Manchester United are currently sitting in 2nd place in the Barclays Premier League, competing for their 20th league title against the financial might of their “noisy neighbours”. However, behind this backdrop of footballing competition, there is, potentially, a bigger battle for Manchester United to overcome, one that could see them drop significantly in the league and in a dire financial state.
When Paul Scholes came out of retirement, the romantic headlines was what most of us saw. Without a doubt, Scholes has been a fantastic player and he probably can still offer something to United at this current time. However, the question that needed asking, and I am sure many United fans did, is why, this billion pound club, needed to bring someone out of retirement, in order to be competitive?
The simple answer is money.
Jones was not an original transfer target
When Alex Ferguson came into the summer transfer window, he knew that he needed to bring players in to keep United at the top. The Glazers, allowed Ferguson to go for his top targets. One of these would have been someone to bolster his midfield; Wesley Sneijder was a name the club was constantly linked too. One of their targets for the summer was not Phil Jones.
Phil Jones was a player that United were interested in, he was a player ear marked for a future transfer, the following summer window, as a would-be replacement for Rio Ferdinand. However, what United were unaware of, is that Jones had become a target for Liverpool. That summer, Liverpool, purportedly (as nothing was confirmed), made a bid which forced United’s hand. They too came in with a bid to ensure Jones services. This, together with the big money buys of David De Gea and Ashley Young, the money dried up. The unexpected cost of bringing in Jones meant that the midfielder that United needed couldn’t happen.
_When the January transfer window came, the speculation was who United may get to fill that midfield role; again the press talk was of Wesley Sneijder. Despite rumours and gossip, the window closed and United had no new face to add to the squad. During the window, Paul Scholes came out of retirement to help his team during an apparent injury crisis, but by the time the window closed, it became evident that Scholes was their January midfield transfer.
Recent accounts showed that the clubs cash reserves had dropped in the region of £100m in the past financial year. With that news, it was understandable as to why United had to bring Scholes out of retirement as oppose to bringing someone fresh and younger in. The money was simply not there.
The United old guard
_Paul Scholes is the embodiment of the ticking time bomb that could, potentially hit Manchester United, Age and Money, or lack of it to be precise, maybe not now, but in a few years time.
You only need to have a look at the United squad to see how age is going to be a problem relatively soon.
That is a large number of players to replace in such a short space of time. Do United have the readily available finances to do such a rebuild? And whilst United have an excellent youth setup, there doesn’t seem to be enough players that are good enough, by that, I mean Champions League level quality, to keep the squad strong.
__Currently, despite all of Alex Fergusons protests, United probably have one of the weakest squads they have had for a very long time. The fact that they are still there challenging for the title is a testament to the winning mentality that Ferguson has and instils in his squad. Yet, Alex Ferguson, has said himself recently that he will, more than likely, retire in 2-3 years, coincidently, at a similar time when majority of these players would need replacing. Does Ferguson know that the team cannot be sustained after this? All this, finances, age, Fergusons retirement, lack of youth prospects, does not bode well.
Whoever takes over at United after Ferguson retires will have one major job on their hands. If taking over from one of the games most successful managers wasn’t difficult enough, but they will also have to overhaul the squad, have tight financial constraints whilst at the same time keeping United competitive at the top of the table and in Europe.
United fans only need to look down the M62 to see what happens to an aging squad when passed over to a person with the wrong vision and abilities. When Graeme Souness took aver Liverpool in 1991, the team was aging, and needed change. Difference between then and now is that United were able to take full advantage of the Premier League era, leaving everyone else to play catch up, whilst now, they have to compete with two Billionaire owned clubs in Manchester City and Chelsea and clubs with sound financial grounding, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.
Glazers have increased revenues
_Financially, the Glazers have increased revenues in every single area, taking up new innovative ideas such as training kit sponsorships. The income alone, with a club as globally popular as Manchester United, would ensure it can compete with the billionaire owned clubs. But, with the weight of such debt and interest payments, just for the Galzers to own the club, the increased commercial revenue quickly becomes irrelevant. There is only so much you can squeeze from an orange before all the juice is gone, and there is only so much commercial revenue that can be squeezed from the club before you start looking at other areas for repayments.
Ronaldo was sold for £80 million
_£80 million was the value that Christiano Ronaldo was sold for, very little of which was used for reinvestment in the playing squad. It became part of the company’s cash reserves which was used by the Glazers to buy back bonds. How long can it be before the owners start looking to sell other playing assets, reinvest in a cheaper player and use the rest for debt and interest repayments? You can’t expect to replace Fararris with Ford Focus’ and expect them perform at the same level.
The Green and Gold protests for new club ownership disappeared from the terraces as United are still competitive and winning titles, it’s the fickle nature of football fans. But, in few years, the protests may return when the bomb eventually goes off. By that time, would it be too late to salvage what is left? Or would the club be able to ride such a storm and still be at the top competing with the best?
Only time will tell.