What is wrong with Manchester United?


David Moyes was sacked as coach of Manchester United. (Jon Super / AP)

David Moyes learned a difficult lesson Tuesday. It’s nearly impossible to succeed the legendary coach of an iconic team — particularly when the status of that team as a global brand is at stake.

Less than 10 months after taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson, Moyes was sacked as the coach of Manchester United by the Glazers, the Americans who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and are taking a fair amount of heat for their stewardship of the team.

“In another club it would be completely normal,” Real Madrid Coach Carlo Ancelotti said, “but after so many years with Sir Alex, it is a little surprising.”

Ancelotti may be alone in his amazement. Man U, the second-most valuable sports franchise in the world behind Real Madrid, is in the midst of a dreadful season. Something had to change and, for now, Ryan Giggs will take over as coach.“There is no disguising that the football this season has been poor, the results have been poor,” former United defender Gary Neville said. “As a fan I’ve not enjoyed watching it … The performances have got worse and worse.”

Part of the blame lies with Ferguson, who did not adequately plan for life without him, but nearly everyone is laying most of the responsibility for the team’s demise at the feet of the Glazers. In February, Mark Ogden of the Telegraph wrote of “Glazernomics,” with the family “spending more on servicing the club’s debt than on new players since completing their leveraged takeover in May 2005.” From Ogden:

In total, over £696 million has gone towards interest fees, bank charges and debt repayment, with £382.9 million being invested in players – from the £2  million signing of Edwin van der Sar a month after the takeover to the £37.1  million purchase of club-record buy Juan Mata last month.

While United have won a Champions League and five Premier League titles under the ownership of the Florida-based family, the club have been heavily outspent by Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham in the transfer market during those nine years. Only Arsenal, of those English clubs to have competed in the Champions League during the Glazer era, have spent less than United, with £217.75 million being invested in new players.

To get out of its rut, United will have to loosen the purse strings. It isn’t as if there isn’t plenty of money; the team has trumpeted its seven-year, $559 million shirt-sponsorship deal with Chevrolet as well as contracts with Unilever (its “laundry partner”), the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Aperol (its “global spirits partner”). As with NFL teams, fans want see ownership spend some money. “Chelsea could spend another £100  million. In order to catch up, United are going to have to go big, match City’s spending and even if they do, you still don’t know if they will win next season’s title,” Andy Cole, the team’s former forward, told Ogden.

Sean Bones of the Manchester United Supporters Trust criticized the Glazers in a Sky Sports interview.

“The results at Old Trafford have been very, very poor. It is a results-based industry and you succeed or fail on results,” he said. “But what you can say is that there is a direct parallel at what is happening with Manchester United and what is happening at Tampa Bay Bucs.

“They have finished bottom four of the last six seasons and that club is now on its knees and it’s because of decisions by the Glazer family. Now they have buried this club in debt. Look at Manchester City, their owners are pumping money into that team, the Glazers haven’t invested in United at the correct times.

“When they took over we were a PLC [champion] and we invested in all the best players — players like [Wayne] Rooney, [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Ferdinand — and the Glazers gained the benefit of that huge investment. Since then they have starved the club of investment and haven’t gone for the best players available. Before they took over we were the No 1 club in the world, now we are fourth and that has to change. We now need a manager who is proven at the very highest level, otherwise it is a gamble.”

But success for Manchester United is predicated on more than fan happiness. There are stockholders to be satisfied and the club’s the stock price was up and down Monday as rumors of Moyes’s firing swirled. Finding the right coach would help the Glazers enormously, but this is going to take time and a lot of money. Moyes, the Glazers determined, wasn’t the right guy for the job.

“Are we going to let David Moyes spend $300 million, which is what it’s going to take to rebuild this Manchester United team, are we going to let him have the money?” Darke said of the family members’ mindset on ESPN, “and the answer to that was no.”

 

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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