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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

Old Trafford has been stagnating under the Glazer ownership

Manchester United’s home Old Trafford has long been England’s premier club stadium. The ‘Theatre of Dreams’ has the biggest capacity for a club side in England at 76,000, but the stadium has not been redeveloped at all since the North West and North East Quadrants were filled in during the 2005/06 season.

Planning for the Quadrants was put in place before the take-over of the club by the Glazer family, and they have not put forward any plans while owning the club to increase the capacity further. In the time since, Manchester City have expanded their capacity in the South Stand to fit 55,000 inside the Etihad and this week Liverpool have put forward more consultation plans to increase their Anfield Road end, taking the overall capacity of Anfield to over 60,000.

On this evidence it’s clear that United’s rivals are not only ahead on the pitch, but also off it. Old Trafford from a distance looks rusty and lob sided, due to the fact that the South Stand, renamed The Bobby Charlton Stand in 2016, has only one tier, compared to the opposite North Stand’s three. Behind the South Stand is residential houses and a railway line used by fans every game, these being the biggest logistical issues regarding adding new tiers.

It would cost reportedly 200 million to add 10,000 extra seats, however, with United being one of the richest clubs in world football, money should be no issue. It has been stated that there is also the technology available to not have to build over the railway line. However, the expansion would mean limited additional corporate facilities and this shows how the Glazers operate, if there is little room for corporate opportunities, the interest will not be high. 

Over the years the number of channels now broadcasting matches has resulted in a substantial increase in TV money coming into the club, and the significant amount of sponsors the club has too now adds millions a season. Simply put, matchday revenue no longer makes the club the most money. The Glazers are rarely seen at Old Trafford, so it would come as no surprise that the matchday experience means little to them. Their lack of care for the ground could be seen before last April’s Manchester derby when the roof leaked before the game.

Managing director Richard Arnold stated in 2018 that expanding Old Trafford would be a multi-season challenge and there wasn’t a certain way of doing it without rendering United homeless. However, the club needs to move forward in some way as other clubs are catching up either through ground redevelopment or by moving to a new ground completely. In the years that the Glazers have owned the club, Arsenal and Tottenham have moved into impressively modern new grounds, while Everton and Chelsea are also planning to move in the near future.

Moving away from Old Trafford would be troubling for most fans, but the way the ground is being allowed to rot under current ownership means United are being left in the past. It seems like it won’t take many more years until the ground no longer has the highest capacity in the country. Under the ownership of the Glazers, the Theatre of Dreams is being slept on, and something will have to change.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

What would a potential Old Trafford walk out mean for Manchester United?

News has surfaced of a proposed walk out at Old Trafford in the 58th minute of Saturday’s Premier League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers. This follows weeks of criticism online and inside the ground against the Glazer ownership, with also a lot of blame attached to the club’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward. 

When #GlazersOut or #SackEdWoodward trend on Social Media, or when anti Glazer chants are being sang by supporters, it certainly does well in spreading the word that the fans are unhappy with the running of the club, but it doesn’t hit those responsible where it hurts. Criticism has resulted in Woodward hiring a PR agency to improve his image, however, even the best PR team in the world would struggle to spin a half empty Old Trafford into a positive for him.

The club’s sponsors want fans inside the ground seeing their adverts and buying their products. Old Trafford has the biggest capacity in the most watched league in the world and this is therefore a huge reason why United gain so much revenue in sponsorship. Chevrolet and adidas are United’s two biggest sponsors, with adidas currently paying United £75 million per season. Would one of the biggest and most recognisable sports brands want to be paying so much for a sports team playing in front of thousands of empty seats?

Another outcome from a potential walkout would be the effect it would have on the manager and the players. In early 2016 Liverpool fans walked out of Anfield in the 77th minute to protest against a rise in ticket prices. Liverpool were 2-0 up in the game before the walkout, proceeding to thereafter throw the match away as Sunderland came back to claim a 2-2 draw. 

With United chasing points to reach a place in the top four, a similar walkout shortly after half-time could damage the players and result in a similar collapse on the pitch. Solskjaer has built up a strong relationship with the home support so seeing them disperse when the team needs them the most could also be a huge blow for him. Unfortunate as this may be, it has been too long since fans inside the ground made their voices heard.

A decade ago in the second half of the 2009/2010 season, the Green & Gold protest gathered so much momentum that David Beckham even picked up and wore a scarf thrown by the crowd after a Champions League Round of 16 second leg tie against AC Milan. Many rival fans tend to claim United fans are only complaining about the owners and Woodward because of a recent lack of success, but forget that at the time in 2010 United were going for four titles on the bounce and a third Champions League final in four years.

What most don’t understand is that frustrations are born from a lack of investment, a lack of planning and a lack of attention. Comparisons can be drawn from a decade ago, in the summer of 2009 United sold Cristiano Ronaldo and decided against signing Carlos Tevez, replacing them with Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen. The Glazer family believed that the genius of Ferguson was so great that he could win trophies even without them having to spend fortunes to replace players, and they were right. 

However, they didn’t plan for Ferguson’s retirement a few years later in 2013 and a lack of planning is still affecting the club now. In the summer of 2019, Romelu Lukaku was sold and Ander Herrera’s contract expired, yet United still haven’t replaced them, with the club yet to sign anybody in the current January transfer window. 

The Wolves game comes the day after the window closes and if key positions haven’t been filled, the atmosphere could only be even more toxic. Those that do walk out will walk out knowing that it goes much deeper than trophies, results and performances and that it would-be short-term pain for long-term gain.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

Ed Woodward has overseen Manchester United's decline and his time quickly running out

Ed Woodward replaced David Gill at the end of the 2012/13 season when both Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson retired from their roles with the Scottish manager winning his 13th Premier League title, giving rivals Liverpool some work to do, which seven years later seems to be working for them, unfortunately. Manchester United were heading into a new era, one that has not turned out how it may have been planned, if there was any planning at all? I would not be surprised if there was no planning at all.

David Moyes replaced Ferguson and Woodward was the one responsible for getting the deals done. United only signed Marouane Fellaini on deadline day that summer for £27.5 million, £4 million more than the fee the club could have paid earlier that summer. However, instead of getting things done, Woodward was chasing the type of players that he could not sign; Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale then trying to get Leighton Baines with Fellaini, offering less than both players were worth.

Ander Herrera was linked to the club that summer with a shambles of a story concerning three supposed agents stating that they represented United with a £30.5 million buyout clause needing to be paid. Funnily enough, that deal did not happen util the follow summer, which was just another piece of embarrassment for the club under the leadership of Woodward. He did leave the pre-season tour in Australia to deal with urgent transfer related business, which never resulted in much too.

United started to panic that summer and the real Ed Woodward was shown for what he actually is; a guy who just does not understand football but is great at commercial business. Danielle De Rossi was on United’s radar with a series of bids being rejected – the player having no intention of leaving Roma. Sami Khedira was then sought after with failed bids there too. It could only be described as a scattergun approach by the club. Mesut Ozil was rejected by United too, apparently.

It was clear that Woodward was not the right man to replace Gill but he needed a chance to get things right and the following summer could have done that for him. Even the return of Cristiano Ronaldo dominated the headlines for a number of summers, with a crowd funding page being launched and rumours that sponsors could have paid for the player. Of course, this was just make-believe as nothing happened but that did not stop the rumours – it sold newspapers and got clicks on websites.

The end of David Moyes and the continuation of more of the same.

Moyes was sacked in April 2014, almost three months after Juan Mata became his second signing, arriving from Chelsea in January 2014 for £37.5 million – a transfer record for the club at that time. Louis van Gaal became the new manager of the club after guiding the Netherlands to a third-placed finish in the FIFA World Cup in 2014, a good achievement with the team he had. That summer, Woodward managed to sign Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, and Angel Di Maria, a new record signing for the club at £59.7 million. Radamel Falcao also came in on loan.

United achieved UEFA Champions League football at the end of the 2014/15 season after a season out of European football. Di Maria left the club, losing £15.7 million with his signing for Paris Saint-Germain, the club he wanted to leave Real Madrid for originally. Not good business for United or Woodward. More signings came though that summer with Sergio Romero, Matteo Darmian, Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The latter was a signing Woodward though he did well with, saying:

”When people see Schweinsteiger on the team sheet, that’s gonna send some shivers down their spine.”

Of course, that never happened and the clueless nature of Woodward continued. United won the Emirates FA Cup at the end of the 2015/16 season, the first major honour post-Ferguson but Van Gaal was sacked days later. Jose Mourinho replaced the Dutchman and received some backing to start yet another rebuild at the club. Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, a new record signing for United arrived that summer. It seemed different but it was more of the same.

United won the FA Community Shield, EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League that season, the best trophy haul post-Ferguson. United added Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku during the summer of 2017, seeming moving in the right direction with more needed, however, United finished second in the Premier League at the end of the season despite being 19 points shy of champions Manchester City. United needed the backing to build on that season.

It never came. Mourinho wanted a commanding central defender with Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld, and Kalidou Koulibaly linked to the club – none of the came. United signed Lee Grant, Diogo Dalot and Fred, clearly not giving Mourinho the backing he needed, which annoyed him. In December 2018, after a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, Mourinho was sacked with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coming in as the interim manager of the club. Initially it saw United do well but that soon ended.

Mourinho sacked, Solskjaer arrives as new manager, Woodward still inept in the transfer market.

Before Mourinho was sacked and Solskjaer came in as the interim manager, Woodward was already being criticised by many with articles published talking about the decline of the club and the fact that Woodward had not managed to match what Gill did for the club. His transfer approach seemed to be clueless, especially saying and doing silly things like leaving Australia in the summer of 2013 for urgent transfer business which came to nothing and coming out with comments like;

“We can do things in the transfer market that other clubs can only dream of. Watch this space.”

Solskjaer did not utilise his first January transfer window although Fellaini left the club during that time moving to Shandong Luneng with United reportedly getting £10.5 million. He was rarely used by Solskjaer in his short spell as the manager at that time anyway. However, he should have been replaced in the summer but that did not happen. Herrera left the club as a free agent signing for Paris Saint-Germain and he was not replaced either. This has become costly because of the injuries to Pogba and Scott McTominay. It is clear for anyone to see United need strengthening.

In the summer, Solskjaer’s first transfer window, he signed Daniel James from Swansea City, Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace, and Harry Maguire from Leicester City. All three players have seemingly hit the ground running this season with James doing more than Alexis Sanchez, who came in at least 18 months before him (currently on loan at Inter Milan), despite being on a staggering weekly wage, if reports were correct.

This shows that Woodward does not have a clue what he is doing leading a football team, an area he has little interest in and little knowledge. The guy is out of his depth when it comes to conducting deals from which United will be seeking to upgrade their playing staff – he seems to chase the big names, not actually landing many of them; Febregas, Bale, Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane and others. Now, despite United needing to replace two midfielders who left in 2019 let alone the striker, Lukaku, who was not replaced either, it seems that hoping for the best is the best way United can survive.

With the fact that United were left short coming into the current season, you would have thought that ahead of the January transfer window, the club would have done the groundwork and sorted out some deals to be completed as soon as was possible after the window opened on New Year’s Day. However, here we are was five more days to go before the window closes and United are still being linked to Bruno Fernandes, along with stories suggesting Carlos Tevez, Islam Slimani and even Odion Ighalo, formerly of Watford.

Can public relations save Woodward’s skin?

At a time whereby it is obvious that the Glazers have drained more than £1 billion from United over the years, not to mention the current debt of the club which stands at around £525 million (as reported back in September 2019), it makes you wonder what is going on. The amount of money spent on servicing debts each year is money wasted as the debt does not seem to be getting much smaller and United are not competing in the transfer market, not in the way they should be. Over the past week, it was clear that Woodward had employed his own PR campaign to make him look better – he could find a cure for cancer and still be vilified. PR is not going to help him in the slightest.

Neil Custis of The Sun recently wrote about Woodward not being to blame for the shambles at United as the Glazer’s are the ones who have let him and the management down. Woodward must not have played a part in it at all. There has been a good few journalists out to save Woodward’s bacon but most of the fan base are not going to let it wash. The club is a laughing stock right now and something needs to give. Given the valuation of United, which stands at about $3.8 billion, according to Forbes, it is unlikely that anyone will put that amount of money, or more forward to buy the club, giving them the license to do what they like and take yet more money out of the club.

The obvious way to solve the problems at United is for Woodward to admit that he does not have the knowledge to run the footballing side of the club. A director of football, a sporting director or even a technical director needs to be brought in for them to be given total control of football matters with Woodward either leaving the club or taking charge of the commercial side. United got to where they once were because of football and without that, there would not be a commercial side. That needs to be displayed to the Glazers, who just seem to care about how much money they can make.

With talk of a mass walkout against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford on Saturday, plus the discontent shown on social media for both Woodward and the Glazers, the supporters of the club could make it very uncomfortable for them, even if they promise the earth, which has started to come out in the media about the club looking to improve their scouting operation, which is something I find hard to believe considering the number of scouts currently used by the club.

I would imagine, that when the time comes for season ticket holders to start the renewal process, there will be reports coming out of the club about the things they will be looking to do, which for the last few years has been something they have done. It all seems like a scam. Why say you are going to do something, then not do it. After Mourinho was sacked, United, through the media, suggested a director of football would be employed. Solskjaer was made permanent manager and nothing. Then rumours again, to nothing, again. Perhaps they don’t take it seriously at all. When the money has gone, who will be laughing then?

copyright: JW