Walking a tightrope: Manchester United’s apparent trepidation in transfer market justified

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September 27, 2020 5:00 AM

Recently, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters revealed that top division clubs lost £700 million in revenue in the final quarter of last season, when matches were played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak.

But Woodward’s approach during the ongoing transfer window is completely in sync with the current situation.But Woodward’s approach during the ongoing transfer window is completely in sync with the current situation.

This correspondent is probably a lone voice who for once supports Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. Millions of United fans want him out of the club, along with the owners, the Glazers. But Woodward’s approach during the ongoing transfer window is completely in sync with the current situation.

As United took on Crystal Palace in their Premier League opener last week, Woodward’s programme notes suggested that the club hierarchy wasn’t going to loosen the purse strings in the summer. “Disruption from the pandemic is continuing to create huge economic pressure from the top to the bottom of the football pyramid. And while we are fortunate to be in a more resilient position than most clubs, we are not immune from impact,” Woodward wrote in his programme notes.

With less than a fortnight to go before the summer transfer window closes on October 5, the 20-time Premier League champions have signed only one player so far – Donny van de Beek from Ajax, for £35 million. A disastrous 3-1 defeat to Palace has magnified the noise about more signings. The demand has a huge amount of merit. If Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are your two centre-halves, then you are not going to win anything. Lindelof is slow, apparently fearful in one-on-one situations and he hardly tackles. Lindelof doesn’t meet the requirements that are laid out for a United defender. Maguire, the club captain, “turns like an ocean liner”, as mentioned by former Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan on talkSPORT.

United great Gary Neville is convinced that the team has to look beyond the two current centre-halves. “We can talk about Sancho all we like but until United get a centre back, who can run and defend one-on-ones, they are never going to win the league,” Neville told Sky Sports.

And yet, it is very unlikely that United are signing up a new centre-half in this transfer window unless they can offload the likes of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo. It is unlikely that United will do any more transfer business in the summer. Jadon Sancho, reportedly for £120 million, is not happening unless Borussia Dortmund lower the footballer’s valuation and accede to United’s demand of making part payments.

Only a few days ago, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that fans wouldn’t be returning to sports venues from October 1, which was planned earlier. Matches could be played behind closed doors for another six months due to fears over a second wave of coronavirus spread. “We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events,” Johnson said in the House of Commons. The news is a devastating blow to sports clubs in the United Kingdom (UK), for they depend heavily on matchday revenue. Football clubs in the lower rung would be the worst affected.

The English Football League (EFL) comprising the Championship, League One and League Two clubs have estimated that they would suffer a collective loss of £200 million if the entire 2020-21 season is played behind closed doors. The EFL has already decided to reduce Covid testing due to financial reasons. West Ham United co-owner David Sullivan has criticised lower division clubs for potentially exposing Premier League teams when they meet in the League Cup. Then again, the cost of one round of testing is reportedly £5,000, which many lower division clubs can’t afford. A lot of EFL clubs need support to carry on.

The Premier League clubs, too, will not be immune to the revenue slump. Recently, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters revealed that top division clubs lost £700 million in revenue in the final quarter of last season, when matches were played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. This was mainly due to two reasons – no gate money and the Premier League having to give big rebates to TV broadcasters.

In fact, the Big Six – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City – are going to suffer the most. Figures put out by FootballCritic show that United’s matchday revenue per game is £3.96 million, followed by Arsenal’s £3.10 million, Liverpool’s £3.01 million, Spurs’ £2.92 million, and £2.08 million each for both Chelsea and City.

Against this backdrop, United’s apparent trepidation in the transfer market is justified. Yes, clubs owned by oligarchs and nation states are still spending big. But United, despite being one of the richest clubs in the world, have taken the correct route. Arsenal fans rejoiced after the club handed their star performer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a new £250,000-a-week (reportedly) contract for the next three years. Very few spoke about the club’s decision to make 55 staff redundant.

Sancho would be a great addition to United, but not at the expense of the canteen staff or laundry ladies, for example, at Carrington.

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