Manchester United didn’t become one of the definitive corporate behemoths of modern sport by accident. It happened as a result of concerted efforts to monetise every aspect of their existence as a football club. Until recently, the result of this policy had seen them ranked as the world’s most valuable sports team by Forbes (something to do with money, I’m guessing). However, in the latest results, United have slipped to second behind Real Madrid. Disaster! But, bear in mind we’re talking about an assessment of their global worth compared to all other professional sports teams – not just football, and United are still ranked second overall. This means they’re considered more valuable than all other football clubs (excluding Real), as well as highly recognised American teams like the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. That’s kind of a big deal, I guess.
So, league champs and rolling in dough – life under the Glazers ain’t so bad, right? Wrong. The Glazers did not turn United into the money printing machine they are today. They have contributed nothing other than the burden of debt which must be paid out of United’s profits, whilst signing some more sponsorship deals, hawking off every last inch of the club to the highest bidder.
The reason United are so highly valued is because of their ridiculous global popularity. Popularity built on sustained and relentless success. Pretty much every United fan contributes to their club’s wealth in some way. They might not attend any matches at Old Trafford, or buy any merchandise, but just by watching them on TV they’re contributing to huge viewing figures, which mean United can negotiate bigger and bigger sponsorship deals. And there are plenty of those to be had. By the time you read this, United will have signed a contract with their new official drain cleaning partner.
So, with all this corporate power, why does it feel like United have one hand tied behind their back when they’re fighting other clubs in the transfer market? It’s unclear what happened that lead to United missing out on Thiago; it seems pretty clear that they wanted him, but either they didn’t bid, or their offer wasn’t enough to be taken seriously. The tone from United since the Glazers took over has been about managing expectations in the market whilst occasionally trying to talk themselves up. The importance of bringing on young players is emphasised, but United have been doing this for a long time now, whilst also breaking the transfer record – four times during Ferguson’s reign (Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron, and Rio Ferdinand).
Ed Woodward, United’s Chief Exec, reckons money isn’t a problem at Old Trafford:
‘We could have broken the transfer record in the past if we’d wanted to. Alex may not have got all the players he wanted but that was never down to not releasing funds. There’s never been a cut-off price.’
Do any United fans really believe that? If it’s true then why didn’t they go after one of the most highly rated young midfielders in Europe when he was available for a very affordable fee? And why this ponderous pursuit of Fabregas, when we all know Barcelona will only sell for big money. If I was a United fan (I’m not), I would find all this more than a little infuriating
It’s true that City and Chelsea have dropped a nuke on the transfer market, but accepting that United have to cut their cloth accordingly doesn’t mean they can’t compete. If anyone should be competing in the market it’s United, because they’re the only club that consistently make enough money to justify enormous transfer fees and wages. Pretty much every other club paying those fees runs at a huge loss, but not United. And yet, they won’t spend, probably because the owners want nice fat profits to keep the precious share price high, and because there’s not as much of it left after they’ve siphoned off their share to pay down their debts. Lovely!
Good old share prices – what every fan thinks about on match day when they’re making their way to a game, or to the pub or tuning in at home – ‘I hope the share price goes up after today’s result.’ This is why it’s impossible to understand any United fans who think their club should be prudent in the market – what exactly do they think is going to happen to those profits? While we’re on the subject, what did happen to that £80 million United received from Madrid for Ronaldo?
Everyone’s been so impressed with Bayern’s recruitment, but the Munich club are basically the German equivalent of United: a club that has built a ridiculously huge fanbase that it has exploited to attract a host of increasingly lucrative sponsors like Allianz and Audi. The difference is, as well as making money, Bayern are increasingly about spending it, hence the recruitment of Javi Martinez, Mario Goetze, and Thiago, as well as their pursuit of Rober Lewandowski that will probably result in his signature next season.
An unfair comparison in some ways, because if United had been a German club then it’s unlikely the Glazers’ leveraged buyout would have been possible. But, maybe that’s the point about how wrong English football has become, especially when I’m forced to write ‘leveraged buyout’ about the biggest club in the country, as if I even know what that entails. Why should I, and why should any football fan – this isn’t investment banking, except, sadly, it kind of is. Amazingly, there are some United fans who still think the Glazers have been alright, as if United winning things is a result of their stewardship. But, United have won things in spite of the Glazers, not because of them.
It was easy to hate United in the 90’s and 00’s because they were so frustratingly brilliant at everything. There was United and there was everyone else. I hated it, and I know most others did too. This present day United team is no way as hateable, mainly because – Van Persie aside – they’re pretty bland. But, United as a club are infinitely more dislikeable than what went before, because they’ve been so ruthlessly exploited for personal gain. There’s no end in sight, not as long as United keep turning a profit. I don’t Love United, I never will, but Hate Glazers? Yeah, I could get behind that.