Good article in The Times
by Henry Winter, someone on reddit posted the text:
Show me the money.
If a club’s owners — like the Glazers at Manchester United — are primarily driven by the acquisition of wealth, even to the extent that any anguish at missing out on trophies is softened by the profits rolling in, it should be no surprise that certain players, and particularly their agents, view the club as a cash cow.
The culture at United needs addressing, so that football’s primacy is reasserted over financial imperatives. When United fans rail against players depicted as mercenaries, especially in the febrile aftermath of Sunday’s surrender to Everton, they also understand that these players reflect a materialistic mindset associated with the Glazers.
The Glazers don’t care about the football; they care about the business, and are rarely seen enjoying this august sporting institution. They don’t know how the fans feel or sense their hopes and fears. They don’t know the history, the philosophy, the values of this great club. For all Martin Edwards’s flaws, few would beat the former United chairman in a quiz on United’s history, or on his attendance home and away. The Glazers were not raised dreaming of Best, Law and Charlton but of dollars, quarters and dimes.
The Glazers are passing through, treating Old Trafford like one of their shopping malls, listening only to the ringing tills not the cries of the crowd. Since using United money in a leveraged takeover completed in 2005, the Florida-based family are widely reported to have taken out more than £1 billion in interest, costs, dividends and fees while the club’s value has soared from a valuation of £790 million in 2005 to £2.9 billion, KPMG’s considered estimate in May last year. England’s most famous football club is registered in the Cayman Islands.
Think Glazers, think money. Those wanting to write to the club about tickets or performances, and feverishly typing “Manchester United address” into Google are first directed to “5 Stratton Street, Mayfair, London”, their commercial hub — the lair of Ed Woodward, the Glazers’ money man and the executive vice-chairman.
It is, of course, typical of the Glazers that their de facto director of football is Woodward, a former investment banker with JP Morgan, accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and now master of the universe at sweating the United brand. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players are then used to lend allure and authenticity to the trade.
United have 25 official global partners including an official paint partner with “a shared ideology of both pleasing our customers and bringing a wealth of colours to their lives. Repaint the past, reach your dreams”. The advertising is shaped around paintings of Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and David De Gea. Show me the players.
United boast an official vision partner, with De Gea and Paul Pogba posing moodily magnificent in sunglasses — “designed to change the way you see the world”. Their official denim partner has Anthony Martial joining Pogba and the ubiquitous De Gea in modelling the denim “steeped in rule-breaking history”. De Gea, again, and Alexis Sánchez are in the latest tyre partner deal: “Performance. There are no shortcuts.” Good advice. Rashford, Pogba and Lukaku front United’s official car partner campaign: “You, the Red Army, is what drives us”. Even an approved betting app involves Lukaku, Sánchez and Jesse Lingard. Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata and Lingard sip official coffee at Carrington, the United training ground: “Let’s go Reds.”
The shopping list goes on and on. All elite clubs have such lucrative marketing arrangements, and this money-making predates the Glazers at United, but it has grown from a machine to a juggernaut, and more than one player has confided a frustration at the commercial demands on them, especially on pre-season tours.
So is it any wonder that the players, and their representatives, chase top dollar in their own contract renegotiations when all the talk at the club is about the latest partner, when they see the club raking it in? The players contribute so much to the global marketing of United, to swelling the Glazers’ coffers, that they want a chunk of the action, as certain headlines over wage demands recently highlighted. United has become too much about the money, and not enough about the football.
For all the understandable disgust over the Glazers’ debt-driven approach towards running the club, it is not the lack of expenditure that is the problem — as the Glazers have backed their managers with more than £800 million on players since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 — but the lack of thought to the expenditure. There is no theme to the spending, no planning, no adherence to any footballing philosophy. Young or old? Prospect or established? United splash out like lottery winners, not shrewd investors. It is why their squad is so large and unbalanced. Ole’s at the wheel of a cut-and-shut.
It seems remarkably naive that such established commercial folk as the Glazers cannot see that their prized asset would become even more effective and profitable if they used their money more wisely. They seem dazzled by the buoyant bottom line.
So this is where anybody who cares about United will appreciate that Solskjaer, for all his inexperience as a manager, and what may prove a painful process of learning on the job, has to be supported unconditionally. Because Solskjaer represents values that United have lost under the Glazers. “Show me the money” is anathema to this personable, level-headed Norwegian with a strong moral compass. He not only needs to rebuild the squad but also the culture — and he knows it.
After United’s humbling at Goodison Park, Solskjaer marched over to that phenomenal away support, waved apologetically, turned around while walking back and again signalled his appreciation of their loyalty and his contrition on behalf of his team. The applause for Solskjaer intensified from this powerful group, making the point that they held the players accountable, not the manager. Most can also see the damage inflicted by the money-driven culture loved by the Glazers. Many have campaigned against the owners.
So, a few thoughts on some of the issues around Solskjaer:
- The timing of his permanent appointment? Too early? No. Those long calling for the club to be better at planning must see that it makes sense for Solskjaer to start his work now. I’ve had one private conversation with him since his permanent appointment and what was abundantly clear was his understanding of the scale of the task and his hunger to tackle it. Let him get going. If some players have lost momentum, that says everything about their character, not Solskjaer’s.
The retrospective romanticising of the José Mourinho era has to stop. Mourinho’s questioning of Pogba and the need for a centre back were logical then, and most people were saying it, yet it should be recalled that Mourinho had turned the atmosphere at Carrington toxic. He was running out of people to throw under the bus and the football was mind-numbing.
Listen to Gary Neville. The former United defender makes so many good points about the players, about the shirt, the work-rate, about City’s greater hunger and superior recruitment, that Woodward, as well as the dressing room, should listen.
Talk of Woodward finally appointing a director of football is encouraging, especially as it allows him to return to the commercial world, but with respect to Mike Phelan, one of the names mentioned, it has to be somebody such as Paul Mitchell or Marc Overmars who can take a cold-eyed look at the squad, offload underperforming stars and then use an extensive contacts book to bring in the right, thrusting young players. With apologies to supporters of West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Borussia Dortmund, Declan Rice, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jadon Sancho, respectively, are obvious upgrades. This is United we are talking about and the lure to join must inevitably be strong.
Believe in the squad. There is ambition still there, in the likes of Scott McTominay, Rashford, Lingard, Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling, for all his occasional mistakes, and the next generation of Mason Greenwood and James Garner. De Gea needs a new contract, Martial some tactical fine-tuning and Pogba simply needs challenging. Solskjaer’s first job at United was a determination to put the smile back on Pogba’s face, and bring the best out of him, and that was seen, especially with some link-ups with Rashford.
Resist talk of immediately rebuilding Old Trafford, which certainly looks frayed in parts, especially through the prism of reporters viewing from the press box at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But seriously, United’s first priority is not rebuilding the stadium, but rebuilding the squad — and the culture.
Show me the old United.