Manchester United: A football club or a business

Anyone who knows me can attest to my undying love and support for Manchester United. So, it comes with great sadness that my once great club, that was successful in winning the treble in 1999 and the Premier League trophy for three consecutive seasons (2006-2009), has been run down the mud. Manchester United’s standard of elitism as of late dropped so low since the retirement of the long-term manager, Sir. Alex Ferguson in 2013. The club’s mediocrity on the pitch after 2013 has not been good enough to win the elite Premier League trophy or Champions League trophy. In fact, the club has only picked up three mediocre trophies (FA Cup, Carabao Cup and The Europa League) since the end of Ferguson’s reign at Old Trafford.

So, why has the greatest and most successful club in the English Premier League sunk so low?

Manchester United: A football club or a business

The problems of Manchester United can be traced back to 2005, when the Glazers, an American businessman family from New York, purchased the club with loans that plunged the club into a lot of debt. According to Investopedia, the club’s debt in 2010 exceeded over 716.5 million British Pounds ($1 billion) which prompted an outcry from the fans.

There were also reports from the Guardian in the U.K which stated that the Glazers had drained about 1 billion pounds from the club in interests, costs, fees, and dividends since 2005. The money generated from the club is not spent appropriately. According to Forbes, Manchester United made over 651 million pounds in operating profits; however, they had to pay 523 million pounds on financing loans used by the Glazers in the purchase of the club in 2005. In other words, the profits generated by Manchester United were used to satisfy the needs of the business owners, instead of the football club.

I guess this explains why Manchester United never really did a great deal of business in the football transfer market during Ferguson’s tenure at the club. The reason why Manchester United remained successful and dominant in the English game was because of Sir. Alex Ferguson, who was basically a tactical genius, and turned average players such as Tom Cleverley, John O’shea and Darren Fletcher into sensational footballers that played a pivotal role in the team’s success.

The second problem with Manchester United came with the hiring of the current executive vice-chairman, Edward Gareth Woodward in 2012. Prior to his appointment as executive vice-chairman, Woodward was an investment banker and according to the Bleacher Report, he was influential in helping the Glazer family formulate the purchase of Manchester United. His current role as the executive vice-chairman of Manchester United puts him in charge of all day to day operations.

Manchester United: A football club or a business

His personality is not well-liked amongst the supporters, to say the least. In fact, his appointment as the executive vice-chairman of the club further enraged Manchester United fans because of his lack of football knowledge and the poor footballing decisions he has made over the past 7 to 8 years.

Since Ferguson’s departure from the club, Woodward has hired four different managers – David Moyes (former Everton Manager), Louis Van-Gaal, Jose Mourinho (former Chelsea manager), and the current manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a club legend who was famous for scoring the winning goal for Manchester United in the Champions League final of 1999. So far, none of these managers has been able to get the club on the right track of being one of the best clubs in English football.

While most fans would be quick to vilify a manager for failing to improve his squad, there is a need to look at the individual who made the decision to hire these individuals. Ed Woodward has been culpable for recruiting bad players such as Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Alexis Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay and many others, who did not fit the mould and the structure of how Manchester United plays. Woodward has also failed to allocate the right amount of money for managers to get all the players they require for their team. This was the reason why the likes of Jose Mourinho, fell out with Ed Woodward before he was eventually sacked in December 2018.

Besides his incompetence in the side of football, Woodward has helped to improve the profit and marketability of Manchester United to a larger audience. Back in 2014, the club signed a new kit deal with the German sports apparel company, Adidas for 10 years. As a result, Adidas agreed to pay Manchester United a total of $1.3 billion throughout the length of the contract. These brand deals have been important to the yearly revenue for the club.

As at 2019, Manchester United recorded total revenue of $796.4 million, according to the statista. This has been a record high for annual revenues at Manchester United.

When it comes to making money off brand deals and profits from television networks, Manchester United thrive, however, there is the constant need to remember that this is a football club and there must be a fine balance between the business aspects and the football aspects of the club. The latter drives the passion and perception that grows the brand.

Moving forward, Woodward can continue as the chief executive manager of the club who is involved with the commercial branding of the club in regard to sponsors and brand deals; however, Manchester United needs to relieve Woodward of footballing decisions and hire a director of football who would deal with the signing and recruiting of players that are ready to play for the badge. This is the only way the club can return to the top of English football.

As interesting rumours of African billionaires wanting to purchase English Premier League clubs fill the air, care must be taken not to fall into the trap of seeing a football club as only a placid business concern. Even in business, brand loyalty and perception are critical for the survival of a brand. A disgruntled football fan base is ominous to a football club brand.

Paul Olele Jnr writes from Washington DC. He is a 2019 graduate of George Washington University and currently works as graduate Media and Research Intern at the Initiative for Global Development.

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