Wayne Rooney’s claim that Manchester United is stagnating under the Glazer regime masks an essential greed on the player’s part but it also strikes at the heart of the club’s financial problems. The striker says that he will not sign a new contract because David Gill will not assure him over the club’s ability to attract the world’s top players.
It’s a claim United can have only one answer to.
It is now likely Rooney will be sold in the January transfer window, with United keen to realise whatever value is left in a player with just 20 months left on his £90,000 per week deal. Rooney, believed to be considering a £260,000 a week offer from Manchester City, can leave for free in June 2012 if United has not sold the striker before then.
In another extraordinary twist in the ongoing saga over the past week, Rooney’s camp released a statement just two hours before United’s match with Bursaspor last night. Timed to have maximum impact ahead of a key Champions League clash, Rooney directly challenged the Glazer family’s ownership of the club. The 24-year-old claimed that failure to attract the world’s best players lay at the heart of his decision.
“I met with David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad,” said Rooney.
“I have had a number of meetings with the club about a new contract. During those meetings in August I asked for assurances about the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world.
“For me its all about winning trophies – as the club has always done under Sir Alex. Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified.”
Despite the high degree of unprofessionalism demonstrated by Rooney’s camp in the past week, the statement touches on concerns about the club’s investment in the transfer market.
The uncomfortable truth about the Glazer family’s willingness to invest in marquee players, while paying down the clubs huge debt burden, is yet to be answered.
Since reaching the Champions League final in May 2009, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo have left the club, while Ferguson has invested largely in younger, unproven replacements. Ferguson last night reiterated the club’s policy of buying younger players.
Supporters groups are concerned that United’s £720 million debt is impacting the club’s ability to compete in the transfer market, with more than £80 million in interest and refinance charges haemorrhaged in the last financial year. In the past two years the club has spent around £55 million on new players but received more than £94 million in sales, while pocketing money once earmarked for Tevez’ signature.
The subtext, of course, is that Rooney also believes United is in danger of slipping behind Chelsea and City domestically, while falling further back in Europe. United sits behind both Chelsea and cross-town rivals City in the Premier League and has fallen to third in the domestic wages table. It is perhaps instructive that no team has ever won the Premier League while not one of the leading payers.
Ferguson reacted to with anger to Rooney’s challenge last night, warning the striker that the grass is not always greener. The United manager said that the club will invest in players when the time is right but said that the club’s policy is to bring in younger players.
“We will invest for signature players when the time is ready, and this summer was not right for me,” claimed Ferguson, who has repeatedly said that there is no value in the transfer market.
“Our policy is to bring in young players and it is the right policy.
“We have a good structure, the right staff, the right manager, the right chief executive. There’s not a thing wrong with Manchester United.”
Except for £720 million debt, critics might add.
In any increasingly bitter war-of-words, Ferguson said he was to meet with chief executive David Gill today to discuss whether Rooney will be sold in the upcoming window. Ferguson also appealed to supporters, most of whom assume that Rooney’s motives are based on the desire for untold wealth on offer at City. Banners at Old Trafford last night proclaimed the striker a ‘whore’.
“Some players like to think there’s a better world somewhere else but it never really works,” said Ferguson.
“They look in a field and see a cow and they think it’s a better cow than the one in their own field, and it never really works out that way.”
United’s financial dilemma over Rooney is underscored by the player’s rapidly depreciating value. Cup-tied in Europe, and reportedly demanding wages in excess of £200,000 per week, Rooney is attractive only to a very small group of clubs. Should United delay a sale until next summer, the club may only realise a third of the player’s true value. Perhaps as low as £20 million.
While supporters can expect any money from Rooney’s sale to be reinvested into the playing squad, Bloomberg today revealed that the Glazer family has delayed repaying the Payment-in-Kind (PIK) notes amid fears of a supporter backlash.
The Glazer family is allowed to take up to £95 million in dividends immediately, followed by up to 50 per cent of United’s EBITDA profits – earnings before interest, tax and other deductions – after bond interest payments. On current earnings the Glazer family could take another £28 million this season plus various management and consulting fees.
However, United’s recent accounts showed that these dividends had not yet been taken, with Bloomberg’s sources claiming the family failed to do so following a high-profile campaign by supporter groups last season.
While United’s finances continue to dominate supporter groups thinking, Rooney’s probable January departure means a third leading player leaving the club inside 18 months. Despite Ferguson’s assertions, it is hard to argue the team has not regressed in that period.
Aside from the departures Anderson shows few signs of progress, Michael Carrick’s slump continues and Park Ji-Sung makes a weekly case for permanent exclusion. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Sar is each one day closer to retirement.
Indeed, last night Ferguson argued strongly that United is now at the end of a cycle of success. Whether and when United rise again is a matter of youth development and investment in the market.
The former is a matter of three years, Ferguson said. The later is seemingly now a factor of the Glazer family’s bravery.