The Guardian today has a very interesting article regarding Manchester United’s owners changing the clubs transfer policy to concentrate on signing players under 26. It seems that the Glazer family want the club to only sign players that they can recoup transfer fees on later in their careers. Now maybe it’s me, but I’ve yet to come across a club that have continued to be as successful as Manchester United with such a transfer policy.
Yet, the majority of United’s recent signings over the last few years are all under 26, such as Vidic, Carrick, Evra, Tosic and Nani, So it’s not that big a change in transfer policy. The exception is the much maligned and misunderstood Dimitar Berbatov, who at 27 now seems to be the last player that will be signed above the limit. It would also seem to rule them out of making a bid for Franck Ribery, despite what Bayern Munich may have claimed today.
I have to say, I’m a little surprised about the story if I’m honest. It seems quite unusual for two reasons: Firstly, Ferguson is renowned for being extremely protective over having control over transfer policy at Manchester United. He does not suffer anyone meddling with his working methods, so it’s a big step to hear that the Glazers and David Gill have imposed an age sanction on him. Secondly, what would they do if the world’s greatest player, aged 27/28 suddenly declares his love for Manchester United and wants to join them? Would they only accommodate such a player if he was available on a bosman transfer?
For a club that has an excellent track record of producing top quality players through the youth ranks, probably better than most, it just strikes me as odd that signings will now be judged on their re-sale value. I think it’s a dangerous game to play to narrow your transfer targets to such a specific market. It certainly should concern whoever succeeds Sir Alex at the helm of Manchester United whenever he decides to step down after such an illustrious career.
Tottenham had a similar transfer policy trying to utilise their ill feted European coaching set up between 2004 and 2008 and whilst there is no doubt that the last 5 seasons have seen Tottenham have their most successful period in the Premiership, the lack of older, wiser heads did cost them Champions League football in 2005 and 2006. A couple of experienced signings could have really made the difference to the youngsters in the Spurs camp. Notably, Martin Petrov’s transfer was blocked based entirely on his age. A silly price to pay simply because someone was deemed not to gain in value.
Of course, I’m certainly not comparing Tottenham to Manchester United, not even the most fevered Spurs fan could seriously consider that a fair comparison. There is no doubt that Manchester United are one of the main draws in World Football for talent and could quite possibly sign anyone within reason if they wanted to. Ferguson is already laying the foundations of the United squad for the next 5-10 years with the Da Silva brothers, Tosic, Marcheda and Gibson getting plenty of opportunities to stake claims for the squad.
United’s squad is hardly ancient, but as I’ve said earlier, having a ceiling on the age of your signings could be a dangerous precedent. It’s not like they’re about to become a selling team, but they can’t rule out the need to sometimes look at what benefits the club on the pitch rather than in the bank balance. Whoever follows Ferguson may just find that a balancing act too far.