The start of a new decade calls for the long-term view. And whether you like it or not, long-term sporting success in today’s football depends more than anything on – money. Thus my pessimism.
United now owe something like £700m to banks and hedge funds. This in itself need not be too much of a problem. Normal companies often have huge debts without this being particularly alarming. But there’s a crucial difference. Normal companies have debts because they’ve borrowed money to invest in machinery, factories, real estate or whatever. And these investments bring, or are at least supposed to bring, revenues that help pay off the debt. Football clubs also do this. When Arsenal invested in a new stadium their debt rose significantly, but so did their gate receipts on every match day.
United’s debt, on the other hand, is virtually not investment related at all. It was taken on only to finance the Glazer take-over. In effect, the club is paying lots of money every year for the privilege of having new owners. In the year to 30 June 2008 the interest payable was £69m. Most of this money could otherwise have been spent on investments in players, ground improvements etc. Similar sums go to waste every season.
And by a complete coincidence a United manager, for the first time in living memory, finds no value for money in the transfer market. I believe the sad truth is that the board no longer supports Ferguson in the transfer market the way they used to when we signed Robson, Keane, Ferdinand and Rooney. Not a big problem in the short-term. I don’t see any desperate need for big signings in January. But in the long-term there’s no way we can keep up with Real Madrid, Chelsea or City without being prepared to pay big money for top players.
The only solution that I can see is that someone is prepared to pay enough money for the club so that the Glazers can leave with a healthy return on their investment. The sooner, the better.