to oblige because he saw good business.
United finished 7th, their lowest finish since the inception of the Premier League. Moyes was sacked in April, and the management had to start looking for a new manager. The reason they chose Louis van Gaal was that of the unavailability of other top bosses. Van Gaal was known to be a disciplinarian and a coach more focused on tactical awareness. Soon after the World Cup, The Red Devils made 5 high profile transfers just to show intent that they wouldn’t be bogged down by the growing power of their rivals. Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Radamel Falcao (on loan) and Daley Blind all came in to help stabilise the sinking ship.
Heavily overpaying for Angel Di Maria, the former Real Madrid star showed signs of promise at the start of the season but that faded away quickly as disagreements with the manager and an overall unfavourable shift in pastures lead to his departure the next season. According to his former translator Debora Gomes, she cited two reasons for his failure to succeed at United:
“Manchester United signed Angel Di Maria not because they believed he could win titles but because he could help sell shirts”.
Gomes reiterated that since Sir Alex had retired, the club’s ambition was to only make money. The second reason why Di Maria didn’t succeed was that he couldn’t communicate with anyone. United looked at how marketable a player is and the financial boon of the Argentine’s signature. They were not thinking of bringing joy to the fans by playing attractive football which has always been in the DNA of the club. But what they were aiming to do is they are trying to sell a player or a product.
Before the start of the 2014/15 season, United signed a deal with Adidas worth £750 million for 10 years. This deal was the biggest at that point of time because Nike were paying £23.5 million and Adidas had struck a deal with Madrid for £31 million, which was the most expensive before United came in. But this deal had been carefully brokered because it included a clause which stated that United could lose 30% of the total money if they failed to qualify for the Champions League for two consecutive seasons. Every alternate year United have managed to qualify for the prestigious tournament and everything has been going according to plan.
But 2015 was a really poor year when it came to performance on the field and off it. The only shining light was Anthony Martial, who went on to become the top scorer for the team in the the14/15 season with 17 goals. Memphis Depay failed to adapt, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin were in and out of the team and the only silverware to show for was the FA cup which came home after 11 years. The following campaign United failed to qualify for the Champions League and out went LvG and in came Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese was signed because he was the only coach available and willing to take up the challenge of taking United to the top.
Problem lies within
The Glazers, when they took over in 2005 were aware that United had a rich history of silverware. But they were not making money off the pitch. Revenue generation became the sole focus of the group and a lot of supporters voiced their concerns. It soon showed that after Ferguson had left, they have always used it as a cash cow. Huge endorsements, tractor deals, noodles, bathroom fittings- well that’s not how United functioned and wouldn’t like to either. During Sir Alex Ferguson’s era, when they looked at a player they focused on his age, his technical abilities, health and fitness among other things.
But since 2013 the things that are being looked at is the commercial value. For example, United passed up the opportunity to sign Kylian Mbappe because he wasn’t well known. But when Bastian was released by Bayern, United decided to pounce on him because they knew he could generate shirt sales and traction in untapped markets such as North America & Asia. When Zlatan Ibrahimovic was signed, United’s share price rocketed and shirt sales went blasting through the roof. But they did not realise that United had bought two players who were way past their best and were just recruited to make a statement in the transfer market. Ed Woodward had made a statement in September 2014, which sent United fans into a frenzy:
“We can do things in the transfer market that other clubs could only dream of. Watch this space”
Naturally, people didn’t know that the deals that would be made would be with Chevrolet, Nissin, Yanmar etc. Why would United need a tractor deal? Was there any link that the fans couldn’t decipher? Or was it just to tell the Asian market that United is also looking after the fans in that part of the world? Ironically the two people who take care of recruitment at United are investment bankers. What would investment bankers look at- Performance on the field or revenue generation outside of it?
Well, that answers the question. The structure at United is wrong. All the leading clubs have a DOF(Director of football) who oversees recruitment and transfers. Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool all have appointed a DOF and they are doing fairly well when it comes to transfers. Other clubs know that United have money so they inflate the player price. Real Madrid quoted £78 million when United wanted Morata, but as soon as they pulled out of the deal they accepted £62 million from Chelsea. So why the extra £16 million from United?
The answer is clear- United don’t have a DOF. Matteo Darmian bought at a reasonable price but overpaid on wages is not able to complete his transfer to Italy because no one wants to pay his humongous wages. United overpay players. City’s structure is clear- Either you come on our terms or you don’t. They wanted Alexis Sanchez in January, his agent told them that United are paying more money. They backed off because their philosophy is clear, they didn’t want to overpay because they told Alexis that he needed a team to win titles, and it didn’t work the other way around. Liverpool got in Michael Edwards who has done terrific business in acquiring Robertson for £8 million and Salah for £34 million. Salah for that amount looks like a steal because you won’t get someone for the same amount who can deliver performances like he has last season.
Tough times ahead for United
Now, with less than two weeks of England’s summer transfer window left, United’s relevant investment amounts to two players: Fred, a technical, creative midfielder recruited for an initial fee of €55m (£48.9m), and Diogo Dalot, a gifted teenager signed for €22m (£19.59m) in the expectation that he will develop into a starting Right-Back. Sufficient to be “side-to-side” with a Manchester City squad that recorded 100 Premier League points two months ago? Enough to go head-to-head with three-time European champions Real Madrid, a Barcelona that won La Liga at a canter, a Juventus fortified by Cristiano Ronaldo, or Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain as they focus resources on the Champions League with limited domestic distraction?
Mourinho knows where his squad is weak, informed his board of the areas that required reinforcement — Central Defence, Right-Wing, Midfield, Full-Backs, cover up front — months ago. An unfocused transfer policy coupled with a prickly Jose Mourinho is the perfect concoction for the Portuguese’s notoriously poor third seasons at the helm. With the absence of a leader in defence to spearhead the Red Devils back four, auxiliary Winger-cum-Full-Backs on the wrong side of 30 and a dearth of genuine world-class talent on the Right-Wing, United’s lack of a systematic strategy is a recipe for disaster. Exasperated by the pace of change, Mourinho publicly pressed the club to deliver on “two more players”, in an interview with an American broadcaster last week.
There was, though, a caveat. “One thing is what I would like; another thing is what is going to happen.” If anything is going to happen it is likely to involve a compromise on quality. United’s scouting department has proposed Ante Rebic as an answer on the wing; Mourinho has doubts, but stronger options such as Malcom and Justin Kluivert have already switched clubs
Mourinho has to focus on the footballing aspect as well as the business side of it because there is no one to take care of that. He isn’t getting the players he wants, the media will cover his rants but won’t see what problems the manager has to deal with. Mourinho wants to win the league title but the Glazers are happy with a top 4 finish. Who says the problems only exist on the pitch? The rot is deep within. United are miles away from going head-to-head with Manchester City and the gap will increase if major structural changes aren’t made.
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Sacrificing Long-Term Stability For Short-Term Success, a Sought Out Plan or Just a Knee Jerk Reaction?
Global Partners image via RedCafe.net
Glazer and Woodward image via Daily Mail
Mata image via The Independent
Mourinho image via Worldabcnews