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Opinion: Manchester United’s summer rebuild is in danger of falling apart

Manchester United had high hopes of entering the summer transfer window this year and continuing their rebuild of the Old Trafford club under the management of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The coronavirus pandemic will be used as the main excuse for the club not spending a lot of money this summer, which was hinted at by the clubs executive vice-chairman during the lockdown in a call with investors. It is excuses like this which will bring a smile to the faces of the Glazers, who have taken major sums of money out of the club in their 15 years of ownership.

Swiss Ramble has confirmed recently that in the past five years, United has spent £209 million in the Glazer’s ownership structure which consists of £120 million in interest in debt secured to the club and £89 million in dividends. If you go back 10 years, the club has spent £838 million in financing, which consists of £488 million in interest, £251 million in debt repayment and £99 million in dividends. It is painful to read that this amount of money is being used to sustain an ownership that is not positive for the club, despite the amount of money brought in commercial revenue.

It is alarming that United are a club kept in debt all because the Glazers did not want to purchase the club with their own money. There is a lot of animosity when you talk about the Glazers. Some supporters are happy as the club has endured a lot of success during their ownership; winning – five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, four League Cups, six FA Community Shields, one UEFA Champions League, one UEFA Europa League and one FIFA Club World Cup.

United have suffered just four trophy less seasons under the Glazer ownership of the club, which sounds positive but if the Community Shield were to be removed, as it is not a major honour, it would mean that United have endured six trophy less seasons under the Glazer ownership. Sir Alex Ferguson won 14 of the 19 trophies won in the past 15 years, David Moyes won one, Louis van Gaal won one and Jose Mourinho won three. Post-Ferguson, you can see the ownership taking it’s toll on the club.

Post-Ferguson, United have employed four managers; one (Moyes) was sacked after nine months in charge, despite being given a six-year contract at the club. His successor, Van Gaal, signed a three-year contract but was sacked after two years and then Mourinho was brought in on a four-year contract and sacked two and a half years into it. Each manager was provided with funds to sign players, but the wrong players were signed by the club. Moyes was not backed properly and had his own faults.

Van Gaal recently talked about not landing any of his top targets at the club and Mourinho always seemed frustrated heading into his third season at the club, not getting the central defender that he wanted. Now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the manager of the club, steering the club into another direction, which seems to be different from his three predecessors. Talk of a rebuild of the club was rife. Solskjaer has a desire to bring in young and hungry players – building a team that Ferguson would have been proud of leading. However, in terms of achieving that, there are many limits.

Moyes was allowed to spend £64.6 million, signing Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata. Van Gaal spent £253.9 million, signing Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao (loan), Sergio Romero, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian, Memphis Depay, and Anthony Martial. Mourinho spent £397.6 million, signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku, Lee Grant, Diogo Dalot and Fred. This is a total of £716.1 million spend in just six seasons post-Ferguson.

Solskjaer has signed just six players in his time as United manager. The Norwegian has spend £222.7 million signing Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Odion Ighalo (loan), and Donny van de Beek. This is almost as much as Van Gaal had at the club and just over half of what Mourinho spent. In terms of players still remaining at the club from Solskjaer’s three predecessors, there are 12 out of 25 players still at the club – the rest being sold or released. If Solskjaer is to make a success out of his management at the club, he will need to be backed by Woodward and the Glazers. This summer, that may not happen.

United have gone from July 2014 when Woodward literally said; “We can do things in the transfer market that other clubs can only dream of. Watch this space.” To a place whereby the club is looking to blame the coronavirus pandemic for its financial insecurity, despite the club taking out a £140 million loan to sustain their financial viability during this turbulent time. Woodward, reported by the BBC, told investors;

“Nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of challenge facing everyone in football and it may not be ‘business as usual’ for any clubs, including ourselves, in the transfer market this summer.

“As ever our priority is the success of team, but we need visibility of the impact across the whole industry, including timings of the transfer window, and the wider financial picture, before we can talk about a return to normality.”

Despite signing Van de Beek this summer from Ajax, Solskjaer has yet to see any further signings for the first team despite being linked with a left-back, a central defender, a right-winger and perhaps a striker. The main target was said to be Jadon Sancho this summer, which has rumbled on throughout the summer. More recently, Sergio Reguilon was linked to United, which continued for a few days only for the player to be linked to Tottenham Hotspur instead, which seems to be the story of United right now. The ownership is happy to keep earning money for them to pocket but in terms of investing in this team, for the future, little is happening.

Solskjaer was expected to get rid of some of the dead wood at the club this summer with Chris Smalling linked to AS Roma, the club he was loaned to last summer. However, Roma has now signed Marash Kumbulla instead, leaving United with yet more egg on their face this summer, having at least six players that offer nothing to the club and seemingly happy to keep them for another season. The summer transfer window is not looking very negative for United with little hope of the club spending £108 million on Sancho, or close to achieving anything else.

If the club does not back Solskjaer and his plan, they will see yet another manager find it hard to do his job with the players at his disposal, which in turn will end up with either the manager leaving the club or being sacked, only for another to come in, be promised the earth only to find that as long as the bare minimum is achieved, the money will keep rolling in for the owners proving that the club has absolutely no ambition to win the biggest honours in football, which funnily enough, would bring in a fair amount of money for the club if that was to happen. In business, you have to speculate to accumulate, but this inept ownership and higher management seem to be happy with social media impression rather than winning honours on the pitch.

Written by John Walker

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