Sir Alex Ferguson says that Manchester United considered making a move for Barcelona’s David Villa before concluding that there “is no value in the transfer” market. It’s a record the Scot has spun too many times in recent seasons, with United’s manager now playing lickspittle to the Glazers’ financial mismanagement.
The Scot’s assertion that United will not spend to bring the world’s best players to Old Trafford in the face of heavy investment by near-neighbours Manchester City amounts to little more than waving a white flag in the transfer market. United can no longer compete at the top of the market, with the club’s £722 million debt biting hard on its competitiveness.
This comes despite a huge increase in ticket prices and commercial revenues over the five years of the Glazer family’s tenure in Manchester.
“We’ve looked at a few options,” said 68-year-old Ferguson, who has recruited youngsters Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling this summer.
“We did consider David Villa but he was always going to Barcelona. I just don’t believe there is value out there at the moment. I’m very happy with the strength of our squad as it is.”
Ferguson made a similar admission last summer after the club sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80 million, before bowing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, the FA Cup in the third round and finishing second to Premier League winners Chelsea.
Yet club ceo David Gill continues to insist that the £95 million cash currently sat in United’s bank account is available for transfer spending and not earmarked to pay debt as many suspect.
With key members of United’s squad now in their mid-to-late thirties and the team’s over-reliance on Wayne Rooney’s form and fitness unresolved, the Reds risk further decline next season. It is even arguable the old adage of recruiting from a position of strength has already past the team by, with United now playing catch-up to rivals at home and abroad.
True, the Scot has added Hernández and Smalling to the squad this summer but neither is expected to start the season in the first team. The Mexican may even head to Spain on-loan despite a positive showing during the World Cup in South Africa, while Smalling will begin the season as fourth choice central defender behind Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans.
That United “considered” Villa is of course tacit admission that further squad strengthening is required. But Ferguson’s comments also reveal the extent to which United’s horizons have changed since the signature of Dimitar Berbatov for £30.5 million in August 2008. The Bulgarian, at 27, was just a few months younger than Villa is today, although the Spaniard’s significantly better strike-rate has cost Barcelona just an additional £4 million.
No value, indeed.
Ferguson is of course right about one thing – the transfer market is expensive, with City’s spending unabated and Real Madrid investing more than £260 million last summer. Barcelona, having already acquired Villa, will probably recruit Cesc Fabregas later this summer.
Meanwhile, Chelsea will surprise few if, keen to refresh its squad with a marquee signing, the London club brings in Fernando Torres from Liverpool before the transfer window closes. Even Arsenal, fresh from outstanding financial results, could outspend United this summer.
Yet the real frustration, on the day his squad returns to pre-season training, is not just that United is essentially broke – fans know – but in Ferguson’s repeated attempts to pull down the wool rather than admit the truth.
Real weaknesses do exist within the current set-up and while rivals move forward United remains a 40-year-old ‘keeper, perennially injured central defender, defense-heavy midfield or goal-shy Bulgarian away dropping back even further.
Shame there’s just no value in the market.