The Red Devil Is In The Detail

Khertan has returned with another article.

An Article by Khertan Harshad Ramanan.


Jadon Sancho. The man needs no introduction. Jadon Sancho has officially joined Manchester United, pending medicals, which will be completed after his involvement in the UEFA European Championship. The move has cost United a whopping fee of €85 million and the contract will be five years with the option of another year. Sancho’s former club and United’s bitter rivals, Manchester City, are due 15% of the profit Dortmund have made on the deal, expecting to be around €11.2m. While the entire MUFC fan base is celebrating, putting away their green and gold scarves, I thought it would be interesting to dive deeper into the transfer saga, why it took this long to make a deal, and what exactly are the Glazers up to.

The Summer of 2020

Let’s rewind the time back to 2017. Previously a youth player for Manchester City and Watford, Sancho wanted to experience first-team football. However, he found it difficult to break into City’s first team with such sheer quality in the squad. Manchester United was interested in signing the player back then, but City, not wanting a player like him to join their rivals, instead sold him to Dortmund. Over there, the young Englishman did wonders. He is a highly technical, creative player, known for his trickery, pace, and feints in one-on-one situations. Since making his debut for Dortmund on 21 Oct 2017, Sancho has gone from a hot prospect to arguably one of the best players under 21 in world football. Over four seasons, the right-winger has made 137 appearances, scoring 50 goals and 37 assists, an astounding accomplishment for the 21-year-old. As he lit up the Bundesliga, many clubs such as Chelsea, Liverpool United and Bayern were interested in signing the player. However, as he wanted to continue his development and contract obligations, it was difficult for clubs to sign him, especially with Dortmund’s exorbitant fee.

Then came the summer transfer window of 2020,  for United to get the players on Ole’s wishlist and challenge the title. The first priority was definitely a right-winger as we needed some creativity off the right, the second was a midfielder to replace Paul Pogba if he were to leave (we still have no idea what his plans are till this date, annoying, I know) and a backup right back to Aaron Wan Bissaka. With talks from Fabrizio Romano as early as the 4th of August saying that United are really close to settling the deal, the hope of Sancho coming to the Theatre of Dreams started to dwindle as the months went on. We started hearing from numerous sources that United was unwilling to spend €120m on the player and negotiating to reduce the price tag. Dortmund also set a dateline that Sancho will not be up for sale after the 7th of August. We were not sure if that was just an ultimatum for United to fork out the money as soon as possible or if it was just a bluff.

As the months went on in the summer window, more reports came out that Dortmund found it difficult to negotiate with Ed Woodward, the chief executive officer of United. Apparently, with Emails going missing and Woodward not taking their words seriously, the deal collapsed. On the last few days of the transfer window, United brought in Edison Cavani, a free agent and an ageing striker, and two under 21 players, Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellestri. It was obvious that United ended up wasting three months in the summer window trying to play poker with Dortmund over Sancho, clearly losing the game, and ended up panic buying those players. When I first saw the news that Cavani signed, I was infuriated. This was a player who was a free agent that Paris Saint Germain (PSG) let off months ago. No other clubs were interested in signing him because of his injury record and United clearly panic bought him in a desperate attempt to bring in a ‘marquee signing to replace Sancho. They even gave him the number 7 shirt worn by the greats (excluding Sanchez, Di Maria, Owen, Valencia and Depay). While Cavani ended up proving me wrong with what he brought to the team with his sheer dedication, experience, leadership and his tenacity, it was clear to me then that United’s transfer board and negotiations, the Glazers and Ed Woodward were out of their depth when it comes to bringing in players.

The Clowns that Run the circus

From the heading, you would have guessed, yes, I’m calling the Glazers, Ed Woodward and the board of directors clowns. Who wouldn’t when other clubs who tried to deal with them say they are a joke as well? A little bit of history, The Glazers first took over the club in the year 2005. According to a report by The Athletic, their time in charge has cost the club roughly £1.7 billion in debt and other charges, turning one of the proudest clubs in the world into their personal piggy bank. Instead of paying off the debt with their own money, they instead used the revenue made from the club, which means they took out millions from the club and instead used sponsors to cover up the shortfall. In 2015, Glazers decided to take out dividends from the club (roughly around £90 million per year).  While it may seem perverse to claim that the billions coming out of the United don’t matter, frankly, there does seem to be little effect to their financial power.  Despite their debt, the red devils are still the 4th strongest club regarding financial power, and the cost of running the club has yet to be passed on to the fans based on raising the prices of the tickets with it being frozen for nine years. Since Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013,  United are one of just five sides to shell out over one billion pounds on transfer and only man city has a higher net spend than their astronomical 745 million pounds a figure, 1.5 times higher than PSG over the same period and as much as Chelsea Liverpool and Bayern Munich spent together.

However, fans are right that the Glazers all-business approach to club ownership means they do not care about the team’s on-field success and that has led to serious missteps to their running of the side. David Moyes was appointed to a role that he was not ready for and CEO David Gill left for Ed Woodward, an excellent spreadsheet guy but lacking in football knowledge. Woefully ill-equipped to rebuild an ageing side for a new era, Woodward spent his first summer fruitlessly pursuing the signing of Fabregas from Barcelona before eventually acquiring Marouane Fellaini with fans calling for his head just after one transfer window. As a result, United dropped from 1st to 7th and over the next eight years, Woodward refused to put in place the director of football or a proper recruitment structure. Meaning that managers like Louis Van Gaal and Mourinho were hired based on reputation, not suitability and players were signed and sold according to the whims of each new boss. Talents like Depay and Di Maria and Mikhitaryian were brought in at huge expense and shipped out at a loss and while the team is currently under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing well, there remains gaping holes in the squad as well as ageing stars soaking up high wages a result of poor planning. Man City and Liverpool realised that success on the field would be driven by having clear direction off the pitch and United floundered, hoping each new boss could weld together a disjointed squad. If the Glazers had appointed someone with more football expertise or insisted on building strong recruitment, United could have selected managers according to a style they wanted to play and dedicated their huge resources to building a coherent team, ready to compete for silverware and they might not be closing in on a decade without a title.

The Money League

The last few months were a huge roller coaster ride for football fans and owners. The big six clubs Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, would break away, and with the top clubs in Spain and Italy form a ‘European Super-League’. The only clubs who rejected advances to join the league were Germany’s Bayern Munich and France’s Paris Saint Germain. A competition that only these clubs would be in, with no relegation and no other clubs could enter, it was clearly a ploy that the owners of these clubs thought of to profit off the fans by selling these ‘big games’ as an every week thing. Obviously and thankfully, the idea was greeted with outrage across the entire football fanbase, with fans of their own respective clubs protesting against the owners. Within 48 hours, most of the clubs pulled out of the plan, knowing that the power belonged to the fans, not the owners. For Manchester United, however, it was the last straw for most of the fans. Immediately, the ‘Glazers Out’ movement started trending on Twitter with local and international fans signing petitions to finally get rid of their owners. Local fans even broke into the stadium before the United vs Liverpool game postponing it, with signs saying ‘We decide when you play’, a powerful sign that showed the fanbase that we were strong as a collective, even stronger than the owners themselves. The Glazers quickly had to apologise to the fans and said that there would be changes to this club. Ed Woodward came out saying that he would resign from his position at the end of the year (2021) with John Murtough being appointed as the new Director of Football. After months away from the collapse of the ESL, slowly the fires of the ‘Glazer Out’ movement started to die out showing that the Glazers won the long game, remaining in charge.

Where do we go from here?

As of right now, United has come up with a transfer list for this summer window. With the likes of Jadon Sancho already signed to the club and links to Raphael Varane and Camavinga, United could potentially challenge for the title next season. However, there are still many questions to be answered. Juan Mata has extended his contract, despite only making six appearances last season, showing that United are still struggling to offload fringe players and ageing players. There have also been talks that Jesse Lingard may return to the club after his revitalising loan to West Ham showing that the club still does deals based on sentiments despite the clear fact that he cannot perform for United’s first team.  Also, the goalkeeping situation has yet to be resolved with De Gea and Henderson both fighting for the 1st choice keeper. Only time will tell how United will progress from here.

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