Club Focus – Manchester United – Problems mounting

Last week Manchester United’s playing staff were fortunate to escape the horrendous weather at a training camp in Doha prior to the weekend’s fixtures. They returned fully refreshed for a rather flattering result against Burnley with much of the talk off the pitch becoming vastly more important.

The big news last week concerned the £500m bond United’s board took in order to refinance debts and the news that a pre-tax profit of £48.2m – only made possible by the £80m received from Real Madrid – was made for the year to 30 June 2009. Thus many questions have been raised concerning the financial fitness of the club. Some newspapers also claimed that the Carrington training ground may be sold to a holding company and leased back to the club to raise further capital.

Since the takeover in 2005 which plunged the club into debt there has been increased instability off the pitch for a club once heralded as the richest in the world. The ever loyal fans have been the subject of a constant increase in ticket prices and the exploitative scheme that is the automatic cup scheme. The automatic cup scheme, in its initial creation, required all season ticket holders to be automatically provided with tickets for home Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup ties on top of the League matches and were required to pay for these tickets with no opt-out provision. Subsequently in the face of attack from consumer protection legislation the club provided an opt-out for the League Cup but nothing else.

It is schemes like this that have been the constant focus of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and the reason for many to instead make the trip to Gigg Lane to see FC United of Manchester. The Love United Hate Glazer campaign has been a constant fixture since 2005 and again raised its head inside Old Trafford this weekend.

For those who have remained there has at least been consistency on the pitch. Since the takeover United have won the Premier League three times, the League Cup twice, the Champions League and the World Club Cup. Money has also been provided to Sir Alex Ferguson with the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves all coming in for transfer fees over the £20m mark.

On current evidence this consistency seems to be on the decline. Sir Alex Ferguson has never once criticised the Glazer family and remains defiant that he does not wish to add to the current squad. Considering the current form of the squad and specific players within it however, many feel that if Ferguson had the money available to him he would be making some serious changes. It is difficult to read into this though, considering the Scot’s traditional lack of action in the January transfer window and the lack of real quality players on the current market.

It is not only the fans that are voicing their concern about the side’s current form as according to newspaper reports the club have detailed their concerns as to how the fortunes of the club will fair following the 70th birthday of Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson has stated he will not continue past that age and having just celebrated his 68th birthday this is of real concern. If the Board does not appoint the right successor then the footballing side of the club may well suffer a period of transition or possibly decline which will clearly have a knock on effect to the business side of the club.

Many will point to the 26 year period without a top flight championship following the retirement of Sir Matt Busby. During those years the financial rewards surrounding first class football was nowhere near what we see today and in truth United have been very lucky hitting their stride with the onset of the Premier League. If United were to suffer something even remotely similar the repercussions could be on the catastrophic side considering the way the club is currently financed.

Due to the rise in ticket prices and the current financial climate it is not often Old Trafford is full for certain Champions League, FA Cup or League Cup ties despite the success of the team. If the success of the team is to fall below the required standard it may no longer be an attractive option for the corporate and overseas markets meaning the club will have to rely on the support of many of those who they have priced out with the aforementioned schemes. The United fans are all too aware of the problems this will cause have even urged their much loved manager to quit, according to newspaper reports to both show his love for the club and hatred of the current regime.

The players were fortunate to be out of the country last week while much of this debate has been ringing and were at least able to return and achieve a win against a side struggling for away form which may add some confidence and something with which to build. United must immediately build on this for tonight’s semi-final first leg against Manchester City as it may be likely that the League Cup will in fact prove the best chance of silverware considering the current fortunes.

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