There’s nothing like a defeat to get the knees of football fans jerking in all kinds of directions and so it proved this weekend following our 2-1 Old Trafford reverse at the hands of Swansea.
This apparently was the first time we’d lost an opening day fixture at Old Trafford for 43 years and it was the first time Swansea had ever beaten us at Old Trafford in the League.
Since the departure of Fergie, it seems that records of all the wrong kind are getting broken on a weekly basis.
Naturally, no one really wants to blame the manager for all of this – gawd knows enough of us tried really, really hard last season not to blame Moyes until it became clear that he really was clueless.
It also goes against the grain to blame the players – we’re supposed to be supporters of the team, after all.
So, naturally, the sitting ducks are the owners who have been about as popular as a fart in a spacesuit since the minute they officially took over almost ten years ago.
Last night, Twitter erupted with cries of #GlazersOut!!!
In the end, I had to come off Twitter for the evening because you can only read the same thing repeated over and over again before it gets really, really, really, really, really irritating.
My position on the Glazers is based on my acceptance of the following facts:
1) Football is now not just a sport, it is big business.
2) Football clubs are not just sporting institutions, they are businesses.
Football clubs have always needed to keep their financial house in order but, back in the days when players weren’t paid amounts too far removed from the average guy on the street, it didn’t require too much to keep them afloat and matchday revenues would have been sufficient in most cases.
Things started to change when Sky came along in the early 90s and football undertook a major re-branding as the League became the Premier League and subscription services such as Sky Sports started to share the dough with the clubs.
As football fans, we’ve voraciously lapped up everything Sky have thrown at us and still we crave more and Sky are happy to keep it coming.
Now BT Sport have entered the arena and the “TV Money” has gone through the roof.
I believe that this season, the team that finishes bottom of the Premier League will receive more TV Money than the winners did last season (the winners this season will obviously still receive far more).
Whether the Glazers saw this all coming is open to debate but I rather suspect that they did as they are no strangers to the running of a sporting franchise and the ways of the media revenues.
As for my second point about clubs being businesses as well as sporting institutions… yes, I appreciate that a lot of fans find this notion quite distasteful but every season we see examples of what happens to clubs who fall foul of the taxman who sees football clubs as nothing but businesses.
They would see clubs disappear before they will let an unpaid tax bill slide. There is no sentimentality.
Football itself has had to mature given the sheer amounts of dosh that is now sloshing around in the game and the governing bodies themselves now issue punishments to clubs which fail to keep their financial house in order (Rangers, anyone?).
So… the Glazers are businessmen and Manchester United is a business to them. I genuinely believe that people like the Glazers are a symptom of what football has become rather than the cause of what it has become.
When big money is being splashed around, people with an interest in making money come a-sniffing.
However, one of the things I have always liked about the Glazers is that they do seem to have a very clear line drawn in the sand between the “footballing side” and the “business side”.
The two are, of course, inextricably linked which the Glazers are very mindful of.
In order to get those mega sponsorship deals, Manchester United needs to be successful on the pitch – everyone likes to be associated with winners.
By being successful on the pitch, bigger sponsorship deals can be commanded which means that more funds are available for better players which (in theory) means more success on the pitch and so it goes on in this symbiotic cycle.
And this is where the problems start… this is where the two things start to diverge.
Some of you will be screaming, “What bleedin’ funds!!!???” at your screen right now.
From the outside looking in, this is what I see…
Manchester United under the Glazers have gone from strength to strength in a business sense (and, for a while, we weren’t doing too shabbily on the footballing side, either – I would suggest that the period circa 2008-2010 was the most successful period in the club’s history).
When the Glazers took over in 2005, Manchester United’s revenue was in the region of £166 million. Today, it stands at somewhere in the region of £425 million.
Of course, a lot of this has to do with the increase in money coming from TV companies but a significant increase has come in the area which the Glazers always felt was under-exploited at Manchester United – that of the commercial/sponsorship sector.
Whereas most football clubs out there are heavily reliant on the TV money, the majority of Manchester United’s money is self-generated (I believe that the three main revenue streams i.e. Media, Matchday and Commercial each account for roughly one third of our revenue which puts us in a strong position as we are not overly reliant on one stream of income).
In 2005, our commercial revenues were somewhere in the region of £47 million per annum. Earlier this year, a quarterly figure of £42 million was published.
So… in a nutshell, I do believe that the Glazers are doing their job well. Could we have better owners? Maybe. Could we have worse? Certainly.
Before I leave the subject of the Glazers, I’d just like to give my two penneth on a couple of things which crop up constantly when they are being discussed.
Firstly, “they’ve cost us hundreds of millions in servicing the debt they foisted on us to buy the club!”
Yes and whilst this is tied to the second thing I want to mention, I think that the people who spread these figures are guilty of disingenuity and churlishness.
Look at it this way: If you in your job are paid £30k per annum and by doing your job you create £50k per annum in revenues for your company would you not look a bit bemused if your boss was to come in after ten years to moan that you’ve “cost” him £300k?
Look again at our annual revenues – they look like (once again) reaching record highs this year to something approaching or even northwards of £400 million.
Again, maybe a different owner could have done better or worse – it’s all conjecture at this stage but the Glazers are doing this and I do believe that they deserve some credit for that and to say “well, anyone could have done that!” is the churlishness coming to the fore.
This leads to the second thing… “Why, oh why, did we have to get the Glazers when everyone else gets a sugar-daddy!”
Us United fans have had to put up with rivals backed by sugar-daddies down the years. The first in recent(ish) history was probably Jack Walker at Blackburn who gave Kenny Dalglish the couple of hundred mill required to pip us to the title in 1995.
Blackburn have been generally sinking like a stone ever since, though.
Then came Abramovich at Chelsea who, being on a completely different level to Jack Walker, was able to fund Chelsea’s surge to the top for a number of years.
The biggest of them all, though, has to be Mansour at Manchester City who has pumped what must be damn near a billion quid into the club since taking over five years ago.
It is easy for us to look upon these cases and wonder why we haven’t been the recipient of such riches. The answer is simple: Manchester United were never an attractive proposition for a sugar daddy because we were too expensive to purchase.
If you are a multi-billionaire who’s a bit bored and wants a pet project to play around with for a while then a football club must be great fun to own.
So, let’s say that you have a billion quid to throw at this project. Do you:
A) Buy a club already at the top for £1 billion in one hit.
B) Buy a club for £200 million and then spend £800 million on players over a period of a few years and watch it grow from next to nothing to a world-beater?
That was the scenario facing any would-be sugar daddy in recent years and I think it’s a bit of a no-brainer. It must bring some satisfaction to know that you’re largely responsible for bringing the glory days back to a club.
The only way anyone would have bought Manchester United is the same way that anyone buys a business (and, remember, football clubs are businesses) and that is by using borrowed money.
It just doesn’t make sense to purchase a business outright. If you’re smart and know what you’re doing then you borrow and then grow the revenues to cover the loan repayments.
This is exactly what we have had with the Glazers. The sugar daddies didn’t come knocking for a reason.
Anyway. As already said, the revenues have generally been on an upward curve ever since the Glazers arrived which is good news because the Bond Prospectus published several years ago said that the wage bill would be capped at 50% of the revenues.
This is a sensible and sustainable approach, by the way. Unlike Manchester City who, at one point not too long ago, had a wage bill that was actually higher than their revenue!
So… the Glazers do their bit on the one side which provides the manager with the funds on the other side.
And this is where the other half of this symbiotic relationship starts to come to the fore.
When talking about money spent on players, the common mistake most fans make is to look solely at the transfer fees and then compare them with what other clubs are spending but the wages must always be taken into account because on an annual basis, wages always outstrip even the biggest transfer splurges.
True to their word, it does appear to be the case that the Glazers are allocating 50% of the revenues for player wages (the figures I have here show a revenue of £363 million and a wage bill of £181 million).
The last figures I saw for Premier League wage bills came from the 2012-13 Season and they looked like this:-
1) Man City – £233m (£271m revenues – 86%)
2) Man Utd – £181m (£363m revenues – 50%)
3) Chelsea – £179m (£260m revenues – 69%)
4) Arsenal – £154m (£283m revenues – 54%)
5) Liverpool – £132m (£206m revenues – 64%)
And so it goes on to the bottom club at the time which was Wigan with a wage bill of £44m against revenues of £56m (79%).
As you can see, whilst Manchester City are clear front-runners in absolute terms, at 86% of revenues, the wage requires a sugar-daddy (and probably one or two sponsorship deals with oil-rich mates) to sustain it.
Even Abramovich at Chelsea, whilst slacking off a bit in recent years in an attempt to get the club self-financing, is pushing it close with almost 70% of the club’s revenue going on the wage bill.
Of all those clubs, by far the most sensible are ourselves and Arsenal. I would suggest that both clubs are being sensibly run and this is why both can survive on-field set-backs without the need to sell all the players to avoid financial meltdown.
The point of all this, though, is to illustrate something which I believe tends to suggest that blaming the Glazers for all of our woes is unfair.
By all accounts, the Glazers are providing the manager(s) with more than enough money to compete with the best in the Premier League whilst ensuring that the financial stability of the club is not endangered by leaving ourselves over-exposed.
But if the manager does not spend that money wisely, how is that the Glazer’s fault?
And I am starting to think that there has been an awful lot of poorly-spent money and an inordinate amount of bad managerial decisions at United in recent years.
If money buys you the best then what we have right now should, in theory, be at least the second best squad in the country but isn’t the claim always that this United squad is poor? Just yesterday, Steve McManaman claimed that this was the worst United squad in twenty years.
That may or may not be so but it’s certainly the highest paid squad we’ve ever had so what gives?
The blame for this, I’m afraid, must lie squarely at the door of the manager (and, yes, I’m talking about Fergie here and, to a lesser extent, Moyes).
I look back at some of our more recent transfer dealings and I see people like Valencia bought for something in the region of £16 million to play on the right and then Young bought for something in the region of £15-20 million to play… on the right?
I see Rooney given wage rise after wage rise to play “in the hole” and then I see Kagawa bought for something like £17 million to play… “in the hole”?
I see a player like Paul Pogba allowed to walk away for nothing only for us to claim that there’s “no value in the market” despite us crying out for a decent midfielder for the last six years.
I see Fergie having to resort to the rather embarrassing act of dragging Paul Scholes out of retirement such is the dearth of midfield talent he’s left himself with by spending too much on mediocrity and dodgy knees (Anderson and Hargreaves spring to mind).
I see Moyes spending a club record £38 million on Mata even though we have Rooney, Januzaj and Kagawa all vying for a similar role in the side.
(Just to clarify: I love Mata and I’m glad we have him but it smacked of spending all your money on alloy wheels for your car when the engine’s knackered to me).
I see the aforementioned “value-seeking” Fergie splash £8 million on a player no one had ever heard of and who he hadn’t even see play.
I see Zaha bought for £15 million only to never play… ever.
I see Moyes spending £27 million on Fellaini just a couple of seasons after Man City bought Yaya Toure for £24 million. Nuff said on that one.
Seriously, if you look at so much of our transfer dealings in recent years, it hasn’t been so much a lack of spending – it has been big money spent badly.
Spending in areas that didn’t require spending on. Spending top brass on players who would struggle to get into any other top Premier League side. Allowing top players to go to our rivals for little more than we’ve wasted on two or three of these duds.
As I said before, though. I do firmly believe that the Glazers draw a line between the football and the business and all decisions relating to footballing matters are delegated to those people whom are paid by the Glazers to make such decisions.
That is the way a club should be run, in my opinion, by the way. Nothing grates me more than owners who are on Sky Sports News every five minutes – sometimes even undermining the manager himself with their comments. Nothing disturbs me more than reports that an owner has gone behind the manager’s back and bought or sold a player without his knowledge or even agreement. As for owners who plonk statues of pop stars outside the stadium or attempt to change the club’s name… don’t get me started!
The problem we now have (and I think Van Gaal expressed a veiled reference to this recently) is that we’re paying top wages for little better than “good” (and in some cases, decidedly average) players.
Give a player a four year deal on £80k/week and he ain’t gonna move anywhere for less but the buying club can’t afford to pay that kind of money so we’re stuck with him until the contract expires or unless some other kind of arrangement can be made with the buying club (I think Anderson is a prime example of this and no doubt we have been subsidising his wages whilst out on loan).
Meanwhile, that money is taking up precious “wage space” and with the 50% limit imposed by the Glazer’s business plan, new players can’t be brought in unless and until some are shipped out so it all becomes a bit Catch 22 because, bizarrely and paradoxically, the Glazers are spending too much! (OK… I’m taking a liberty there but hopefully you can see where I’m coming from).
So… I do believe that there’s vastly more to all this than simply blaming the Glazers for all of our woes and a lengthy period of some pretty poor decisions on the part of others have also had an accumulative effect which have led us to the mess we’re in today.
Of course, if we beat Sunderland 5-0 in our next match then the knees will all jerk back to their rightful positions and everything will be rosy again… until the next defeat.