Sir Alex Ferguson has once again brought himself into conflict with supporters angry at the Glazer family’s ownership of Manchester United. The Scot, true to this line for more than five years, has defended the Americans while denying that the club’s financial problems have had any impact on the United’s transfer market strategy this summer.
Ferguson, whose sole nod towards protesting fans is to say that every supporter “has the right” to air their views, has consistently backed the Glazer family despite the club’s £716.5 million debt.
Instead, the legendary United manager has blamed a “lack of value” in the transfer market for United’s limited investment over the past two years. Since the club sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80 million, Ferguson has bought Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf, Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling for a total investment of just under £40 million.
However, this expenditure falls well short of the Glazer family’s original business model.The Americans promised a net spend of £25 million per season following their 2005 acquisition but figures suggest that United’s activity is significantly below that level. Indeed, the club has invested £192.7 million but recouped £170.95 million over the past five years for a annualised net transfer spend of just £4.35 million.
Despite this fact Ferguson claims that the Glazer family has always supported him in the transfer market.
“They [the Glazers] have done their job well. They support myself and they’ve supported the players. I’ve never been refused when I’ve asked for money for a player,” said Ferguson yesterday.
“What can I do other than carry on the way we’re doing it, and the way I’m allowed to carry on? I’ve no complaints.”
Ferguson also believes that the Glazers remain blameless for United’s financial position, with a leveraged sale inevitable once the club had floated on the stock market in 1991.
“When Manchester United Football Club went PLC, without doubt it was always going to be bought. So it’s unfair that, because a particular family like the Glazers have bought the club, they should come under criticism when anybody could have bought it,” claimed Ferguson in Houston yesterday.
“The debt has come through the club being bought out by an owner. No matter which business is bought nowadays, it’s usually bought with debt. But because it’s a football club, it seems to attract a different type of negative reporting via the media or particularly some of our fans.”
It’s a claim that has almost no factual accuracy though, with PLC status no more a guarantee of inevitable sale than limited company status ensures a club will remain off the market. Indeed, had JP McManus and John Magnier refused to sell their 30 per cent stake in the club at £3 per share in May 2005 United would quite possibly remain a PLC today.
Moreover, the debt-free acquisitions of Chelsea, Manchester City and Aston Villa during recent season belies the claim that almost all buyouts are leveraged in some form. After all, had the Glazers actually been able to raise the price of the club themselves, the family would not have borrowed 100 per cent of the purchase price from the banks and hedge funds.
But Ferguson goes further in explaining his lack of activity in the market, claiming that fans do not want the club to spend large fees on acquiring new players, such as the top class midfielder the squad so desperately lacks.
“The enormous amounts of money that are paid, not just for the transfer fees, but for salaries; I don’t think it rests easy with supporters,”
“But we’re in such a competitive world that you’re hamstrung. Over the years, we’ve bought players for quite high amounts like Berbatov, Ferdinand, Veron and Rooney, but we try to equate how we’re going to get the proper value before we do it.”
It’s an odd statement from Ferguson, who risks being accused of hypocrisy having broken the British transfer record on no less than six occasions during his 23 year tenure at Old Trafford. Even at £27 million, few fans would argue that Rooney, for example, does not represent value. The Scouse striker almost single-handedly kept United in the Premier League title hunt last season.
This is the point Ferguson does not get – at Old Trafford value used to be a factor of success. Today it is about the absolute price.
Yet, it is almost impossible given the club’s heavy spending on debt interest, management fees and the Glazers’ dividends that Ferguson could buy the next Rooney, if the player’s cost is more than £10-15 million, let alone £30 million
Confirmation of this appears to come with United passing on the opportunity to buy the brilliant young Germany Mesut Özil. The player, who Ferguson tried to sign in 2008, surely represents the epitome of value in the market, costing just £12 million at 21 years of age.