Manchester United has more than £150 million burning a hole in the club’s metaphorical pocket, the £243 million Payment-in-Kind (PIK) debt has been mysteriously refinanced and the Qatari Royal Family is apparently prepared to pay more than £1.5 billion for the club. All should be financially rosy at Old Trafford. Why then does Sir Alex Ferguson stubbornly refuse to invest in the playing squad, stating that the market lacks “value”?
Indeed, as United thrashed Birmingham City 5-0 at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon, Ferguson repeated the oft heard “no value” mantra, which many supporters have taken as a euphemism for Glazer-inspired austerity. That United has broken the £20 million barrier just once under Glazer ownership is symptomatic of a transfer policy that now focuses on the cheaper end of the market.
Yet, earlier this month Ferguson admitted that he wanted to “get one player” during the window, qualifying the statement – as always – with a warning about inflated transfer fees. But true to form in recent seasons, Ferguson has now ruled out any new signings in the January transfer window.
“I won’t be going into the transfer market during the present mid-winter window,” Ferguson told United Review on Saturday.
“I thought at one time that I would like to bring in just one player, but that has not worked out. I don’t feel that it is necessary to buy just for the sake of it because, as I say, I am more than happy with my squad.”
Yet, post-Wayne Rooney contract saga, noises emanated from the club suggesting Ferguson was handed a substantial transfer fund, with the Glazers spooked into action by the now infamous assertion that United “lacked ambition.” Indeed, many pundits painted Rooney’s eventual contract extension as a master-stroke by Ferguson; in one fell swoop he had secured his star player to a long-term deal and squeezed blood out of the Glazer stone.
Much has changed in the intervening two months though. Not only have Chelsea’s title aspirations crumbled in the ruins of poor winter form but United’s other rivals maintain no consistency either. If Manchester City had any pretensions on the title, recent defeats to Aston Villa and Everton have hardly helped.
Indeed, United’s two point lead over Arsenal could stretch to five with the game in hand being played against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road on Tuesday night. In this sense, with Antonio Valencia due to return in the Spring, Ferguson has no desperate need to enter the market.
Yet there is arguably some truth in the criticism Ferguson’s side has faced this season. Flat-track bullies at home; poor on the road. United’s unbeaten record, as Arsène Wenger recently mooted, owes more than a little to the swings of fortune. Defeat, after all, should really have come at Sunderland and twice against West Bromwich Albion.
In a mediocre Premier League, the true test of United’s quality will come in Europe though, with a tough fixture against Marseille to come next month. Even if the Reds progress, as Ferguson’s outfit should, then the best on the continent still awaits.
These truisms leave fans wondering whether Ferguson really did want “one player” in the window – a creative central midfielder – and has subsequently been over-ruled by a Glazer family now bent on squeezing every penny out of Old Trafford before they eventually high-tail it back to Florida.
After all, the rumours of a £1.5 billion Qatari bid for United have an increasing air of authority about them. The price, set at £1.5 billion when the so-called Red Knights came to prominence a year ago, has now apparently increase to more than £2 billion if reports are correct.
Even the Qataris, rich from the world’s third largest reserves of natural gas, have baulked at that price, which represents a 20 times multiple on the club’s profits. The figure would also equate to a profit on the asset of more than £1 billion for the Glazers.
Nice work if you can get it.
There must also be serious question marks about whether Ferguson will be allowed to drain United’s cash reserves this summer, as had been widely briefed. Talk of a £100 million summer transfer budget to ‘radically’ overhaul Ferguson’s ageing squad has now given way to the ‘no value mantra’ and – laughably – the presumption that United alone in world football is able to buck the market by buying low and selling high.
United makes stars; it doesn’t buy them, goes the phrase, which now has more than a little of the dark arts about it. The club can compete in the market, it simply chooses not to, fans are repeatedly told.
“We can compete for top players,” said Gill recently.
“People say we don’t, but we have bought well, and our goal at Manchester United is to make sure we develop our own players and also buy good players.
“Over time, if you follow Manchester United, you will know we have rarely bought the world star. We have made them world stars by playing for United and that will continue.”
Gill, of course, forgets that United broke the transfer records of one form or another in signing Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron, Rio Ferdinand and Dimitar Berbatov in the last two decades.
But what are facts when there’s a PR war to win?
More importantly United remains a creative player short in central midfield. Ferguson’s mind has changed on that one. Supports must hope he has no cause to regret it.