Manchester United, Tradition and the Money

Manchester United have confirmed the signings of Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. These follow the early acquisition of Memphis Depay who was unveiled by the club on Friday. United have been ruthless in the transfer market in recent times and more new faces are expected at Old Trafford. However, United’s tradition has been to bring young players through their academy and introduce them into the first team: an era which seems to have passed.

Last summer, there were mixed feelings regarding the departures of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Federico Macheda. There has not been any casualty yet this summer, but Jonny Evans’ days as a Manchester United player are numbered. Fellow centre-backs Phil Jones and Chris Smalling recently signed new contracts and with the Red Devils in the market for a top defender, Evans could see himself as the club’s fifth-choice centre-back.

United have also been merciless in clearing out players who have failed to perform at Old Trafford, albeit for a reduced price. The sale of the trio Nani, Anderson and van Persie did not fetch even £10 million, showing how eager the club to get some players off their books. Rafael and Javier Hernandez have been deemed surplus to requirements and the club will be looking to ship them out quickly.

Clubs spend big for the finished article and send their academy products out on loan which almost always fails to materialize. There’s certainly been a transition and there are many possible reasons for the change in approach.

Manchester United, Tradition and the Money

Level of competition

This new trend is not seen only at Old Trafford, but it’s the way the game has evolved. There is a lot more competition for trophies and success and clubs need to spend for immediate success. Winning the league has become an even greater challenge with at least four teams having pre-season expectations of becoming champions. The ‘smaller’ sides in the league can no longer be brushed aside and clubs cannot risk fielding young players, especially considering the tight competition at the top.

Alan Hansen is remembered for his famous comment: “You’ll never win anything with kids.” This came in 1995 after Sir Alex Ferguson fielded young players Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham. United would go on to win the domestic double that year. The issue twenty years on is not with age but being good irrespective of the age. There are few young players who can play at the highest level for a club like Manchester United and such players go for a commanding fee. United have a lot of potential in Adnan Januzaj, Andreas Pereira, James Wilson, Nick Powell and Patrick McNair, but these players cannot do a job each week for the club and thus will have to play a bit-part role or be shipped out on loan for more first-team action.

Stature of the club

Manchester United are a real force in world football and boast one of the largest fanbases of them all. The large number of fans adds to the expectation, coupled with the financial interests the club lose when they fail to perform. The Red Devils faced a huge turnover in their finances following their abysmal 2013-14 season. Manchester United’s ‘brand’ is the first to be worth over $1 billion, according to a report by Brand Finance, surpassing Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. The club’s recent deals with Chevrolet and Adidas have boosted its financial position and thus there is a lot of money ready to be spent. The revenue generated places United in a safe position as regards UEFA Financial Fair Play Rules. The spending will not stop and fans can expect the club to continue to compete in the market for years to come.

Progress of other clubs

A few years ago, just a handful of clubs could splash out £20 million on a single player but pretty well every club in the Premier League is now in the position to do that. The teams at the top outbid the mid-table clubs for players because they could flex their financial muscle. They can still outbid the smaller clubs, but the smaller clubs do not back out easily and the lure of first-team action pulls some of the players to the smaller clubs.

In January, Chelsea were in the market for Andrej Kramaric but lost out to Leicester City who were in the bottom three at the time. Leicester’s bid was acceptable and it came down to Kramaric’s choice. Last summer, United paid a record fee for Angel Di Maria and spent a staggering £32 million for Luke Shaw, who was 18 at the time. There were other clubs interested and United had to outbid them to secure his signing.

Agents, third parties and clauses

Most clubs have had to overpay in recent times for their transfer targets. This is partly due to the interests of agents, other third parties, release clauses and sell-on value percentages. Liverpool paid £29 million for Roberto Firmino with only £18 million going to his former club TSG Hoffenheim. Manchester City have agreed a £49 million deal for Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, but his former club QPR will receive 20% of the transfer fee.

The clauses inserted during negotiations and agents wanting the best possible deal for their clients contributes to the high transfer fees and clubs will have to pay to secure their targets. Signing young players comes with so many clauses these days and should they go on to fulfil their potential, their sell-on value becomes so high, the club will want the maximum benefit from any deal.

With the club searching for a swift return to the summit of English and European football, Manchester United have had to spend a lot. The club cannot risk trusting first-team duties to players from their academy and wait for them to develop. That era is over. The famed La Masia of European Champions Barcelona has failed to bring through a star in the past three years with the club having to spend to maintain its position at the top. The academy will still run and produce some quality players, but these players need to be something special to be able to break into the first team.


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