Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion that Manchester United’s summer transfer policy will focus on targeting younger, cheaper players who maintain a resale value, exposes the financial lie which both manager and board have perpetuated in the past year. The oft-repeated insistence that the transfer market “has no value” made a mockery.
The Scot’s revelation that United will spend only on players who can be sold at a later date says much of the club’s financial thinking. Firstly, that quality is secondary to financial considerations. Secondly, that United is now – by policy – a selling club.
“We prefer to do these kind of signings,” explained Ferguson after 21-year-old Javier Hernández’ signature this week.
“There is the odd exception when we get a mature player, like Berbatov. He was 27 when he signed.
“When you sign a player for that kind of money you know there is not going to be a resale value if he stays with you for six years. That is always in the back of your mind.”
For United supporters it’s a concerning equation both from a footballing and financial point of view. The policy only makes financial sense if acquired players are sold on at a later date.
More worrying still, United’s policy is logical on the pitch only if younger players develop into the finished product. That comes with no guarantee while the club continues to ignore established talent, such as Valencia’s David Villa who will now play for Chelsea or Manchester City next season.
United has found mixed success with those players brought to the club under the policy in recent seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo is held up as the poster boy of buy-to-sell but he is, arguably, the only success.
The signings of Nani and Anderson, for example, at more than £34 million between them are yet to realise full value on or off the pitch. Reports suggest that United turned down an £8 million winter move from Juventus for the Portuguese winger, while Anderson tried desperately to leave on loan.
At the cheaper end of the scale Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf and Zoran Tošić, bought for a joint £15 million, are little more than expensive reserves. Meanwhile virtual freebies Federico Macheda, the da Silva brothers and Ritchie de Laet may prove good value but there are no certainties.
It is telling that United’s move for Hernández saw the light as much for the financial consequences of missing out on the player as his current qualities, according to Ferguson.
“The feeling was to wait because he was young,” said the Scot.
“But then he got into the national team, which created a problem for us because if he went to the World Cup and did well, there would be a danger of losing him.
“I sent Jim Lawlor, our chief scout, over there for three weeks to get some background on the boy and watch him. He filed a fantastic report on the boy and said we really needed to do something.”
Given the fee, which could rise from an £8 million base to more than £10 million, Ferguson hopes Hernández makes the kind of instant impact that has not been forthcoming from Obertan or Diouf.
The same can be said of £12 million, 21-year-old defender Chris Smalling, signed from Fulham in January.
The numbers now suggest United’s transfer policy is even more restricted than previously thought; shopping at the bottom of the market among its European peers. It’s a point amply made last summer when the club refused to increase an €25 million bid for 22-year-old Karim Benzema.
After all, United’s business model works only if the club sells players, with annual financial losses now built in. Red Football Joint Venture Ltd, United’s parent company, posted a profit of £6.4m in 2009 on debts of £716m. The year the club sold Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million.
United made a loss of £47 million in 2008.
While United remains competitive this season laregely due to the extraordinary exploits of Wayne Rooney, it is perhaps only fair to ask whether United could have concluded a bid for the striker under the Glazer regime.
Ferguson and United supporters alike are lucky that the former Evertonian joined a year before the Americans’ buyout.