Since Manchester United’s exit from the group stage of the Champions League, many theories have been proposed to explain why the Red Devils have struggled recently. The most baffling of these ideas points the finger of blame at the Glazers, the controversial owners of United.
Over the last five years (2006-2011), Manchester United’s net transfer spending is 8th highest in the Premier League at £58.9 million. Sunderland, Stoke City, and Aston Villa are all above the world’s most valuable club, as well as Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester City. At first, it seems that the Glazers may actually be restraining the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson by limiting his transfer funds, but a closer look leads to a different conclusion.
Obviously, Manchester United start every season with a much better squad than the likes of Stoke City and Sunderland. Their squad also contains many more valuable players they can sell, which counts when calculating net transfer spending. Stoke have been forced to operate with a high net spend because the players they discard do not bring high transfer fees.
Liverpool and Tottenham have both spent a boatload of cash in an effort to finish in the top four, which brings money into the club. Manchester City and Chelsea have bought plenty of expensive players in the last five years in order to compete for the title. Both also started with average or below-average squads before they landed “sugar daddies.”
From the Glazers’ point of view, there hasn’t been a real need to splash the cash on new players. Manchester United have lifted the Premiership trophy in four of the last five seasons and made it to three Champions League finals (winning one) in the same amount of time. There is no incentive to invest heavily in the squad when a club is consistently finishing above all of their competitors.
While the Glazers can be blamed for the debt their takeover caused, they should not become the scapegoat for every minor failure. The suggestion that United must now spend big on three or four players to compete is utterly ridiculous, as their squad was already superior to that of Basel and Benfica even with the injuries. The blame should rest firmly on the shoulders of Ferguson and the players.
When United have won trophies in the past, Sir Alex Ferguson and his players garnered all the praise, with no mention of the Glazers. Yet, when the difficulties arise, the owners are tossed to fire, with Ferguson made to look almost like a victim. This double standard should not exist.
The way British media has reacted to the recent struggles of the Red Devils is different than their treatment of Chelsea and Arsenal during their hard times. When Arsenal got off to a terrible start to the season, Arsene Wenger was openly mocked by the pundits. By the way, Arsenal’s net transfer spending in the last five years is the lowest in the Premier League at -£31.3 million. As Chelsea were experiencing difficulties, the papers went right for the neck of Andre Villas-Boas.
With that said, Manchester United still would benefit from signing a creative central midfielder, but it will be difficult for them. There’s no doubt that United could pay a large transfer fee for Wesley Sneijder, but his reported wages (over £200,000 per week) are the problem. If they signed him, Wayne Rooney, Nani, and the rest would line up for their increased piece of pie. This is the new reality for most clubs since Chelsea and Manchester City first flexed their financial muscles, and United are finally starting to feel the effects.
The Glazers will not increase their investment in the squad to match City and Chelsea because they treat the club as a business, not a hobby. And for those United supporters calling for their own sugar daddy, be warned that there are side effects. Would Ferguson put up with an owner who wanted to exert some power over player selection?
No overhaul is needed at Old Trafford, nor should panic be in the minds of the Red Devils faithful. United’s last elimination in the group stage of the Champions League in 2005 did not trigger the end of the empire. Only a fool would say that United are out of the title race, with only two points separating them from the top spot in the table.