In the aftermath of defeat to Manchester City on Monday night, Manchester United could end the season trophyless for the first time since 2004. That is unless Papiss Cisse and his Newcastle United colleagues do the Reds a favour this coming weekend, while the Reds emerge victorious from games against Swansea City and Sunderland.
But in a season where Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has lost 11 times, and exited early from four competitions, questions will be asked about United’s quality whatever the conclusion to the Premier League title race.
Critics point to a degradation in squad quality over six years of ownership by the Glazer family, with the club having spent more than £500 million on interest, debt repayment and associated fees over the period. At the same time rivals such as City, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona have invested heavily in the market, on both transfer fees and wages.
Indeed, net transfer spend since the Glazer takeover is approximately £7.50 million per season – significantly less that United’s rivals at home and abroad, save for Arsenal. Meanwhile, United has slipped to 12 in the global sports pay scale, behind the aforementioned quartet of rivals, accoring to industry analysts Sporting Intelligence.
There is mitigation. Some fans will point to the £38 million net spent last summer on Ashley Young, David de Gea and Phil Jones as proof of United’s investment in youth. While others point to United’s extensive injury list in the current season, or the ‘potential’ of many younger players within the squad during a ‘season of transition’.
The question is where does Ferguson go from here? Spend big in order to compete with the very best at home and abroad, or trust in the current squad and transfer strategy to regain former glories?