Opinions and reports over the financial health of Manchester United continue to differ, but one thing is not in doubt: the club have a mound of debt.
Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis is someone who is familiar with stressing the notion of ‘good debt’, but, whether good or bad, debt ultimately needs servicing.
The Glazer family acquired United with a leveraged takeover to the tune of around £500million of debt on the balance sheet, and have recently announced they will be floating on the New York Stock Exchange through an initial public offering (IPO).
The Old Trafford club stated clearly in their application for the flotation what funds would be used for: “We intend to use all of our net proceeds from this offering to reduce our indebtedness.”
Such a statement is the first hint of an admission from the Glazers that the debt they heaped onto the club is becoming a problem.
Earlier this year the total cost of making various payments associated with this debt breached the £500million mark – that is half a billion pounds going out of the club that could well have been spent improving things on the pitch.
United’s takeover, with the debt arriving, was completed in 2005, so, using simpler mathematics than those employed by the people working out the big numbers (namely the andersred blog and The Swiss Ramble), that is around £71.5million a season.
It is a large amount of money, and is enough to have purchased some of the most high-profile players in world football.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliance as a manager and the already present nucleus of a brilliant squad have a lot to do with the success the Red Devils experienced in the majority of those years.
However, had the club been able to spend their revenue on players, they could well have been even more dominant on European fronts, improving on the single Champions League victory in 2008.
So, whom could they have got? GMF have decided to pick out one of the best players transferred from each year that Ferguson could have added to his squad.
The players don’t necessarily equate to the full £71.5million due to the cost of wages associated to the transfer, but it should be enough to cover at least one big signing.
2006 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
This was the summer that Spurs finally relented and allowed talented midfielder Michael Carrick to leave White Hart Lane for Old Trafford in a deal worth around £14million.
It was also the year that saw a match-fixing scandal rock Serie A, with Juventus being stripped of their previous two Scudetti and relegated to Serie B. this consequently saw the departure of some big names, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The mercurial Swede cost Inter Milan £16.75million, which is a fee that United would have been more than able to match. It was even quite modest considering the profile of the player, but that was mainly down to the predicament Juventus found themselves in.
2007 – Wesley Sneijder
To be fair to the Glazers, they did sanction quite a large spend in this particular summer with the £30million combined for Nani and Anderson from Porto and Sporting respectively, as well as the reported £17million for Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich.
However, Ferguson helped to finance this spree by agreeing to let go certain players for decent prices: Kieran Richardson to Sunderland for £5.5million; Giuseppe Rossi to Villareal for £6.6million; Alan Smith to Newcastle United for £6million; Gabriel Heinze to Real Madrid for £8million; Gerard Pique to Barcelona for £5million.
Another player was available for transfer that season and it was a man who United have since been heavily linked with: Wesley Sneijder.
The Dutch midfielder moved from Ajax to Real Madrid in a deal worth £18.28million.
2008 – Dani Alves
Dimitar Berbatov was the big name signing this year and United paid a princely sum of £30.75million to take another one of the choicest cuts from White Hart Lane. This isn’t exactly thrifty and they also added the full-back Da Silva twins from Brazilian side Fluminense’s youth ranks.
Arsenal were also thought to be interested in the talented brothers, but United swooped first. There was another Brazilian full-back on the market that year in Sevilla’s Dani Alves, who was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea at the time.
Alves eventually moved to Barcelona for £23.53million and experienced immense success, but his signing would have solved the post-Neville right-back problem Ferguson has still not fully resolved.
2009 – Superstars sell-off
The financial constraints on Old Trafford were beginning to show in this summer, when Antonio Valencia was signed for just £16million a few days after an £80million deal saw Cristiano Ronaldo depart for Real Madrid.
That was the biggest deal in a summer where Real Madrid were determined to flex some financial muscle and splashed out on a number of big deals. United could have stepped in on any number of deals, had the finds been available.
Karim Benzema moved to Real from Lyon for £29.76million, Kaka from AC Milan in a £56million deal and Xabi Alonso headed to the Santiago Bernabeu for £27.2million from Liverpool.
Emmanuel Adebayor was another who became available and moved to rivals Manchester City for £25million, while Real also took Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Ajax for £16.71million – a reported United target.
It was a hectic summer in terms of big transfer deals, but the Old Trafford club were missing the party and dealt primarily in outgoings.
2010 – David Villa
Ferguson displayed his talent for getting things done early in a World Cup year by signing relatively unknown Mexican Javier Hernandez. It turned out to be a great success as he energised United’s front line in his partnership with Wayne Rooney and helped fire them to the title. Promising Fulham youngster Chris Smalling acquired, but spectacular flop Bebe was also brought in – a deal that is being investigated by Portuguese police.
Meanwhile, David Villa was up for sale due to Valencia’s severe and well-documented financial problems. Barcelona eventually won the race and signed the World Cup winner in a £34.81million deal, though young Argentine star Angel di Maria was also available and snapped up by Real Madrid for £20.45million.
2011 – Alexis Sanchez
United obviously felt that Manchester City’s continued spending was going to make things a little more difficult for them and responded by splurging on Phil Jones, Ashley Young and young goalkeeper David de Gea.
Although they did lose out to Arsenal in the tussle for Southampton starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Meanwhile, Manchester City were busy signing Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid for £35milllion and Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko for £27million. This summer also saw Cesc Fabregas ‘return home’ from Arsenal to Barcelona, following Udinese’s Alexis Sanchez for £22.93million; the latter being a realistic target for a side that were willing to pay the odds.
It is clear that United were concentrating on signing promising youngsters with high sell-on values, but it nearly paid off in the end, Ferguson’s side missing out on the Premier League title on goal difference thanks to a last second Aguero strike against QPR.
2012 – ????
News of the club being floated has led to speculation over whether Ferguson has the funds available to claw back some of the ground on City.
Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa arrived from Borussia Dortmund, while English starlet Nick Powell was signed for Crewe Alexandra ahead of a host of suitors.
The exodus of Arsenal stars has continued and Robin van Persie looks destined to depart the Emirates Stadium, with United reported as one of those who could sign him.
Time will tell if the Old Trafford club can act accordingly to stop City it what seems an irresistible march to dynastic levels of success through their unprecedented spending.
One thing is for sure, past few years have shown that if anybody can do it, Sir Alex Ferguson can.