Today’s report in Marca that Sir Alex Ferguson is once again on the Karim Benzema hunt should be taken with the large pinch of salt Manchester United supporters normally reserve for summer transfer rumours. The Scot’s long-term admiration for the French striker is undimished but it’s unlikely United’s finances will stretch to acquire the 22-year-old hitman.
Much apart from the £25 million fee the former Olympique Lyonnais striker is likely to command, Eurozone exchange rate changes and major differences between Spanish and UK tax law mean that United will have to fork out more than a quarter million gross per week simply to match Benzema’s current wages.
Benzema joined Real Madrid for a reported €35 million fee, rising to €41 million with performance based bonuses. That’s £28.9 – £33.8 million at today’s mid-market prices. Meanwhile United, we’re told, had been prepared to go up to £25 million for the striker, who scored 43 goals in 112 Ligue 1 games for Lyon during his time at Stadium Garland.
Quite whether United’s bid was serious, with Benzema’s agent almost certainly telling Old Trafford’s management that a move to Santiago Bernabeu was his client’s preference, is now moot.
Benzema’s stint in the Spanish capital has been anything but auspicious though, with the Frenchman suffering a drop in form before being consigned to the bench for Real’s La Liga run-in. The striker’s 12 goals in 38 games last season tells a story; perhaps even more pertinent is that half the player’s appearances came from the bench.
Indeed, the striker’s form dipped so far that the former golden boy of French football was left out of Raymond Domenech’s squad for the World Cup in South Africa altogether. The decision didn’t go down well with everybody in the camp but Benzema can have few arguments on form alone.
As part of El Presidente Florentino Pérez’ Madrid ‘project’ Benzema has long been thought safe, with Gonzalo Higuain touted around Europe’s leading clubs at one point last season. But politics is never static at the Bernanbeu, with the Argentinian’s 27 La Liga goals and newly signed six year contract putting paid to that idea. It is now the Frenchman most at risk of Perez’ axe as Madrid attempt to improve on last season’s second place in La Liga.
Even with favourable Eurozone changes in recent weeks, Benzema’s less than spectacular form and the normal amortization of a player’s value over the length of a contract the Frenchman will be phenomenally expensive. In United’s current parlous financial state there can be few certainties that the club will – or can – spend more than £25 million on a transfer fee.
Perhaps an even greater barrier to any deal for Benzema is the player’s €8,500,000 – £7.02 million – annual contract that runs to June 2015. While the £163,000 per week before bonuses deal far exceeds United’s best paid player – Rio Ferdinand on £120,000 – Spanish tax law places the Frenchman’s take-home pay into a relm United simply cannot match.
The UK’s 20 / 40 / 50 per cent tax bands would, assuming standard PAYE practices – in principal almost all footballers engage in legal tax avoidance schemes – leave Benzema with a net weekly wage of around £66,500 at Old Trafford. In Spain the player’s net is closer to £125,000 due to the so-called ‘Beckham’ law that enables the highest earning overseas workers to pay a flat-rate 24 per cent tax. While the law is being phased out it remains in place for current contracts, or the next five years in Benzema’s case.
The rub is this. United, to maintain the player’s current pay packet, will need to find an incredible £250,000 per week in gross wages unless the Frenchman accepts a huge pay cut. Footballers are many things. Philanthropists they are not.
The knock on effect on a Benzema transfer would surely be felt in the Glazers’ bean-counting office, with senior players such as Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra entitled to demand parity or close to it.
As the Americans are so fond of saying. You do the math.