Month August 2012

Month August 2012

Rant’s Premier Predictions 2012/13

August 18, 2012 Tags: Opinion 20 comments

Each year Rant predicts the outcome of the season to come – winners, losers – Manchester United and others. There have been mixed results in over the years – 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12.

Add your predictions in the comments section below and we’ll revisit this post at the end of May 2013 to find out how we all did. No cash prizes – just glory to the winners, and likely humiliation for Rant.

United’s Season

  • Premier League: second
  • Champions League: quarter-final
  • Carling Cup: quarter-final
  • FA Cup: winners
  • Player of the Year: Wayne Rooney
  • Reserve Player of the Year: Jack Barmby
  • Academy Player of the Year: Mats Moller Daehli

Premier League Top Ten

  1. Manchester City
  2. Manchester United
  3. Chelsea
  4. Arsenal
  5. Liverpool
  6. Newcastle United
  7. Tottenham Hotspur
  8. Everton
  9. Sunderland
  10. Fulham


  • Southampton
  • Norwich
  • Reading

Champions League

  • Winners: Real Madrid
  • Runners-up: Bayern Munich

Europa League

  • CSKA Moscow

FA Cup

  • United

Carling Cup

  • Arsenal

Player of the Season

  • Wayne Rooney, Manchester United

Young Player of the Season

  • Eden Hazard, Chelsea

Sack Race

  • Brian McDermott, Reading
  • Chris Hughton, Norwich
  • Sam Allardyce, West Ham United

Rant Cast 119 – Money, it’s a hit

August 17, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 8 comments

New season, new hope! Well not if you’ve been following Manchester United’s IPO in New York this summer. But with Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell and Robin van Persie joining* there’s plenty to talk about in the first Rant Cast of the new season!

Regulars Ed and Paul talk the summer transfer window, financial shenanigans in the Big Apple and tactics ahead of the new campaign. Have the acquisitions calmed frayed tempers in the stands, or did Sir Alex Ferguson take his battle with supporters one step too far?

* This episode was recorded before van Persie agreed to join United!

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our bandwidth and equipment costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Season preview 2012/13

August 15, 2012 Tags: Opinion 29 comments

What to make of the season ahead? As ever with Manchester United the target is victory on all fronts, although after a campaign in which Sir Alex Ferguson’s men finished trophy-less in 2011/12 there may be more realistic ambitions in the months ahead. Most supporters will settle for bringing back the Premier League trophy to Old Trafford, and regaining some honour in Europe. Whether Ferguson’s squad has the quality and balance to achieve those ambitions is the key question.

Let there be no doubt: last season’s final minute title loss to Manchester City hurt Ferguson and his men, and has left a mood of disappointment in the red half of the city. With a summer to brood on what could have been there has been much talk about a redoubling of efforts in the campaign to come. After all, few can turn failure into a driver for renewal quite like Sir Alex.

Yet, for all the talk of learning something from last season’s campaign it is essentially a red herring. In truth the season ahead is all about United’s depth of quality, not the players’ hunger, and what progress if any that has been made during the summer.

And there has been some qualified progress. After all the season is likely to start with United having signed one of the finer attacking players in the Bundesliga, last season’s Premier League top goalscorer, and an attacking midfielder, in Nick Powell, of undoubted promise.

While Robin van Persie’s apparent capture from Arsenal poses plenty of questions – not least for new Japanese acquisition Shinji Kagawa – Wayne Rooney will be, as ever, central to United’s success or failure this season. van Persie will ease the considerable burden on the Scouser. And while the squad is perhaps over-stocked with strikers and attacking players, ensuring goals shouldn’t be a challenge, the very best players do make the difference in the key games. Another 30-goal plus season from Rooney ensures that Ferguson’s team will be, in the parlance of modern football, ‘there or thereabouts’.

Yet, it is central midfield that Ferguson has once again stubbornly refused to strengthen; a weakness amplified by the Scot’s cowardly tactics against City at Eastlands in April. Michael Carrick had a fine season in 2011/12, and will be central to United’s progress once again, but elsewhere there is a genuine problem. Paul Scholes – majestic after returning to the team in January – cannot be expected to play more than 25 games in all competitions, while Ryan Giggs is largely inconsistent and wasteful. That’s without mentioning either player’s age.

Meanwhile, Anderson is absent far too often with injury, and inconsistent on the rare occasions of fitness. After five years at the club Ferguson’s patience is far greater than that of many supporters. Then there is Tom Cleverley, who has suffered a serious injury in each of his last four seasons, and Darren Fletcher, whose long-term prognosis, despite playing against Aberdeen on Tuesday, is not good.

Much rides on Cleverley, who at 23 is no longer a youngster, and has become a bone fide international after making his England début against Italy in Bern on Wednesday night. The midfielder has very little experience at the highest level after an injury-hit campaign in 2011/12, but if – and it is surely a big ‘if’ – Cleverley remains fit then the Basingstoke-born midfielder may just aid United supporters in dismissing that long-running debate over central midfield.

Ferguson will, of course, still be able to call on much attacking flair. Nani, who continues to deliver on goals and assists, but is infuriating to watch far too often will be an asset as long as the player keeps delivering match-winning performances. Should the output dry up, then Antonio Valenicia’s greater consistency will again come to the fore. Ashley Young, fresh from a dreadful summer with England and a season of diving controversy back at home, still has much to prove.

United should be better defensively though, especially with captain Nemanja Vidić returning. The Serbian will the lend then experience and stability that was so keenly missed during key games of last season’s run-in – assuming that there is no lasting imparement from a serious knee injury.

Meanwhile, Ferguson will hope that Rafael has matured over a summer with Brazil, and that the trio of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones can stay fit. Rio Ferdinand will likely play a reduced role in the campaign ahead. It is a shame, though, that United has been unable to bring in cover for Patrice Evra, a player whose performances peaked before World Cup 2010 and have never returned to those lofty heights.

In all of this there is a school of thought that says United begins the season in healthy shape, and not only because of new acquisitions, but that Ferguson’s squad can never again suffer the kind of injury crisis that it did at times last year.

Despite this, and Roberto Mancini’s more modest budget this summer, City – champions of England – have earned the right to begin the season as favourites for the Premier League title. Not least because the season ahead will not be defined by matches against the ‘big’ opponents alone. United dropped too many points at Old Trafford last season against mediocre teams. Points lost against Everton and Blackburn Rovers, for example, proved to be just as decisive to the season’s narrative as those dual losses to City.

Perhaps complacency was United’s greatest enemy after all.

There are also far too many questions about United’s team coming into the new season to hold unqualified hope. The Reds’ collapse in the final matches last year, and the total failure in Europe, should have provoked a deeper rethink about the club’s strategy. It hasn’t.

On the cusp of the new season, with a brooding mood in the stands after the Glazer family’s New York IPO, it’s hard to define exactly where the team has improved over the summer except in attacking areas. The fundamental problem with squad balance has not yet been addressed. Ferguson’s refusal to strengthen in midfield is anathema. More than that: it is wilful neglect, and will surely prove a strategic error.

And then there is a dichotomy with Sir Alex that is hard to square. On the one hand Ferguson is the finest manager the game has ever known; a man who has transformed United and brought unprecedented success over 25 years at Old Trafford. On the other, the man is hard to respect.

Ferguson’s unmitigated support for the Glazer family has angered many long-time supporters this summer. It is a relationship that hasn’t simply been passive indifference – Ferguson has made a bed with owners who have sucked more than £500 million out of the club in debt-related costs. Often at fans’ expense. 

Worse, this summer Ferguson chose to create a fight with supporters – defining as “real fans” those who agree with his view of the owners. Presumably those who don’t, are not.

It is a summer that leaves fans excited about three attacking acquisitions, but with little faith that the club’s executive management have anything bar personal profit in their sights. After all, £40 million summer investment was flagged to investors during the IPO roadshow in July and August. From here on investors have been promised a more modest budget of £20 million net per annum.

Still, if this is the squad that starts the season against Everton next Monday then it at least offers more attacking options than in the past, where at times Ferguson’s side was worryingly ponderous. Whether the midfield base is strong enough to compete with the very best remains doubtful.

Reds approach campaign with no trepidation

August 13, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 39 comments

As much as Sir Alex Ferguson hoped otherwise, Manchester United’s pre-season friendly against Hannover 96 on Saturday night was unable to detract attention from his employers’ financial proclivities in New York. On the opening day of trading a ‘disappointing’ IPO raised approximately $100 million less than initially sought by the Glazer family, while a myriad of unfulfilled speculation surrounding primary transfer target Robin van Persie prompted suggestions that United’s interest was merely a failed ploy to convey a position of wellbeing. Bad press, it seems, is inescapable for chief executive David Gill and his collaborators right now.

Sadly for United, the club’s woes are not consigned to its endeavours across the Atlantic; unease surrounding an underwhelming pre-season campaign has been augmented by relatively low transfer activity, archetypal of the Glazers’ reign at Old Trafford. And even if Ferguson’s intentions to sign the Dutchman are real, the completion of the transfer will by no means receive the unquestioning backing of United’s supporters.

Van Persie’s age, wage demands, and susceptibility to injury are all cited as deterrents, as is the inevitability that the Dutchman would deprive fans’ favourites Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez of playing time. Furthermore, considering the substantial fee necessary to prise last year’s PFA and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year from Arsenal, any deal will surely deprive the team’s ailing midfield of further investment.

Following a trophy-less campaign least term, continuing negative publicity, and the manager’s apparent refusal, or inability, to address his squad’s key inadequacies, it’s fair to suggest that the season ahead for United appears bleak. Yet, with just over a week to go until the start of the Premier League campaign, Ferguson is not short belief that his side is adequately equipped to regain the title.

Aside from any transfer activity, or lack thereof, United’s squad is already bolstered this summer by the return of Nemanja Vidić. The Serbian has completed ­over 170 minutes of football during the team’s pre-season tour. While Jonny Evans deputised superbly for the United captain last season, dispelling any assertions that the Irishman’s time at Old Trafford is running out, Vidić’s importance is difficult to overstate. Though it is easy to speculate, it is hard to imagine United conceding the two late goals at home to Everton that proved so costly in the title race had Vidić been present to maintain defensive discipline.

Starting the season opener at Goodison Park may be an ambitious target, but having witnessed repeated delays to Tom Cleverley’s recovery last term, and Owen Hargreaves’s haphazard attempts to regain fitness throughout his spell at Old Trafford, United fans are relieved to see Vidić return on schedule from a serious injury.

In addition to the restored first choice defensive partnership, Ferguson expects greater contributions from a number of his younger players this season. Danny Welbeck impressed during his first campaign in the starting line-up, but must improve on last year’s tally of just 12 goals, particularly if the striker is to preserve his place in Ferguson’s team. Having followed-up a decent club season with impressive performances for England at this summer’s European Championships, the Longsight-born player can achieve the 20 goal target set by his manager.

Additionally, Chris Smalling and Cleverley, having also shown much promise already, hope to feature more often after enduring injury hampered seasons last time out. Smalling has developed a reputation for dependability, having continually improved since joining from Fulham in 2010, while Cleverley enjoyed an excellent start to his senior United career before its abrupt postponement at the Reebok Stadium last September. Cleverley’s return may even help observers forget United’s lack of options in central midfield.

Significantly, Ferguson can count on the improved consistency of goalkeeper David de Gea. All but written off by the media following a difficult start to his United career, the Spaniard grew in confidence and stature as last season progressed, winning the team points regularly. Provided De Gea remains composed in the face of renewed competition from Anders Lindegaard, the Spaniard will surely develop into one of the league’s finest goalkeepers.

Additionally, while United’s transfer activity is minimal this summer it has at least been well considered. Glowing praise from his former mentor Dario Gradi has generated considerable excitement in the future of Nick Powell, while Shinji Kagawa’s acquisition could have a decisive impact. The Japanese playmaker made a total of 25 goals in Borussia Dortmund’s double-winning campaign last term, affirming talismanic status, and has looked sharp playing just behind the frontline during pre-season appearances for United. Kagawa could provide a link between the team’s midfielders and forwards that was desperately missing for much of last season, often leaving the strikers isolated and occasionally resulting in Wayne Rooney dropping into midfield.

Away from United it is also worth considering the merits of local rivals, Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s team has been uncharacteristically quiet in the transfer market, with the Italian failing to offload superfluous players on excessive salaries. Despite possessing considerable strength-in-depth, Mancini’s side looks vulnerable should it lose any one of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré, or David Silva.

Though any team is weakened by losing one or more of its three best players, note that Touré will once again depart mid-season to compete in a rollover African Cup of Nations. Meanwhile, Silva will face an arduous campaign, having represented Spain at the European Championships after a season in which he played through an ankle injury.

The lack of quality cover for Kompany was particularly evident during the Belgian’s absences last season, as is reliance on goalkeeper Joe Hart. While United’s recent luck with injuries has been torrid, City’s has been the opposite; should fortunes reverse this season it is difficult to foresee Mancini’s men faring so well.

Furthermore, City will face the burden of playing this season as champions. Painful as it is to acknowledge, the upside is that teams will raise their performance levels against the Eastlands outfit; a belief endorsed by Wayne Rooney this week, who asserted that “over the years everyone has tried to raise their game when they play against Manchester United. Now obviously City are champions they’ll have to face that.”

Whether Mancini’s side approaches the task of retaining the title with a hint of trepidation remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that United seeks the Premier League’s return to Old Trafford with renewed vigour. The pain associated with losing to City on goal difference no will spur on Ferguson’s side, just as it did in 2006/7 when the title loss to Chelsea prompted a change in system, and one of the most exciting domestic campaigns of the decade.

Once again United enters a season in transition, and with a point to prove. Only a fool will write Ferguson’s team off.

In defence of Ferguson

August 12, 2012 Tags: Opinion 23 comments

Boxing Day 1989, Villa Park.  Not much Christmas cheer; another defeat, another dreadful performance and real anger on the away terraces.  Predictably, the final whistle was greeted with a cacophony of jeers and boos, but as the players troop off towards the tunnel the fans find one voice and one target.  The noise is deafening: ‘F*ck off Fergie, f*ck off Fergie …’

More the 20 years ago the protest came as no surprise.  Two weeks earlier United fan Pete Molyneux had unfurled a banner in the empty Scoreboard End seats waving ‘ta-ra’ to Alex Ferguson for ‘three years of excuses’.  Only months earlier Ferguson had disappeared under his own duvet after Manchester City hammered the Reds 5-1 at Maine Road.  No wonder when former players, TV pundits and just about everyone else lined Ferguson up for criticism. Even so, the lowest point was to come later at Villa Park.

Ferguson had already revealed his pain in the wake of derby defeat in a revealing interview for the Sunday Times.  Speaking of feeling like a “criminal” because he had “let down the supporters,” Ferguson admitted that “at Manchester United you become one of them, you think like a supporter, suffer like a supporter.”  When those supporters rose up against him at Villa, Ferguson’s suffering was complete.

Boxing Day 1989 is long gone.  Yet, the new season approaches with unrest in the seats, anger on the internet, and Ferguson once more at the centre of it all.  In recent weeks United’s proposed Initial Public Offering (IPO) has placed the Scot in the spotlight, with accusations that the 70-year-old may benefit from the ‘2012 Equity Incentive Award Plan’, which will grant share options to selected senior employees and executives of the club.

Ferguson moved fast to clarify his position in relation to the proposed IPO, claiming that he does “not receive any payments, directly or indirectly” from the IPO. But the controversy was not solely a matter of money.  Some things matter more.

“I’m speaking out because I do not want a situation to develop whereby the media and other parties create a rift, however small, between myself and any Manchester United fan,” added Ferguson. “I’ve spent 25 years of my life pushing this club forward and not only could I have not done it without those fans, I do it for them.”

Some supporters are suspicious of Ferguson’s defence.  Some have separated man from manager, rejecting the idea that Ferguson thinks and suffers like a supporter, while accusing the Scot of treachery.  Others erase the image of Ferguson on the back of a motorbike touring Paris looking for Eric Cantona, while considering the manager’s motives more sordid. Both will describe that night in the Nou Camp as the highlight of their lives

It is easy to understand why many are attracted to this interpretation; there is no doubt Fergie is difficult to like at times.  The manager’s recently publicised views on “wee pockets” of militant United supporters misrepresenting the truth, and shouting down the “majority of the real fans” who look at the Glazers ownership in a more positive light, was simply outrageous.  While appreciating Ferguson’s position as an employee of the Glazers family, the manager’s interpretation was still hard to swallow.

Yet, there is another side to Ferguson that still commands immense personal and professional respect.  The manager’s days of supplementing respect with a healthy dose of fear are probably over, but Ferguson continues to drive those around him with an obsession and desire that are undiminished.   Sir Alex is consumed by the game; the same man who played for Dunfermline on his wedding day, and then went training the following morning.

The game is nothing without its public.  United’s supporters are not simply an audience to be entertained (or not), and then forgotten until the next match.  The manager’s involvement with United’s fans has become a cornerstone of his life.  Perhaps his personality makes that involvement difficult at times – Ferguson’s commitment is absolute, but so too are his demands.

Perhaps supporters have been equally unforgiving too.  Despite Ferguson’s achievements, which have transformed fandom at Old Trafford beyond previous imagination, the Scot has always attracted criticism from within.

Does that mean supporters should appreciate the manager while rejecting the man? Only the Glazers would benefit from such a rift.  Flawed Ferguson may be, but he cares every bit as much about the club, its traditions and future as supporters do. And he does so in the poisonous atmosphere of Glazer ownership, globalisation, the IPOs and all the commercial aspects that have become inseparable from the modern game.

Perhaps it is not yet time to party like it’s 1989.

Liar liar Gill’s on fire as market pours cold water on IPO

August 10, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 108 comments

There was something vaguely sickening about the spectacle as Manchester United’s chief executive David Gill, adorned by two grinning Glazer brothers, rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange this afternoon. Brothers-in-arms to a less than noble cause: the continued fattening of the Glazer wallet at United’s expense.

Indeed, the sight of Gill lauding it up Wall Street this Friday, in all its Faustian ignomy, brought only renewed anger from United supporters critical of the Glazer family’s highly geared ownership. Not least because the 55-year-old executive repeatedly spun utterly shameless, yet habitual, lines about the Glazer family’s impact on United during the day. In a media war, amid a disappointing listing for the Glazer family, Gill remains cognisant of unremitting and disingenuous positivity.

Yet, even as the Glazers’ stock offer fell flat – pricing below lofty expectations, with an underwriter forced to prop up a share price at risk of being dragged down by traders – Gill managed to spin familiar themes. The man who once claimed debt is the road to ruin, now beholden to its devilish charms.

It was, of course, never going to be any different, with Gill long since tied to the Glazer family’s odious abuse of a previously debt-free 134-year-old institution. Even to the laughable extent that Gill claimed he “doesn’t know” whether he will financially benefit from the Glazers now infamous ‘2012 Equity Incentive Award Plan’. Alongside manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who forcefully denied being a beneficiary of the scheme, there is no closer confident to the Glazer regime than Gill.

Yet, on a day as significant as any in the club’s history, shares traded at or around the $14 pricing point all day – way below the $16-$20 the Glazer family had sought – but above, for now, the low-point many analysts have predicted. But with high-frequency traders taking pennies on small trades Friday afternoon the lead underwriter, Jefferies, was forced to make a series of large share purchases at the pricing point to save corporate face. Further drama is surely yet to come.

Gill continued the well-worn pitch though; that United’s is a growth story and that the Glazer family’s debt-fuelled business model has no impact on Ferguson’s team. Few supporters, bar those of Sir Alex’ “real fan” camp, believe any of it. Almost all professional investors shunned an IPO that offers little financial upside.

And despite raising around $100 million less than previous expectations, Gill remained positive on sunny day in Manhatten.

“We’re the biggest sports business in the world,” bragged Gill on CNBC television Friday morning.

“I think you’re buying into one of the world’s iconic brands, playing in the fastest-growing sport in the world. We can demonstrate across all our revenue streams great growth opportunities.”

Shame, then, for Gill’s threadbare credibility that United will post a loss on falling revenues when accounts to June 2012 are published. As ever under the Glazer family’s ownership, United continues to sprint commercially, only to head rapidly backwards on the altar of debt.

And it is this debt, together with the American family’s decision to cash in on the IPO rather than reduce an onerous burden on the club, which continues to anger supporters. With just $233 million raised from the New York listing, barely £65 million will be removed from United’s £427 million debt pile. In fact the IPO will have such little effect on interest paid, says analyst Andy Green, that it will take United two years to break even on the offering’s $12 million costs.

“Roughly 65 million to 60 million will come off the debt level,” Gill claimed.

“I think it’s important to note that even at the prior debt levels we were comfortable they weren’t impinging with what we were doing from a football perspective. The level of debt in the club since they have taken over hasn’t had an impact on what we have done in the team. We fully understand, and the owners fully understand, that what happens on the pitch is crucial and we will make sure that we have sufficient funds to invest in the team going forward.”

Many supporters will question whether the £20-25 million annual net spend in the transfer market promised to investors during United’s pre-IPO roadshow is “sufficient” in a market where Manchester City, Chelsea and now Paris Saint German repeatedly outbid United’s highly constrained financial operation. It is, of course, well below the £100 million ‘cash profits’ the club makes before debt takes its hold.

No wonder then that the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), which has called for a boycott of the club’s commercial sponsors, damned a failing IPO.

“As it stands the club is valued at around one-third less than their expectations but many commentators expect the price to slide over the next two weeks,” said MUST chief executive Duncan Drasdo.

“We maintain this IPO will be bad for investors, not just the club and its fans, and we’re confident time will show that to be true. We remain totally committed to fighting for fan ownership.”

Indeed, highly critical media coverage in the lead-up to Thursday’s pricing, swayed by pessimistic analyst prognosis, is likely to have steered the investment community away from United’s listing. The smart money ran from the Glazer family’s opaque pitch, although local fan-driven demand may have ensured a full book at a significantly reduced price.

Still, the Glazers’ lieutenants continued to boast of strong demand in the face of all evidence, with vice chairman Edward Woodward claiming a successful investor tour had driven demand. And he did it with a straight face too.

“The understanding that U.S. investors have around sports business, given it’s the most developed sport market in the world, has been a benefit,” Woodward told Bloomberg.

“We had a fantastic response from the investor base in the U.S. We found that a number of people came in with a strong level of interest, which was tweaked higher when they heard our story. It’s very easy for people in the U.S. to grasp the huge opportunities around merchandising and digital media.”

The roadshow is now over, of course, and on open trading many analysts expect the market to correct a $14 price that values United at around $2.3 billion – £1.5 billion – or more than 19 times earnings before tax and other deductions. It is a multiple more commonly found among high-growth technology companies, not hundred year-old institutions growing at just seven per cent per annum.

Yet, this is unlikely to be the final story, with the Glazer family remaining entrenched at Old Trafford, slowly milking the club for their own financial gain. The “six lineal descendants” of Malcolm Glazer walk away from the offering, no matter how limp, with voting power untouched, and $110 million in the family bank account.

There may be more to stock issued in the future too, with reports that the family’s failing US business empire has caused meaningful financial strain. There remains significant room for the family to sweat the asset further, having sold just 10 per cent of shares to date. As ever, keeping just one step ahead of the banks is the family’s primary goal; United’s health only a passing concern.

Whether the IPO is the first step in the Glazers’ exit from the club remains moot, with the family likely to sell up when maximum value has been reached. Yet, the family’s decision to list rather sell to Qatar or other interested parties in 2010 – somewhat ironically the Qatari’s reportedly bid £1.5 billion for the club – means price is at the vagaries of the open market.

And with United’s share price marginally down in the final hours of opening day trading its a capricious market that no volume of Gill spin, or Glazer engineering, will buck.

Reasons to be cheerful

August 8, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

Though last season’s climax will linger odiously in the minds of Manchester United fans, the summer which has followed is one easily forgotten. On the pitch, the absence of key players, due to international commitments at both the European Championships and Olympics, has seen United’s depleted squad score just three goals in five games against markedly inferior opposition, save for Barcelona.

Meanwhile, away from it, only moderate activity in the transfer window has left a midfield bereft of variety and depth, seemingly unimproved. Even speculation concerning the potential acquisition of Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer last term, has polarised opinion; such is the Dutchman’s inability to mask the team’s most deep-rooted deficiencies.

Arguably the most engrossing stories to emerge from Old Trafford relate to the Glazer family’s much maligned attempt to float part of the club on the New York Stock Exchange, while still pocketing more of the proceeds than will be devoted to reducing United’s insidious debt. Yet, despite the club’s recent anguish, and its future shrouded in doubt, there still remains scope for optimism.

This optimism begins with hope for desperately needed reform. The detrimental nature of the Glazers’ ownership was already well known, but renewed outrage in the face of their Initial Public Offering (IPO) in New York has reinvigorated opposition at a time when the family are looking more vulnerable than ever.

The family’s US-based businesses continue to haemorrhage money, while rumours of a rift within the family persist; the Sunday Times reported this week that of the six children to whom Malcolm has gifted control of United, three “want to sell their shares to concentrate on other ventures.” Even if tales of a family dispute prove untrue, the Glazers are still faced with the dilemma of somehow generating the capital necessary to prop up their failing businesses elsewhere.

Thus it appears the success of the proposed IPO, expected to be launched later this week, is fundamental to the Glazers’ continued ownership of United. Should it fail to deliver the cash injection hoped for, the Americans may well be forced to consider selling the club, or at least settle for relinquishing a much larger share of control.

And if the reports disseminated by a number of renowned forecasters are to be trusted, it is hardly inconceivable that the IPO will fail; the Financial Times damningly opined that the Glazers believe “investors are so credulous that they will hand over their money without being offered a financially persuasive argument or even the pretence of good corporate governance practice,” while analyst house Morningstar has valued potential shares at between $6 and $10 less than the amount targeted.

Though it is true that news ‘leaked’ from inside the club contradicts this position, anybody familiar with United’s increasingly lacklustre attempts to sell season tickets will rightly be sceptical when the world is told that the IPO is already oversubscribed.

The potential difficulty the Glazers face has not been lost on United fans, with the all-espousing Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) avidly vocalising its plans to test the family’s resolve. Having developed a reputation for being somewhat passive in its previous attempts to force the Glazers from Old Trafford, the group headed by Duncan Drasdo stepped up its efforts this week, as it facilitated the dispatch of over one million emails to potential backers of the IPO and club sponsors.

More significantly, MUST released a statement on Tuesday calling for the worldwide boycott of all products and services of those same sponsors. Though such an appeal is highly ambitious, with results unlikely to materialise, it is a step in the right direction; the only way United fans can gain leverage over the Glazers is to hurt the family’s revenue streams until they are forced to sell. This is a goal ordinary fans can only achieve collectively, through mass boycott.

Aided by Blue State Digital, the marketing firm used by Barrack Obama during his first electoral campaign, MUST now provides a figurehead more widely received than the fanzines and online forums that were previously alone in calling for belligerent action. If MUST’s growing global presence proves enough to intimidate the Glazers’ financial advocates and allies even slightly, it may be enough to stifle the IPO, forcing the hand of the Americans.

The infamous figure of 659 million supporters, touted at every possible opportunity in the build-up to floatation, is so significant because it is through these supporters that the club stands to generate revenue.

Should a scenario arise where the Glazers are not able to sell on their own terms, particularly if the catalyst for such a scenario was supporter action against the family, it is unimaginable that new investors would not seek to rebuild the broken relationship between the club’s fans and its owners. A model of the club whereby fan ownership is a realistic possibility may once again emerge.

Curb your enthusiasm

August 7, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 26 comments

A full strength Manchester United drew against a poor Vålerenga IF on Sunday afternoon in sunny Oslo, in yet another dire performance on this year’s money laundering pre-season tour. Football romantics, and those of a nostalgic bent, will remember when a pre-season tour was actually a means of getting into shape before the coming season. Those days are long gone. Just ask United’s marketing department, which will surely be satisfied with a DHL-sponsored three-continents-in-a-few-weeks draining, but profitable tour.

United’s opponents – which hasn’t won Norway’s top division since 2005 – paid a reported £1 million to convinced the Glazers that the Reds should visit, and duly priced tickets at a whopping £90 (yes, a pound a minute). Yet the Ullevaal stadium was sold out, with almost 25,000 spectators in attendance – less than 20 from the home side’s own supporters club, Klanen, ‘the Clan.’

Vålerenga’s revenue from the game approximated 15 home matches in Norway’s Eliteserien – the ‘elite series’ – and sources claim the club’s entire budget this year depended on a sell-out crowd. That was nothing to worry about though. After all, Norway, being recession free, can afford the spectacle that comes with having United in town. Like paying legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel a rumoured £30,000 for being the main speaker at the Scandinavian supporters’ branch party at Rockefeller Music Hall on Saturday night. One could argue that was a fair pay day for Schmeichel to be his usual arrogant self and yell at kids who dared to ask for more than one autograph.

Yet, it’s nothing new that anglophile Norwegians enjoy spending their money on United – just ask anyone who’s ever been to the Bishop Blaze on Old Trafford matchdays.

All in, it was a great weekend with United in town though. The sun was shining, Norwegian girls were, as always, the world’s finest, and everyone bar paying customers – formerly known as “fans” – got a nice cut of the crazy money-spinning United tour. Like Spanish Bank Grupo Santander, provider of the ‘Manchester United credit card,’ which spat out credit cards at will from the company’s stand next to the Scandinavian supporters club in down-town Oslo on Saturday. Teased with exclusive opportunities to ‘get Old Trafford tickets,’ who can blame Norwegian fans for signing up as future debt slaves? Most fit Sir Alex Ferguson’s assessment of being real fans.

Having said that, the Manchester United’s Supporters Trust (MUST) has thousands of paying members from Norway, and the Scandinavian supporters branch did invite chief executive Duncan Drasdo to speak at their party Saturday night. Academy boss, and close Sir Alex Ferguson associate, Brian McClair was there too, and the pair seemed to get along well. What must the club’s employees really think of the current ownership?

Still, the match was alarming. Two weeks before United meet a hostile Everton at Goodison and the Reds can’t seem to score. The usual propaganda emerged: ‘this was a nice work-out, the fans were great, we’d like to give something back to our supporters in Norway,’ said assistant manager Mike Phelan post match. He didn’t fool anyone who actually paid attention on Sunday.

How is it that just a few weeks after the Euros, Wayne Rooney looks overweight and has seemingly lost his touch? Cynics might wonder whether his contract is up for renewal. Then there is Nani, who can’t seem to successfully dribble or pass round a few part-time professionals.

This is without asking why the club has failed to secure a left-back to ease the pressure on Patrice Evra. With Michael Keane politely described as ‘uncomfortable’ at left-back Sunday, Phil Jones sent home with a virus and Michael Carrick again deputising at centre-back after Nemanja Vidić was taken off in the second half, the question of whether United should acquire a defender is key. Bringing back John O’Shea? It’s tempting to ponder: “why the hell not?”

And many won’t believe that Sir Alex remained in Manchester to conclude a transfer deal or two – not for a second. More likely, the Scot was smooth-talking the prawn sandwich brigade into buying a slice of United’s much debated IPO.

As it stands, many will feel that this United side has no chance of beating a rejuvenated Chelsea or a confident Manchester City to the title, let alone Real Madrid and Barcelona in Europe. But so what? At least fans get the thrill of having a credit card with the club logo on, and the honour of paying Schmeichel to sing “who put the ball in the Germans net?”

Reds (almost) re-United in pre-season action as speculation mounts

August 5, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 55 comments

Manchester United’s Euro 2012 contingent finally returned to action on Sunday as the Reds drew with Norwegian side Vålerenga in Oslo. With just two weeks before the big Premier League kick off, Sir Alex Ferguson’s players were reunited as an almost complete squad for the first time this summer after injury and international commitments disrupted United’s preparations for the new season. Except, of course, the 70-year-old manager, who wasn’t there, with rumours abounding that Ferguson remained in Manchester to conclude summer transfer business.

Despite Ferguson’s absence on unspecified “club business,” Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, and Ashley Young played some part against the the Bohemians, as United began the European leg of an extensive summer programme. Meanwhile, with just three matches remaining in the Reds’ pre-season, long-term injury victim Nemanja Vidić joined the party as the Serbian works towards full fitness before the season’s opener against Everton on 20 August.

While Patrice Evra returned to Manchester on Sunday, with his wife due to give birth this weekend, Ferguson will be pleased to have something like his first choice XI back together after a fragmented, globe-trotting, pre-season.

Still, there was little fluency from United on the pitch against a team that finished seventh in Tippeligaen last season, and currently lies just a place better in the current campaign. Much as in matches against AmaZulu, Cape Town Ajax, and Shanghai Shenhua on tour this summer, United struggled to convert territorial dominance into goals; surely a concern for Ferguson ahead of the new season.

Three goals in four games will set no alarm bells ringing at Old Trafford just yet, but it’s a habit that Ferguson cannot tolerate once the real action gets underway later this month.

Indeed, striker Welbeck missed a host of chances in the Norwegian capital, while Vålerenga goalkeeper Gudmund Kongshavn impressed with three outstanding saves to deny United a third win on tour this summer. Mexican Javier Hernández was less culpable, but did little to improve on a muted pre-season in a 15 minute substitute appearance.

But goals or not there were positives for stand-in manager Phelan, with Vidić paired at the back alongside Rio Ferdinand, Michael Keane – deputising in an unfamiliar role at left-back – performing encouragingly, and substitute Shinji Kagawa bright once again.

Vidić’s return, in particular, is vital with Chris Smalling out for weeks after suffering a broken metatarsal in pre-season training, and Jonny Evans still recovering after foot surgery forced the Northern Irishman out of United’s tour of South Africa and China. Reporting no reaction after eight months on the sidelines, Vidić told MUTV that his knee felt fine.

“After eight months without a game it’s obvious that you have to get used to your positioning, and still fitness-wise it’s not as hopefully it will be in a few weeks, but I’m pleased,” said Vidić.

“It was frustrating, but obviously I knew I would be out for six months. I tried to make the best of it, to work hard and when I come back to be the same as I was before the injury. It’s hard, but it’s part of the football career. Any sportsman has the risk of injuries and hopefully this is the past and better days are coming for me.”

Back in Manchester it’s not yet clear whether Ferguson was involved in the widely rumoured bid for the Brazilian youngster Lucas Moura, or on other club business. There is, after all, a New York IPO to flog.

The Scot’s media mouthpiece Bob Cass claimed on Sunday that a £30 million United bid had been accepted by Moura’s club São Paulo, and a medical had been arranged in Manchester for Sunday. Claims that were trashed by both the Brazilian football association and local media inside the day to leave Cass, not for the first time, short of credibility.

“Lucas has not been sold by São Paulo,” claimed ESPN’s Brazilian commentator Paulo Vinicius Coelho. “The thought is that it will be difficult for the British club to reach the amount required by São Paulo: €45 million.

“Lucas is more willing to go to England than he was three months ago, but nothing is decided. Manchester United must reach the fee desired by São Paulo, or someone will have to convince [São Paulo club] president Juvenal Juvencio to close the deal for less.”

United supporters of a world-weary nature may reserve judgement until the player is pictured at Carrington next to a beaming chief executive, David Gill. After all, when it comes to smokescreens, United has a long record of bluff and counter-bluff.

Further discrediting the Mail, the Brazilian Football Federation said Lucas will not be allowed to take part in any medical during the tournament.

“The Board of the Seleção Brasileira has not received any request from the English club,” said a CBF statement on Sunday. “If we receive one, we will not allow a player to leave the camp to do it.”

Further backtracking on Sunday, the Mail then claimed Ferguson had in fact not stayed in Manchester to oversee Moura’s transfer, but that of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie. Take that one with a very large pinch of salt.

On the pitch United next face Barcelona in Gothenburg on Wednesday – the second pre-season in succession that the teams have met. While the Reds walked away with a 2-1 victory last summer, no pre-season win will ever make up for the thumpings the Catalan side handed United in two Champions League finals.

Still, Ferguson, Phelan or whomever is in charge on Wednesday, will look again both for an improvement in performance, fitness and – hopefully – a few goals. But whatever the result, it’s unlikely we’ll have a conclusion to this summer’s tiresome transfer speculation.

United 0-0 Vålerenga, Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo

Lindegaard; Valencia, Vidić (Anderson 61), Ferdinand, M Keane; Nani, Carrick, Scholes (Powell 75), Young (Lingard 75); Rooney (Hernández 76), Welbeck (Kagawa 61). Subs not used: De Gea, Jones, Berbatov, Macheda.

Revised tour squad to play Barcelona in Gothenburg, and Hannover 96, in Hannover

De Gea, Lindegaard; Evra, Ferdinand, Jones, M Keane, Vidić; Anderson, Carrick, Nani, Powell, Lingard, Scholes, Valencia, Young, Kagawa; Berbatov, Hernández, Macheda, Rooney, Welbeck

Hit the road Malc

August 2, 2012 Tags: , Shorts 79 comments

Manchester United’s commercial team launched the club’s investor roadshow on Thursday ahead of an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in New York this August. The team, comprising chief strategist Edward Woodward, commercial director Richard Arnold, and operations head Michael Bollingbrook, is meeting potential investors in Asia, Europe and the US ahead to drum up interest in the flotation ahead of pricing next week.

In a performance of undoubted woodenness, total lack of charisma and no little bluster, the trio kicked off the tour that the Glazer family hopes will prompt investors to pump more than $300 million into club family coffers.

Key points:

  • The United team claim that revenue growth will come from retail and commercial sectors in the future
  • Bollingbroke repeatedly stresses that Financial Fair Play (FFP) will benefit the club – presumably concerned that UEFA’s flag-ship programme may not have teeth
  • Woodward says that deal with General Motors is “a world record” shirt sponsorship – it’s put at anywhere between £25 and £54 million per season by the press
  • Woodward says that commercial revenue could account for more than 50 per cent of total revenues inside three years – it is currently around 30 per cent
  • Bollingbrooke says historic net player expenditure over 10-15 years is £20-25 million – it is, of course, substantially lower during the Glazer regime
  • “We are giving guidance at the moment,” says Bolingbroke, “that the current transfer period could result in net expenditure nearer £40 million
  • “Matchday is our annuity business,” says Woodward – United not taking the fans for granted then. Much.

Steve Jobs it isn’t, but don’t take Rant’s word for it, view the video presentation and read the prospectus here.