Why Manchester United are different to Real Madrid’s “Galacticos” era

When Manchester United announced the world record purchase of Paul Pogba at the beginning of the 2016/17 season, the deal attracted furore amongst the world football community. The deal had finally once and for all signaled United’s downward spiral post-Sir Alex Ferguson. United has lost its ‘soul.’ Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp couldn’t resist a dig at United commenting on the deal; “the day that this is football, I’m not in a job anymore because the day is about playing together.”

Following quickly after the capture of Swedish megastar Zlatan Ibrahimović, the Pogba deal promptly led United to be labelled the “Galacticos” 2.0.

Galacticos (Spanish for galactics or superstars) of course refers to the infamous Real Madrid transfer policy of the early 2000’s where President Florentino Pérez had the ambition as well as the financial muscle to assemble some of the world’s most established superstars into one side. Legendary names such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Walter Samuel, Luis Figo as well as United’s own David Beckham (and Michael Owen) featured for Madrid throughout Perez’s first presidency between 2000 and 2007. At one point in time the captains of England, Portugal, France and Spain appeared in one Madrid side, showcasing the Galacticos policy in full force.

Given this huge outlay in some of the world’s best players, Real Madrid faced enormous expectations from their fans and despite winning three La Liga titles and one Champions League trophy, the period is tinged with disappointment and conflict as rumours surfaced that players were picked not due to form, but due to their reputation or commercial potential off the pitch.

Fast forward to season 2016/17 and whilst Manchester United has spent significant sums in the transfer market since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, despite widespread critique from the football community, the Galacticos transfer policy has significantly differed from United’s – here are three reasons why;

United are still being outspent by its competitors

Throughout the Galactico era Real Madrid comfortably outspent its La Liga opposition in the transfer market, spending (net) more than double their El Classico rivals Barcelona throughout the period. And whilst United have broken their own transfer record twice in three seasons when you review net transfer spend across the previous three seasons, United have been comfortably outspent by cross-city rivals Manchester City. A symbol of the financial strength of the English Premier League and the inflated state of the transfer market, United’s spending signals not a drastic change in policy, but simply shows the Club competing with its Premier League competitors for the best players in the world.

Notably, and further proving the point that money does not necessarily buy success, of the traditional “top five clubs” (Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal), Chelsea have (net) spent the least over the previous three seasons, yet barring a disaster in the last three games, will be crowned Premier League champions in 2016/7.

United are investing in the future

Real Madrid’s policy was to buy established and world-renowned stars, players like Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, and David Beckham who were all in their late twenties and who had all won championships with their former sides. In recent purchases in players like Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial (combined average age of 22 years old), United have purchased raw and prodigious talent, who for the exception of Pogba have moved to United to establish themselves as world-class players.

The one exception for United has been the purchase of striker Zlatan Ibrahimović on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain – who at 35 years old is at the other end of the career spectrum compared with the balance of the United dressing room. However, it is important to realise the ‘one-off’ opportunism Ed Woodward and Jose Mourinho showed in bringing such an experienced player to Old Trafford without a significant transfer outlay – only underlined by the Swede’s spectacular contribution to United this season.

Promoting Academy youth

Although Real Madrid will claim the likes of superstars Raul and Iker Casillas who were developed in their own academy and both went on to captain Madrid, the arrival of some of the world’s most established players during the Galacticos era ensured that opportunities were significantly limited for Madrid’s academy players. An example close to home is United’s own Juan Mata, who spent a year in the Real Madrid academy, only to seek first-team opportunities elsewhere in Valencia, Chelsea and now Old Trafford.

Conversely United have a strong Academy influence in the current first team squad – Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (on loan) and more recently Axel Tuanzebe and Scott McTominay have all spent time in United’s Academy and featured for the first team with initial promise. In Academy graduates Pogba and Rashford, United have a fearsome duo who they can build a team around for the best part of the next decade.

As Mourinho and Woodward plan for the upcoming transfer window, United fans can have faith that the Club is forging its own path, and despite the perceived setbacks of the previous three seasons, the Club is staying true to its DNA of developing its own players, promoting youth and using its commercial success to combine these with some of the world’s best talent. It is this combination that will in time see United challenge for top domestic and European honours once again.

Written by Dave Campbell


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