29 December 2015

Man Utd’s woes are due to failure to invest

By Paul Marshall

Football is a simple game. The team with the best players wins. Of course managers can play their part, and some games turn on a piece of luck. But over a season it is the quality of the playing squad that wins out.

And because the market in players is moderately efficient, the team with the most money usually ends up with the best players. Sometimes, this trend is bucked too, due to flair or luck in the transfer market, and a team like Leicester City can lead the Premiership. Or Dortmund can challenge Bayern. Or Atletico Madrid, always described as a “selling club”, can challenge the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But most of the time, money talks. And that is why we all expect Real Madrid and Barcelona to prevail in Spain, Bayern in Germany, PSG in France, and Manchester United, Arsenal and the nouveau-riche clubs, Chelsea and Manchester City in England.

But that is to assume the owners of the clubs all have the same objectives, the same commitment to success on the field, the same willingness to spend on players.

In England that would be a false assumption.

Manchester United may be the richest club in terms of revenues, but sadly for United fans, that does not translate into player spend. In fact Manchester United have the lowest share of turnover spent on players’ wages of any club in the Premiership, by a margin. According to the most recent data, from 2013-14, United spent just 50 percent of revenues on player wages. Leicester City spent 116 percent. Manchester City and Chelsea both spent around 60 pct. The only club close to United were Arsenal at 54 per cent.

If United spent like Chelsea or City they could afford another £45 million per annum, enough for 3 Wayne Rooneys or ten Mahrez’s.

But Manchester United don’t spend like that. On the contrary, The last transfer window saw them offload a whole bunch of quality players deemed surplus to requirements – Hernandez, Nani, RVP, Di Maria, Rafael, Jonny Evans, James Wilson, Cleverley and Falcao. The official narrative was that they were giving youth a chance. The reality is that they were hollowing out the wage bill.

Why the hair-shirt? The simple reality is that United have other mouths to feed. There is still £400m of debt to service. And the Glazers have decided that they need to constrain the wage bill as a percentage of sales in order to keep the stock market happy.

This hollowing out of the squad does not explain all Manchester United’s misfortunes this season. But it does explain the almost farcical line-up for the crucial Champions League decider against Wolfburg, which saw them crash out of the competition.

United’s starting line up included the relatively unknown Varela and Lingaard – substitutes: Borthwick-Jackson and Nick Powell. Even if LVG had a genuine commitment to youth (which he surely did) he would never have chosen to blood so many in a match of this importance. The reason he had to was the thin-ness of his squad.

Some would argue (indeed it is repeated ad nauseam in social media) that LVG enjoyed a huge transfer budget, spending some £250m on new players. This is to confuse gross and net spend. The net spend (net of player sales) last season was just £33m compared to Manchester City’s £124 million. It is true that United had a high net spend in 2013/14, of £122m, but this was the only season since before the sale of Ronaldo when the club properly showed ambition in the transfer market.

Manchester United’s ambitions in the transfer market are undermined by the financial burdens imposed by the Glazers. Insiders in the club know this but nobody speaks out. I hope that with his deaparture, LVG’s his confidentiality clauses will not tie his tongue.

And, though it saddens me to say it, I would advise any potential replacements such as Guardiola or Mourinho to obtain absolute clarity around their spending power before they accept the job. United’s player budget is not what people assume, let alone what it should be if they are to compete for trophies.

Paul Marshall is a Manchester United supporter and a Red Knight.