If Sir Alex Ferguson believed becoming complacent was a crime, Manchester United would be bang to rights.
The Glazers are American owners and they believed Ferguson had left a ‘dynasty’ behind at Old Trafford when he retired. United had ruthlessly dominated throughout his tenure and the Glazers took that success for granted. There are over 4,000 miles between Manchester and the United States of America, but the disconnect between the club’s owners and reality is wider than that.
Ferguson’s many triumphs didn’t guarantee success in the future, as the Glazers might have believed. The allure of United will remain forever, however, the club still required shrewd investment after Ferguson to deliver silverware. That obviously hasn’t happened.
United conducted some impressive business this summer – Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo – but one good window doesn’t excuse the overwhelming majority of poor ones. United’s recruitment has been inadequate over the last decade and yet they’ve managed to get away with it in the Glazers’ eyes. There has been little silverware, but that doesn’t seem to matter to them.
Thousands of United fans mobilised and orchestrated unprecedented protests against the Glazers’ ownership of the club in May amid the Super League plans emerging from the darkness and Joel Glazer apologised ‘unreservedly’ for the unrest caused.
Some fans believed that apology was hollow. They wanted actions, not words. There has been work done with the club – the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) deserve great praise – to open lines of communication, but there’s an irrepressible, tangible feeling still remaining among supporters that the Glazers only care about one thing, which is profits and money.
The Manchester Evening News understands Ed Woodward, who is set to leave United on February 1, regrets his infamous quote of “playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business,” but those comments are symbolic of how United are run. It could be suggested Woodward only regrets those thoughts being made public.
United’s trophy drought has not had a detrimental effect on the commercial side of the business and that’s why the Glazers will be unmoved by the club’s current predicament. There is only one football-related outcome that will make them take notice.
That’s if United fail to qualify for Champions League football this season, which is a real possibility.
The revenue that Champions League football generates underpins United’s operations. Not securing Champions League qualification on multiple occasions has caused great damage not only in a financial sense but in terms of the club’s fortunes on the pitch.
United have been afforded a margin for error in the past, however, teams in the Premier League – that weren’t previously deemed as competition – are now strengthening and the Reds’ mismanagement is becoming increasingly likely to be taken advantage of.
There are ambitious sides plotting to take United’s place in Europe. That threat needs to be considered serious. West Ham appear utterly consistent, Aston Villa have just signed Philippe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona and Newcastle, albeit their project is going to take years, are theoretically the richest club in the world. That’s without mentioning Tottenham and Arsenal.
The next managerial appointment is the most important at the club for almost a decade. The Glazers will know their Champions League cash stream is in danger of becoming vulnerable, but more importantly, the decision will shape United for years to come.
If United don’t get it right, the Europa League music might regularly be heard at Old Trafford in the future.