Between the Lines

"Of all unimportant subjects, football is the most important" – Pope John Paul II

Archive for April, 2009

Oh my Darling, oh my Darling

Posted by hakanrylander on April 28, 2009

Now and again I come across a sentence that reminds me why I love newspapers. This is from an article by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian last Thursday:

To see Alistair Darling deliver his budget was like watching a man pushed from a sky-skraper window, falling calmly, even gracefully, as he somehow managed to remove his jacket, raise it above his head and tie it into a makeshift parachute. You couldn’t help but admire his ingenuity and optimism – but you still felt sure it was bound to end in a sticky mess.

I don’t know whether Mr Darling’s budget, or even the British economy, will end in a sticky mess, but one detail in the budget is bound to create at least a little bit of a mess for Manchester United and other PL clubs.

The budget included the imposition of a 50% tax rate on high earners (raised from 40%). Since a high earner is defined as anyone earning more than £150,000 a year, every first-team player in the PL falls into this category. This means that footballers will pay at least 5-10% more tax in Britain than in Spain, Italy and Germany.  For a player interested in how much his pay-packet contains after tax, moving to, or indeed staying in, England therefore becomes a little less attractive.

The tax-hike comes on top of the fall of the pound that has already weakend the clout of English clubs in the transfer market, and is a more severe problem. Maybe the transfer window this summer will be a little less exciting than it used to be.


Posted in Financial | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The debt also rises

Posted by hakanrylander on April 24, 2009

With the recession hitting Britain hard all Premier League clubs have lowered or frozen the prices for season-tickets for next season. With one notable exception; Manchester United. As announced this week, we are the only club to ask all season-ticket holders for more money.

The decision is easy to understand from a simple supply and demand calculation. Old Trafford is full for every league game, so demand exceeds supply. It’s difficult to assess by how much, but probably 5,000 or 10,000 more tickets could be sold if there were more seats. It’s therefore very likely that OT will again be full for every league game next season, despite the higher prices. Even so, other clubs in similar situations, such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, have chosen to freeze prices.

The price-hike is estimated to bring in an extra £1 million from PL-matches next season. This is a lot of money by most people’s standards, but peanuts in comparison to United’s total revenue. With regard to long-term customer relations you have to be careful to choose the right moment to raise prices, and I believe United got it wrong this time. For a relatively small financial benefit they have strengthened the perception that their strategy is all about squeezing as much money as possible out of the customers.

And maybe that’s exactly what the strategy has to be, considering the huge debts the Glazers took on to finance their take-over of the club. The gravity of the debt-situation was again highlighted by the recent publication of the annual reports of the companies through which the Glazer family controls United. Despite a record turnover and great sporting success, the parent company Red Football Joint Venture Ltd reported a pre-tax loss of £44.8 million. The group’s loans rose to £699 million, and will continue to rise for many years because £176 million of the loans are “Payment in Kind” where interest isn’t actually paid each year, but instead added to the debt.

In short this means that the Glazers need the club to continue to generate a strong cash flow, while at the same time the total value of the club must increase to match the continously rising debt. To this end the Glazers have designed a growth strategy consisting of four key elements. I will assess this strategy in my next post.

Posted in Financial | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The uncertain glory of an April day

Posted by hakanrylander on April 23, 2009

Yes, it’s still uncertain, but the win against Portsmouth along with the draws for Chelsea and Liverpool moved United an imporant step closer to the league championship. With only six games to go we’re now 3  points ahead of Liverpool and 6 ahead of Chelsea and have a game in hand.

Chelsea’s challenge effectively ended yesterday. Whatever Hiddink says about giving everything as long as there’s a theoretical chance, I would be very surprised if he fields their strongest side against West Ham on Saturday considering that Barcelona awaits three days later.

Furthermore, our remaining fixtures doesn’t look, dare I say it, impossible:

  • Spurs (H)
  • Middlesbrough (A)
  • City (H)
  • Wigan (A)
  • Arsenal (H)
  • Hull (A)

Finally, the performance against Portsmouth was very encouraging compared to much of what we’ve seen in recent weeks. With some half-decent finishing the score could easily have been 5-0.

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Czar of the Week

Posted by hakanrylander on April 22, 2009

I didn’t have any high hopes that Arsenal would give us a helping hand last night, and from the outset it certainly looked as though it would be Liverpool’s game. They totally dominated the first half and should have been 4-0 up. Instead they were 1-0 down. In the second half the game swung back and forth but Liverpool were still the better team, and I have to admit that they deserved three points. Great performances from Torres, Kuyt and Benayoun (the best I’ve ever seen from him).

But they made the mistake of handing Andrei Arshavin four chances, and he buried them all. Two of his finishes, the second and fourth, were truly world-class. Interestingly enough, even though Arsenal were second to Liverpool in most respects, I thought I saw signs that Wenger is close to building another great side. They played the 4-2-3-1 system that I’m very fond of and which makes good use of the mobile and skilful attacking midfielders Fabregas, Nasri and Arshavin. If they can add a bit of steel in central defence and defensive midfield they will be even more formidable opposition.

All in all a wonderful spectacle where the winners were Manchester United. And football.

Posted in Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Berbatov File

Posted by hakanrylander on April 21, 2009

berbatov4The criticism of Dimitar Berbatov has reached new levels of intensity following his weak penalty-kick against Everton. By some, or even many, supporters he’s considered lazy, uninterested and a Veron-style transfer market mistake by Fergie. Tommy Docherty goes as far as to call Berba “an absolute disaster”. Even I have occasionally (but very briefly) doubted his contribution, even though I always love his style.

So let’s have another look at the official statistics from the Premier League. Number of assists, season 2008/09:

  1. Robin Van Persie 10
  2. Dimitar Berbatov 9
  3. Stephen Ireland 9
  4. Frank Lampard 9

For some reason I very rarely hear anyone questioning the contributions of Van Persie, Ireland or Lampard. Telegraph today helped me dig up some other interesting statistics, comparing Berbatov’s performances at Spurs and United:


Team Tottenham Manchester United
Appearances 70 27
Goal attempts    
Goals 27 8
Goals per game 0.39 0.30
Shots on target 89 21
Shots off target 76 18
Shots per game 2.4 1.4
Shooting acuracy 54% 54%
Chance conversion 16% 21%
Goal assists 18 8
Chances created per match 1.53 1.78
Pass completion % 67% 77%
Pass % opp. half 65% 75%
Cross completion % 11% 29%
Tackles won % 75% 84%


I’m not saying that these statistics prove that Berbatov has been brilliant, but it’s interesting to see that he’s improved on chance conversion, chances created, pass completion and assists. He’s even won some tackles! He should shoot more often, though.

Posted in Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Barking up the right tree

Posted by hakanrylander on April 8, 2009

Honorary member

Honorary member

It seems that everyone and their dog tend to regard themselves as football analysts these days. Even bloggers such as yours truly occasionally make cocksure statements like “Porto is the perfect draw” etc etc.

But while “everyone” is telling Fergie and Arsene how to do their jobs, another major analyst sub-group is finally getting organised with the founding of the Association of Canine Match Analysts.

Posted in Non-United | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

United 2 – Porto 2

Posted by hakanrylander on April 8, 2009

The sad fact of this game is that United were lucky to get away with a draw. We had most of the possession but Porto always looked more dangerous and showed lots of energy and movement, neither of which featured prominently in United’s performance. A number of “experts”, myself included, must now realize that it wasn’t perhaps such a blessing to be drawn against the Portugese champions.

Only Rooney emerged with some credit, but this was one of those occasions when I felt that he might be more useful to the team in a slightly more withdrawn position.

It is, of course, still possible to turn this tie around in Portugal next week, but I’m not very optimistic. United looked very tired and Porto will be filled with confidence. But hopefully Ferdinand and Berbatov will be back and a difficult game in his home country will be a good opportunity for Ronaldo to provide some magic.

Posted in Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Federico Macheda: A star is born

Posted by hakanrylander on April 6, 2009

machedafergusonIf you watched the game against Villa yesterday you will no doubt regard this headline as a fact rather than an opinion. Macheda came on for the last thirty minutes and capped an impressive performance with an amazing winner in added time. I can’t remember a more impressive United debut since Rooney’s hat-trick against Fenerbache, but Rooney was already an established star at that time while Macheda is an unknown 17-year-old.

For more information about our new star I recommend this interesting article at manunitedyouth. The author, Nick, has followed Macheda closely for more than a year at Youth and Reserves level and describes him as a combination of Van Nistlerooy and Berbatov…

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Review: The damned Utd

Posted by hakanrylander on April 5, 2009

damned-utdThis novel ranks right up there with the best books ever written about football, such as “Fever pitch” and “Brilliant orange”. I read it last week, and it’s an absolute page-turner. Most of you are probably familiar with the background story of Brian Clough’s spell as manager of Leeds United in 1974 (yes, it’s about Leeds, not Manchester).

The book is very elegantly structured, with the story of the 44 disastrous days at Leeds told in parallell with Clough’s career as a player at Sunderland and very successful manager at Hartlepool and Derby County, and the two story-lines converge towards the end. It’s a novel based on a true story (and apparently very well-researched) which makes it a mix of fact and fiction.

I like this book a lot, but I still have a couple of reservations. Firstly, I find it difficult to match the image I get of Clough with the fact that he was one of the most successful English managers of all time. He took Derby County from the bottom of the Second Division to the League Championship, and he won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest. But in the book he seems completely unable to handle the, admittedly difficult, situation at Leeds. Secondly, it is well documented that Clough had a drinking problem but if it was on the scale indicated in the book it’s beyond me how he could be a top manager for so many years.

But never mind the reservations. A must read!

David Peace: The damned Utd (Faber and Faber).

Posted in Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »