In recent times, there has been a shift of power in the English Premier League from The Theatre of Dreams to United’s most fierce rivals – Liverpool and just across the town – Manchester City. The recent successes can be attributed to their owners as much as the players, and it raises the question of what Manchester United’s owners doing wrong. Let’s take a look.
A TAKEOVER THAT PLUNGED UNITED INTO DEBT
Current Manchester United owners – The Glazer family bought the club in 2003 with the help of numerous bank loans. During the transition of full ownership i.e. from 2003 – 2006, United didn’t win a single Premier League but after the takeover was complete, The Red Devils won three consecutive English crowns from 2007 – 2009 in a glorious period which also brought a European Champions League crown. The initial signs looked promising but the way the takeover was completed raised many questions.
The Glazers acquired the club through a leveraged buyout, where they took loans which amounted to more than £650 million and secured the remaining money (roughly £250 million) by leveraging the assets of the club itself. This move put United into crippling debt and most of the money that was generated in the forthcoming seasons was extracted by The Glazers to repay those debts. This was also a golden period for United as they won 3 Premier League titles successively, a Champions Cup, A Club World Cup, and a couple of League Cups
THE RISE OF THE ‘NOISY NEIGHBOURS’
Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City for roughly £1 billion and there were waves that a shift in power could be in place as City were now one of the richest clubs in world football. This was only confirmed in the 2011 – 12 season where they won their first-ever Premier League crown following a last-minute goal from Argentine forward Sergio Aguero (“Aguerooooooooo still haunts me to this day”).
United did their best to hold on but was robbed at the last minute. Plenty of blame can also be put on the owners as there was a serious lack of investment that year in the club while the ‘noisy neighbors’ were spending cash for fun.
The following season was Sir Alex’s last season as United manager as United won the title. It served as a final adieu to the Scottish legend, and that is where the real journey downhill began.
THE POST-FERGUSON ERA
When Ferguson retired in 2013, there were a bunch of big stars that were linked to Old Trafford, but none of them materialized due to poor negotiations. In an underwhelming window where the marquee signing was the panic buying of a certain Marouane Fellaini, the embarrassing details associated with that acquisition was a sign of things to come. A big reason for that was the departure of former Chief Executive David Gill who was considered one of the best negotiators in football at the moment - whichever player Sir Alex wanted, he would pretty much get if the player was willing to join. People associated with football used to make these decisions but there was a change in the tide as now Lawyers are sent to conduct deals.
Also, with Sir Alex gone, the trophies started to dry up and so did Champions league football, so the yearly repayments for the club’s assets became even more difficult to produce and so most of it had to be taken from the transfer budget. The Glazers however remained unaffected as they cashed their yearly dividends and let the club pay the loans which they are supposed to pay, and neglected the club as the flames continued to rise. United transitioned into a club where poor decisions were made, mangers brought in who did not match the club’s philosophy – David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. They were both sacked very early into their terms and a haphazard strategy for transfers continued to take hold.
Graph: United debt-free days ruined by the Glazer takeover [Source BBC Sport]
In those years, City and Chelsea ran riot as they were the two best teams in the league and there was also the surprise capture of the EPL crown by Leicester City. Facing backlash from the fans, Jose Mourinho a proven winner was hired, and Paul Pogba was brought back into the club. His return caught the imagination of red devil fans and his transfer commanded a then world-record fee. The initial signs were promising as United won three trophies in the first year and finished second in the premier league in the second season. But there was friction between Mourinho and the club’s top brass as he was not getting the players he wanted.
The Glazers would have thought that the internal matters would be kept private but Mourinho wasn’t that sort of a manager. When he sees something wrong with the club, he speaks out against it and soon there was a war of words where Mourinho admitted that he had begged for certain players – particularly a good central defender and was turned down as people who had nothing to do with a football made the football-related decisions. What followed was a disastrous campaign that saw Mourinho sacked before Christmas.
Mourinho would later admit that finishing second was one of the biggest achievements for him and in hindsight, I think he was right, as with that squad it would be nearly impossible to finish in European places let alone second. The club found parting with Mourinho much easier than actually giving him the players he wanted and Ed Woodward is entirely to blame for this as it was he who was making the transfer decisions and not someone with good football experience and background.
THE TRANSFER MARKET MELTDOWNS
Back in the day David Gill and Sir Alex used to be the ones who would pull the strings on transfers, and most of them were made with no fuss at all unlike the chaos that surrounds transfers related to Manchester United today. The Glazer’s refusal to put money into the club, damning as it is, but United are a club with enough financial muscle to self-sustain. The biggest problem was continuing signing players that did not necessarily want to be at the club.
Angel di Maria and Memphis Depay’s transfers follow the same suit, as they came to Old Trafford for the sole reason that there was money thrown at the table and they pounced to get a fat paycheck rather than playing with pride in a shirt won by football’s finest – the likes of Cantona, Beckham, and Ronaldo. They left in disgrace and it seemed that United had learned their lesson but that was not to be the case.
In January 2018, Manchester United announced the signing of Alexis Sanchez and it seemed that United had pulled off a great coup by bringing the Manchester City-bound Chilean winger to Old Trafford. This move will go down as one of the worst transfers in the history of football and it was Ed Woodward who handles all negotiations who handed Alexis an astronomical wage of more than £600,000 per week that eventually ended up poisoning the dressing room...
Transfers were not the only concern as ill-advised contract renewals were handed to underperforming players like Phil Jones and Ashley Young who in reality should have been moved on. Ander Herrera was given a late contract extension by Woodward when he demanded a higher wage, and United lost a player who actually wanted to play for the shirt.
THE PRESENT AND WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
Now, with the ongoing negotiations with Jadon Sancho, who reportedly had agreed on personal terms since July, having stretched over 2 months with no end product in sight yet. United negotiators are still refusing to budge rather than just pay the money requested by Dortmund, it highlights exactly what is still wrong at United – owners who have no interest in the club except getting their dividend cheques, and a people making football decisions who don’t even have a clue about the sport.
Recently there were reports of Manchester United linked with Ousmane Dembele as a Sancho alternative, and if that happens it will highlight everything ailing Manchester United – the pursuit of an injury-prone striker who doesn’t want to come to the club unless for a huge amount and guaranteed money.
As for the Glazers, they own 97% of the club’s shares so it will be impossible to lodge them off the vampires as they keep sucking out money and destroying the culture that is the basis of the strong bond United fans worldwide have with the institution. Unless someone buys them out, which will cost way too much money (reportedly £2 billion-plus).
There was talk that Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, and the Saudi royal family were interested but nothing materialized so fans have little choice but to put up with the Glazers. However, there is one thing the fanbase can do, and that's to pressure them into firing Ed Woodward whose track record of fumbling in the market shows gross incompetence and has been comedically embarrassing.
Varun (@VarunSangwan01) is a writer at large, and one of the global contributors to the Daily Manc team. He is also the creator and chief editor of The United Devils.
All opinions and materials of contributor writers are solely their own and do not necessarily represent positions held by The Daily Manc.