Manchester United: F.C. or PLC ?

Written by: Siddesh K Iyer 

When you hear “Manchester United”, what comes first to your mind? The match kickoff time or 9:30 am ET, the opening time of the New York Stock Exchange? This is one question that the stalwarts in the United hierarchy and the Glazer family (the club owners) need to answer once and for all.

The commercial pull and the profits generated by the modern football club in today’s highly business oriented world cannot be denied. Television deals, commercial sponsorship’s and world-class signings with a view to boosting shirt sales are nothing new to the world of football. However, when the commercial aspect of things takes precedence over the gameplay itself, it’s time for the alarm bells to start ringing. The hierarchy actually needs to take note of this and the change the course of action to get the “football club” back on track.

Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson was a really well-run club. Mind you, that statement is not one bit of an exaggeration. But then, the catch here is that it was all a one-man show or at max two men pulling the strings at the world’s biggest football club, leaving the owners and others in the club hierarchy to only enjoy the fruits of all the good work that was being done behind the scenes. Sir Alex and David Gill (then CEO of MUFC) were incredible at whatever they did. Identifying talents, plugging the holes in the squad when needed and all this, while maintaining the star quotient of the squad without the “Galactico” aspect of things on the financial side. United under Sir Alex never had the need to overpay for any player unnecessarily. The pull of playing for the biggest “football club” in the world, under the best manager of all time was enough for most, if not all players to join Man United. Yes, they did break the transfer record for a defender when they signed Rio Ferdinand, but then, the fee that was paid back then looks an absolute bargain, given what Rio achieved in his long trophy-laden career at United.

Sir Alex’s 26-year reign at the Theatre of Dreams had this effect of a mirage on the shortcomings of the hierarchy at the club. An astute tactician on and off the pitch, the United hierarchy took the magnificent working of the club for granted and focused only on the business aspect of things. Whether it was preseason tournaments or sponsorship’s, everything had only a commercial aspect preceding the footballing aspect of things. And all this was being overshadowed by the sheer magnificence and man management skills of Sir Alex, winning trophies season after season with a limited squad of players. This was exemplified by the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo was replaced the following season by Antonio Valencia, a player on the verge of leaving United today, as one of the club’s most consistent and long-serving right-back’s. And that very season, United went on to win the Premier League without actually making up for the loss of their most valuable player in the form of CR7. It tells you a lot about what Sir Alex managed to do at the club and this shifted the attention of fans, critics and well-wishers, to the positive aspect of things without actually identifying the mess that the hierarchy had churned up at the club behind the scenes. Post the retirement of Sir Alex, all the managers that have been at the helm, in the companionship of United’s CEO haven’t been able to replicate even a quarter of the success that United as a European giant enjoyed over the years in world football.

Coming to United’s current CEO, Ed Woodward; he’s been the Glazer family’s go-to man when it comes to any activity related to Man United for some years now. And, to be very honest, the core of all the problems at the club lies in this very structure. Woodward, for all his vices with the footballing aspect of things, is excellent when it comes to commercial deals and sponsorship’s to further the already huge worldwide presence of the club. However, when it comes to signing players and handling matters actually related to the game in the top flight of English as well as European football, he comes up rather short in most areas. Transfer deals these days are expensive affairs, but then United are held to ransom by most clubs making average players look like world-beaters and then signing them only with a view to further the commercial reach of the club, and not based on their actual abilities on the pitch. For instance, United came up with this promo called the “No.7 VIP Matchday Experience” which provides fans and visitors with a VIP experience during match days at Old Trafford. Not a bad proposition actually, but given the fact that all of United’s No.7’s after Cristiano Ronaldo have failed miserably, including the latest investment in Alexis Sanchez not proving to be a very astute deal; this promotion using the No.7 tag doesn’t exactly dispel the notion that the United hierarchy only care about the commercial deals and football actually takes a back seat when it comes to their funding and running of the club.

Following the departure of Jose Mourinho and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his place, United actually showed some stunning form and now, despite the slump in April with a run of losses and a thumping at the hands of Barcelona, they are now in a position that many would not have expected back in December. Three points off third place with a game in hand over Chelsea, United still have a chance to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League whilst having a major say in this season’s title race with the Manchester Derby coming up this Wednesday. With the current scenario, the United hierarchy, Solskjaer, Mike Phelan and Ed Woodward have a massive rebuilding job at hand this summer. The word coming out of the club is that Ole will be backed with a hefty transfer budget and a free will to get the players he needs in this window. However, only a high transfer budget doesn’t hold any significance and we’ve seen this on more occasions than one, where United have splurged unnecessarily in the transfer market only to increase the already abundant “deadwood” at the club. This window needs to be a decisive one, with the clearing of the deadwood at the club and replacing them with players who have the necessary technical skills and fit the ideology of the football club; players who actually want to play for Manchester United “football club” and whose passion for the game is not fueled only by money. And for all this to unfold, United first need to appoint a Technical Director or a Director of Football or whatever fancy name they have for a position that’s so pivotal and central to the running of a football club. Post this, positions to be addressed include a right back, a centre back, a central midfielder, a right winger (a position that’s been non-existent at United for years now) and a prolific striker. That list just highlights how poor United have been in the transfer window over the years after Sir Alex retired.

All in all, it’s high time for the United hierarchy to finally put the “FC” in Manchester United before the PLC and do justice to the game and the club’s loyal supporters around the world.

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About the Author

Siddesh Iyer
A die hard Man United fan for over a decade now. It's been a journey of thrills and spills, lots of highs and a few lows. A part of AOF for over a year now, I specialize in opinion pieces, FPL and match previews and interviews of some well known names in the footballing world ( Interview of John Dykes on AOF).