Month July 2010

Month July 2010

Nani plays as Reds start season short

Ed July 25, 2010 Tags: , Matches, Opinion 5 comments

Nani starts for Manchester United against Kansas City Wizards tonight but Sir Alex Ferguson will begin the new season short of key players through injury and recuperation. Indeed, the Scot may not have a fully fit squad until the Autumn, with United navigating four domestic fixtures before the Champions League begins in September.

Without Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves against Newcastle United on 16 August, the Scot’s World Cup contingent, together with Gary Neville and Antonio Valencia, will also likely to be short of match fitness.

Following a season of frustrating injuries in 2009/10, Ferguson will undoubtedly rue his luck as the new campaign begins in much the same fashion. There is, however, at leas some hope with Ferdinand returning in around six weeks’ time according to the Scot, Owen before September’s end and Neville and Valencia now back in training.

Ferdinand’s injuries are now routine of course, with back problems very likely to reduce the England captain’s appearances over the course of the season. This will come either directly, as afflicted the 31-year old much of last season, or more probably, circuitous knee, groin and calf problems will force the defender into the physio’s room.

No wonder the sense of relief engulfing the manager on agreement with Nemanja Vidic over an, as yet unsigned, new contract.

Neville and Valencia could return for United’s fixture with a League of Ireland XI at Dublin’s newly rebuilt Ariva Stadium on 4 August, just four days short of the Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley. While Rafael da Silva has featured against both Philadelphia Union and Celtic on the summer tour, Neville will still play a significant role in the coming season.

Valencia will undoubtedly be a key player in United’s campaign in both the Premier League and Europe in the coming season.

Meanwhile, Hargreaves’ future looks bleak, sequestered as he is to Dr Richard Steadman’s Denver clinic. The total of the Canadian born international’s United career over close to two years is just three games in 2008/9 and 30 seconds action against Sunderland last season.

Ferguson must also wait on Anderson, the Brazilian, whose disappointing campaign last time out was cut short by a left anterior cruciate ligament injury. Indeed, so poor had the midfielder’s form been that United countenanced cashing in on the player during the January transfer window, only to receive only loan or low bids for the player.

If injury has in effect saved Anderson’s position at the club then an early October return provides the midfielder with a first opportunity to repay a debt he still owes the club.

United’s World Cup contingent, including Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Park Ji Sung, Patrice Evra and Vidic return in around a week as planned but the extended break will leave the quintet effectively five matches short of full fitness.

Javier Hernández begins his return three days earlier against Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico next Friday. The £ 7 million signing will play 45 minutes for each side as part of the April deal that took the striker to Old Trafford.

The effect of injury and the World Cup means that Ferguson will not have a full fit, match sharp squad until the leaves begin falling and some tough matches passed. But with so little added to the squad this summer the manager can ill afford any squad shortcomings, especially at a time when United traditionally – or by folklore at least – is most vulnerable.

Perhaps more than ever Ferguson must rely on the depths of his squad at the season’s very outset.

Key fixtures before United’s squad returns to full fitness
8 August, Chelsea, Community Shield
16 August, Newcastle United, Premier League
22 August, Fulham, Premier League
28 August, West Ham United, Premier League
12 September, Everton, Premier League
14/15 September, Champions League
19 September, Liverpool, Premier League
26 September, Bolton Wanderers, Premier League
28/29, Champions League

United unveils new star striker

Ed July 23, 2010 Tags: , Just for fun 15 comments

Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson attempts strike the ball through a target 51 feet away during a United for UNICEF charity event in New York yesterday. The manager missed, as did Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Edwin van der Sar. Luxury watchmaker Hublot had promised $1 million for UNICEF had any of the players been successful.

United tops Forbes list again but should fans care?

Ed July 23, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 12 comments

Forbes, the US business magazine, publishes annually lists of the leading sports franchises, players and – separately – football teams. Yesterday, the magazine published the two former lists, placing Manchester United on top as the most valuable club in sports globally at $1.84 billion (£1.2bn), ahead of a swathe of US sports franchises.

United retains the position, which depends heavily on current and future revenue, despite heavy indebtedness. Forbes values second placed Dallas Cowboys at $1.65 billion (£1.1bn), with the New York Yankees, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, Real Madrid, New York Giants, Arsenal, New York Jets and Houston Texans completing the top 10.

The revenue-heavy analysis factors in all facets of United’s income including television, ticket sales and commercial deals, placing the club on the same standing as the football-only list Forbes published in April. The publisher’s list uses operating profits as is principal engine for measuring value – United’s earnings before interest – as explained back in April by andersred’s always accessible analysis.

Indeed, in calculating United’s enterprise value, Forbes factors in United’s debt when coming to the £1.2 billion figure – the estimated asset purchase price – with an effective multiplier of 12.26 times operating profits. It’s a significant premium, closely reflecting the £300 million ‘goodwill’ intangible assets the Glazers attach to United’s annual accounts and the $285 million ‘brand value’ Forbes proffers on the club.

While goodwill essentially amounts to nothing it’s worth remembering the Americans paid a 17 times multiple for the club on acquisition in 2005, perhaps pointing the one of the reasons why, despite the mountain of debt and probable medium-term reduction in free cash flow, the family was so reluctant to sell at £1.2 billion this summer.

The principal issue for supporters though is whether the list, which is widely reported as demonstrating that United is the world’s “richest” sports club, is relevant given the financial problems at Old Trafford. After all, if United is hemorrhaging more than half the club’s annual operating profit on interest, dividends and management fees, without paying down a penny of debt, what’s the point of topping an arbitrary rich list?

Much like the Glazer family, Forbes attaches a great deal of value to potential future United operating profits from new commercial partnerships, ticket sales and broadcasting revenues. It’s a punt though, with JP Morgan estimating that this year’s end-of-year accounts, which the club publishes on 27 August, will reveal the peak of the club’s profits for some years to come.

Indeed, with at least 4,000 season tickets as yet unsold – albeit at a drop in the ocean cost of £3.2 million to the Glazers – and a freeze on price rise this season, the accounts in a year’s time may well show slower rise in operating profit than in the past. This is compounded by new multi-million contract offers to Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic, if the latter takes up the option.

However, new commercial deals such as those with Turkish Airlines and Concha y Toro wines, the £80 million shirt sponsorship by Aon, and a new Sky TV broadcasting contract will help bolster revenues in the coming year.

What the Forbes figures don’t account for is the effect of debt, with the United cash cow being milked harder than ever at one end while being starved at the other, and in that it becomes less a relevant measurement tool but an exercise in vanity.

It’s a reminder just why United supporters remain angry five years after the Glazer takeover, with the world’s most profitable club now shopping in the bargain aisle, while near neighbours raid the Harrods food hall. Following a second successive year of decline last season the Glazer family will hope, perhaps even more than Sir Alex Ferguson, that the Scot’s necessary faith in youth is repaid.

No Union city blues for red kids

Ed July 22, 2010 Tags: , Matches 18 comments

Manchester United scored another victory on the North American Tour but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had to work hard for the win in front of around 40,000 supporters in Philadelphia. Gabriel Obertan, the French youngster who joined the Reds last summer, saved United’s sometimes disjointed display with late goal.

By full time, with the game played in near tropical temperatures just 100 miles south of New York, Ferguson will be grateful for the hard work out and another look at some of the squad’s much vaunted youngsters, if not the team performance.

Indeed, while Federico Macheda will have much to think about after his performance, Tom Cleverley, Fabio da Silva and – eventually – Obertan will have done their hopes of first team action in the coming season no harm at all. Meanwhile, Danny Welbeck’s touch let him down for much of the night until a sublime pass produced Obertan’s goal late on.

In strikers Welbeck and Macheda, Ferguson has placed much faith, spending this tour talking of a new maturity in the younger members of his squad. Early signs of understanding between the pair were realised when Welbeck went close, shooting from 25 yards on the turn.

The Longsight-born youngster then contrived to miss from considerably closer following Fabio’s left-wing cross. The Brazilian’s energy in the left full-back role will surely provide ample cover for Patrice Evra this season.

Paul Scholes, playing even deeper than normal, and Cleverley in a more advanced role, pulled the strings in midfield. The England under-21 international, who spent last season on loan at Watford, showed a neat eye for a pass and plenty of industry alongside more celebrated colleagues.

Locals call this the City of Brotherly Love and on the hour Fabio departed for his twin Rafael, while Correy Evans join the fray in midfield for his first team début, playing alongside his brother Jonny for the first time. With Reese Brown impressing at England Under-19 level this summer, he could soon join Wes in the first team picture too.

Union, a franchise just over a year old and near the bottom of the MLS Eastern Division, worked hard and came close to taking the lead on several occasions during a fragmented second half. But with a quarter-hour to go Obertan, whose final product was questionable for much of the night, benefited Welbeck’s vision to shoot low past Brad Knighton in the Union goal.

United hardly deserved the win but in pre-season fitness and momentum, rather than performances, are the key ingredients the manager is looking for

“You need pre-season games, they are absolutely essential. You need them to get your timing and rhythm and your breathing right,” said Ferguson, who now takes his team to New York for a midtown charity event tomorrow.

“It was the sort of game we probably needed. The Union were really powerful and aggressive, got to the ball quickly and made it difficult for us. They were better than I expected.

“We increased the tempo in the second half and did a little better then. It was a good game for us. They were very good opponents, I thought they did really well.”

United’s next fixture is against the Wizards in Kansas City on Sunday.

United: Kuszczak; O’Shea (De Laet, 77), Brown (Smalling, 61), J. Evans, Fabio (Rafael, 61); Obertan, Cleverley (Fletcher, 61), Scholes (C. Evans, 61), Giggs; Welbeck, Macheda (Berbatov, 61).

Glazers claim 50k season tickets sold

Ed July 21, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 38 comments

The Telegraph reports that Manchester United has sold 50,000 season tickets, with the Premier League campaign beginning in under four weeks. After an aggressive summer marketing campaign the total falls 6,000 short of last season’s total. The club confirmed that this figure does not include executive seats sales.

Last season’s total executive seat numbers of 7,500 were added to season ticket sales of 56,000. United’s current shortfall of 6,000 tickets represents a drop in sales of just under 12 per cent on standard season tickets.

The club also said that executive seats are “tracking in line with last season’s sales,” although the Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association (IMUSA) reports more than 1,000 seats were downgraded ahead of the new season.

Even if executive sales have held up, the drop in standard seats is significant given the aggressive push this summer, which has involved email and tele marketing to current and former season ticket holders, One United members and even those who have not bought a membership during the Glazers’ tenure at the club.

The club then launched a glossy ‘Season Ticket Waiting List’ brochure, which was pro-actively sent to the club’s marketing database after the 13 June renewal deadline.

Moreover, the club’s stance on a potential organic boycott, which has not been officially organised by either of the supporters’ groups, included the claim that thousands of fans were on a season ticket waiting list. With seats still available, the wait is now negligible.

Whether the shortfall in season ticket sales is compensated by One United members buying match-by-match tickets is as yet unknown, although gaps in the stands were noted at some of United’s less glamorous matches last season.

Whatever the reduction in sales, however, it is now clear the Glazer family’s ownership has eroded United’s core support, with the blended average season ticket price increasing 48 per cent over the five years the Americans have been at the club. Whether the family sells up in the short-term or not, a generation of United supporters has walked away from the club.

The club will reveal more details on the financial impact of season ticket sales on 27 August, when Red Football Joint Venture Ltd publishes its end-of-year accounts. The accounts, which show the financial year to 31 June 2010, will almost certainly still show a healthy cash surplus.

However, with no transfer business done by the club this summer more than £100 million cash is likely available for Glazer family to remove in dividends this financial year, with the interest rate on the Payment in Kind (PIK) debt rising to 16.25 per cent in August.

The end of year accounts will, of course, allow the club to claim that the Ronaldo money is still available, and Sir Alex Ferguson to continue his line that there is no value in the market. Until the club publishes its Q1 2010/11 financial results in November that is.

Whatever the season ticket sales by the time United take the field against Newcastle United on 16 August it seems unlikely that green and gold protesters will be placated by United’s summer dealings in the market.

Indeed, anti-Glazer banners were removed during United’s match against Celtic in Toronto last week, mirroring aggressive action by stewards at Old Trafford last season.

Fans can expect more of the same in the coming season, no matter how many have bought season tickets.

Duh, duh duh duh, duh duh duuuuh

Ed July 21, 2010 Tags: Just for fun 6 comments

Manchester United’s players recreated the famous Rocky Balboa sprint up the 72 Philadelphia Art Museum steps yesterday afternoon, although in this case it was more of a gentle stroll with the squad meeting a swathe of confused local reporters a the top.

The squad – save for Dimitar Berbatov – wore a smart-casual Nike-branded white, red and black outfit, although the Bulgarian clearly did not getthe manager’s circular!

Nani and Van Der Sar

Philadelphia police are hunting the perpetrator of this hate crime

Dimi didn't get the memo

Want an alternative to Glazer’s shirt? Here you go…

Ed July 20, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 31 comments

It’s every customer’s choice whether to offer or withhold business. After all the customer is always right. Manchester United is no different and for those fans not willing to line the Glazer family’s pockets any more than they have to there is an alternative shirt or few. From the MUST edition and classic originals, to black market fakes….

MUST One Love Shirt – all profits to charity – £19.99
Star Sport 4 U – top quality fakes direct from Thailand – £8 plus shipping
Soccer Triads – more fake shirts from China – £17 plus shipping
United themed Ts from TShirtsUnited – various prices
Green & Gold shirts – not original but good quality from TOFFS – £36.99
1999 Final – Replica of the Champions League winning shirt! – £30 inc. shipping
Classic United shirts – genuine, expensive but worth it – from £49.99 to £499.99

Of course fans could hand over £49.99 to the Glazer family for the official replica shirt instead. It is after all their money that they’ll be throwing into the family’s black hole of speculative leveraged debt.

Vidic set on move but will Reds let go?

Ed July 20, 2010 Tags: Opinion 40 comments

Let’s be honest, Nemanja Vidic wants out of Old Trafford. The only question is whether Sir Alex Ferguson will countenance a sale with no obvious replacement available. More to the point the Serbian defender, 28, has not been offered a new deal at the club despite only two years remaining on the defender’s contract.

It’s a saga that has rumbled on for more than a year, with Vidic and his outspoken agent, Paolo Fabbri, keen to secure a contract that will put the Serbian’s wages on a par with Rio Ferdinand at £120,000 per week. Grotesque perhaps but the undoubtedly the going rate for a player of Vidic’s class, experience and status in the world game.

United, burdened by an ever growing wage bill and huge debts, seem unlikely to meet the player’s demands this summer, risking a knock-down fee in 2011 or, worse still, a free transfer out of Old Trafford in two years time.

Discount the contradictory quotes by the former Spartak Moscow defender, who is smart enough not to alienate his employers and the club’s fans before a move out of Manchester is secured, and focus on the cold hard cash. In the inflated market, Vidic is worth more than his £70,000 per week and he knows it.

No surprise then that Europe’s leading clubs including both Milan teams, Barcelona and latterly Real Madrid have expressed an interest in the defender, whom Fabbri has successfully hawked around the continent in recent months. Indeed, shortly prior to the World Cup the agent refused to rule out a move in the kind of non-denial-denial that is so common of the football transfer market today.

“We are waiting for Nemanja to tell us what we he wants to do,” Fabbri said.

“We are waiting as it is up to him. It won’t be until after the World Cup he makes a decision on his future. We have requested some time from Manchester United to think about things and Nemanja does not want to look at things until after the World Cup. Any eventual transfer will take place only after the World Cup.”

Hardly a declaration of his client’s love for the United shirt.

But will, should, could Ferguson permit the defender the transfer he desires? After all the manager’s justification for taking Real Madrid’s £80 million last summer was that “the boy wanted to move on,” just as Vidic does today.

There are subtle differences of course. While Ronaldo’s desire to play for Real Madrid had very little to do with money, Vidic’s dissatisfaction is primarily economic. The outcome is the same though, with Ferguson effectively asking Ronaldo to stay at the club an extra year in 2008 before granting the player a move.

United could pull the same trick with Vidic during the current window of course but the effect, with the player turning 29 this season and the clock running down on his contract, will be felt by the Old Trafford bean counters. After all, the £20 million plus fee United might expect to receive will reduce by up to half next summer. In the club’s current financial situation that is relevant.

Then there is the prickly question of United’s squad that suffered so much with injuries in defensive positions last season. Rio Ferdinand’s fitness can no longer be relied on; back injuries just don’t heal. Meanwhile, Jonny Evans has less than 60 starts in a red shirt, and new signing Chris Smalling none at all.

It is, or course, a scenario that points to Vidic remaining at the club no matter how much his agent works against United’s interests.

The worry for the club’s supporters though is that with cash haemorrhaging out of the bank account in interest payments and the Glazer family so obviously restricting the manager’s transfer activity, Ferguson may not get the final say.

It was the summer of ’95

Ed July 19, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 14 comments

Summer 1995 – Alex Ferguson chose to dispose of the influential Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and club legend Mark Hughes. The Manchester Evening News ran a poll in which Manchester United supporters purportedly called for the manager’s job. It was a close-season of chaos in which all but the Scot nearly lost their heads.

The player sales capped a tumultuous season for United, with Ferguson’s side finishing second to Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, losing in the FA Cup Final and Eric Cantona banned for nine months after kung-fu kicking his way round Selhurst Park.

Combined, Jack Walker’s millions, Eric Cantona’s retribution and the FA’s intransigence appeared to threaten a fundamental shift in United’s brief period of English dominance.

Ferguson compounded fans’ anger too with the decision to add just an obscure goalkeeper to the squad that summer despite the influential player sales, with Nick Culkin joining from York City.

On the field United finished the 1995 season potless; off the field mutiny threatened to take over the club.

Fast forward nine years and once again United’s position of superiority was under threat, with Arsenal taking the Premier League in 2004 and the Reds finishing third behind Roman Abramovich’s newly acquired Chelsea. Indeed, Arséne Wenger spoke of the “power shift” to London in English football and away from Ferguson’s team.

The media lapped up Wenger’s every word.

While United’s slide down the table coincided with Rio Ferdinand’s eight month ban for missing a routine drugs test, it also precipitated a remarkably heavy period of spending from Ferguson in response to Chelsea’s takeover and the Wenger threat. Spending that would eventually land United three Premier League titles and the Champions League.

In 2003 United acquired for more than £26 million David Bellion, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Tim Howard, Kléberson and Cristiano Ronaldo; a year later Wayne Rooney followed in a £27 million deal. In between Louis Saha joined the club for £12 million, Alan Smith for £7 million and Gabriel Heinze for a similar fee.

In reality ’95 and ’04 offer little by way of genuine comparison, except that in two periods of potential transition United, quite fundamentally, approached the challenge in different ways.

In 1995 Ferguson placed his faith – his reputation even – on youth’s emergence. Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers each forced their way into the first team. He bet on the kids and took the house, proving it possible to win without experience.

United has truly never been the same club since.

Today, the club stands on the precipice of a similar époque, after the the Reds’ surrender of the Premier League title to Chelsea and the big-spending threat from Eastlands emerging. A shift in power is once again the mot du jour.

Stick or twist; Ferguson may not have the funds to choose this time out, even if the Scot consistently maintains otherwise.

Yet, the legendary manager has spent much of his United’s pre-season tour to North America talking up the club’s younger players, with half a dozen under-20s set to figure prominently in the first team squad during the coming season.

The brashness of youth in a tour party shorn of injured and resting players comes strongly to the fore – Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda, Gabirel Obertan, Tom Cleverley, and the da Silva brothers.

“The history of Manchester United is quite simple. It has always been based on young people and that’s where we’re more comfortable. I think our fans are more comfortable too,” said the 68-year-old Scot this week under questioning about the club’s transfer market hiatus this summer.

“So producing players is a big incentive for us. We know the response we get from supporters when we produce a player through the ranks, through our youth system.

“It’s a fantastically satisfying thing also. At the moment we have a collection of young players who have been growing up at the club. If you don’t give them an opportunity they’re going to stagnate and move to other clubs who’ll get the benefit of the work we’ve done with them.”

It’s a big call from Ferguson.

The previously obscure Chris Smalling and Mexican striker Javier Hernández have joined for little more than the departures of Ben Foster and Zoran Tošić. Indeed, the parallels with ’95 are now stark. Failure on the pitch; mutiny off it.

Yet, Ferguson says that he will not spend again this summer.

The Scot’s bet this time, whether he truly likes it or not, is once again on youth. The odds of success seem longer than fifteen years earlier but United fans can take comfort in this fact: when Ferguson is laying the stakes, it’s normally best to follow suit.