Sir Alex Ferguson has effectively ruled out any new signings at Old Trafford this summer, declaring that he is happy with his squad and that the club’s younger players will be stronger than ever. In an interview many will see as code for United’s financial problems, Ferguson also denied a United bid for Wesley Sneijder last week.
It’s a subtle change in excuse for United’s lack of transfer activity, with Ferguson consistently defending the Glazer regime by declaring that no value exists in the transfer market over the past year.
This comes despite Ferguson being starved of funds after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million a year ago. Since Ronaldo’s exit Sir Alex has spent almost £40 million on Antonio Valenica, Mame Biram Diouf, Gabriel Obertan, Javier Hernández and Chris Smalling but received a combined fee of £14 million for Zoran Tosic and Ben Foster.
Under the Glazers’ declared business plan on takeover in 2005 £25 million net would be made available to Ferguson per season, meaning the Scot should have more than £100 million to spend this summer*.
Indeed, the last accounts published by the club showed £95 million cash in United’s bank account. But the January bond issued by the club enables the Glazer family to remove all that cash, with most analysts expecting that to take place at some point in the next financial quarter.
Perhaps even more puzzling than the club’s economics is Ferguson’s assertion that “another year” under his younger players’ belts ensures that the group will be stronger in the coming season. That might be true but there are no guarantees with younger players and few spent much time in the first team last season.
Of the younger group only Johnny Evans started more than 20 games for the first team, with Darron Gibson and Rafael da Silva each starting more than 10 games. Federico Macheda, Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf, Danny Welbeck, Fabio da Silva and Ritchie de Laet hardly featured. Meanwhile Anderson, now into his third season with the club, had gone backwards before a winter knee injury ended the Brazilian’s season.
Indeed, United has more ageing starts likely to play a significant part in the new season than younger players, with Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes approaching their final seasons at the club. Each of the quartet started more than 20 games for the club last season, with the United’s average starting age actually one of the oldest in the Premier League.
In all likelihood United will enter the new season with the current squad. Smalling will add an extra, if totally unproven, body to Ferguson’s defensive options, while Hernández will hope to replicate his World Cup form in the Premier League. It’s a very tough ask for both players.
Perhaps even more important is Ferguson’s decision – albeit forced by the club’s financial predicament – to begin the new season without a creative heartbeat to the team. After all, Scholes’ decent end to the season masked increasingly inconsistent performances from the 35-year-old midfielder for most of the campaign.
The Scot will also hope that Rio Ferdinand’s injuries end, Michael Owen stays fit, Dimitar Berbatov finally proves he is a £30 million striker, Wayne Rooney doesn’t break a metatarsal, the young players grow up and Giggs, Scholes,Neville and van der Sar can roll back the years just one more time.
As they say – hope is no kind of strategy.