RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: After years of apathy by the Glazers, it's still staggering how it can have cost THAT MUCH for Manchester United to look that cheap
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RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: After years of apathy by the Glazers, it's still staggering how it can have cost THAT MUCH for Manchester United to look that cheap

Sep 30, 2023

Every so often there are updates around Manchester United that don’t involve mutiny or allegations of serious assault on women by their players. Last week, one poked its head out of the swamp to greet us: their net spend on transfers across the past decade was about £1.19billion, according to a study by the CIES Football Observatory.

The figures behind it are astonishing, really. Since 2014, they’ve spent £1.67bn on talent to assist in the winning of one FA Cup, two League Cups, the Europa League, the 2016 Community Shield and a single trip to the Champions League quarter-finals. The recouped value when many of those players were discarded was £481m. 

So that’s one way to look at the numbers. Another calls to attention an old quote by Dolly Parton, because how can it cost that much to look this cheap? How can it be that a business with access to those resources is able to get so much so wrong and so often, on the pitch and off it? But such is life in the crumbling empire of Manchester United.

Even by the subterranean standards of this institution in the Glazer years, the past month might rank as the most embarrassing and chaotic of their grubby tenure. The issues add up to quite a list in the sorry tale of a club who lost their way long ago — the mess of their response to the Mason Greenwood situation, the Jadon Sancho rebellion, the flip-flopping on the sale, the tanking of their share value, and now, to round it off, the question of how United will handle accusations from three women about Antony.

Manchester United have a £1.19billion net spend on transfers over the last decade, but they have become a fumbling club where passive indifference is ok

In the Glazer family (left Avram, Joel right), United have leeches for owners who embody what the club has become

In the Glazer family (left Avram, Joel right), United have leeches for owners who embody what the club has become

The club has made a mess of the Mason greenwood situation

Antony faces allegations from three women

The club has made a mess of the Mason Greenwood situation and their 53-word statement on Antony revealed how little they had learned

The Super League dalliance of 2021 was perhaps more startling in isolation and scale. And yet that was about naked avarice and the nature of parasites — the Glazers are leeches and leeches will leech.

But recent weeks have been less about leeching and more about fumbling and dysfunctionality. About the finger-in-the-wind approach to morality when we had all heard the Greenwood audio. About the manager who called out a player and the player who then called out a manager. About the 53-word statement on Antony that said next to nothing and revealed more about how little they learned from the Greenwood episode. About the sale that seems to be on ice, with the consequence of £600m falling from their share value, because who, beyond Blackadder’s doctor, likes leeches?

Piled one on top of the other, it truly is a steaming pile of dung.

Naturally, we can’t blame the Glazers for all of that — it was a point well made by Simon Jordan in the Daily Mail this week. They didn’t tell a woman to ‘move your f****** legs up’, they didn’t whisper an inflammatory directive in Erik Ten Hag’s ear, and nor did they commandeer Sancho’s social media account. As best we know, they had no involvement in the offside decision that cost Alejandro Garnacho a goal and United a win at Arsenal, either.

But that family is the embodiment of what the club have become across 18 years on their watch — a place where neglect, mediocrity and passive indifference is OK, so long as a certain set of numbers work. If we put any stock in the notion that a company takes on the face of those who control it, then separating United’s problems from the uninterested profiteers at the top becomes awfully hard to achieve.

There will always be a temptation in these discussions to tie the Glazers to the wild sums of money they have bled out of the club in interest payments. And as football fans we can all loathe them for that. But the problem with the Glazers is less about the cash flow and more what they represent with their sheer apathy and the culture it creates.

Because it isn’t spending power that makes United inferior to Manchester City now. Just as it won’t be spending power at the root of it if Newcastle pass by in the near future. The figures tell us that much; in pounds and pence, United remain monstrously large, even with the loss of fortunes in service to the debts. They can afford stars and they can carry passengers.

But in terms of nous and the range of their competencies, from infrastructure to recruitment to behaviours to decision making around the first team, they couldn’t hold a candle to the likes of Brighton without burning themselves. Just as Old Trafford cannot compare to the new Bernabeu.

Mail Sport's Riath Al-Samarrai writes about the dysfunctionality and neglect that has beset United - despite their enormous spending and traditional power

Mail Sport’s Riath Al-Samarrai writes about the dysfunctionality and neglect that has beset United – despite their enormous spending and traditional power 

In terms of recruitment, infrastructure, behaviours, and decision-making around the first team, they lag behind well-run clubs like Brighton

In terms of recruitment, infrastructure, behaviours, and decision-making around the first team, they lag behind well-run clubs like Brighton 

The worry for United is how many of their shortcomings will persist once the Glazers are gone, assuming they eventually hear the right number from Qatar or Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

There will be a prolonged period of ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead euphoria, but fans might find the culture that was spawned by the Glazers, and spread under various elements of their senior hierarchy, is every bit as painful to remove as a greedy leech.

Problems for another day, of course. In these weeks of chaos they have enough to deal with already.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

Louis off the mark

Louis van Gaal has often walked the tightrope between genius and madness. His comments about the Qatar World Cup being rigged for Lionel Messi suggest he may have lost some balance. 

Louis van Gaal's comments about the World Cup being rigged in favour of Lionel Messi and Argentina were off the mark

Louis van Gaal’s comments about the World Cup being rigged in favour of Lionel Messi and Argentina were off the mark 

Complicated Farah cannot be considered true great 

Farewell Sir Mo Farah, but did we ever really know you at all? He took his final strides as a professional athlete in the Great North Run on Sunday, but having covered a good chunk of his career, he remains a man of mystery to me.

It was a little over a year ago that he revealed some shocking elements of his background in a documentary. He told of the troubling circumstances of his arrival into this country as a child of nine and how he was deposited into a life of domestic servitude before his talent carried him to a happier place.

Sir Mo Farah's legacy remains shrouded in mystery and awkward associations, even if he has achieved a lot on the track

Sir Mo Farah’s legacy remains shrouded in mystery and awkward associations, even if he has achieved a lot on the track 

It was troubling and dark and baffling in parts, but sadly it was consistent with the chapters of a sporting career that, in different ways, has also been characterised by a sense of the unknown.

Objectively we can marvel at his four Olympic gold medals and six world titles. But athletics is too nuanced to be judged in such a way, so I left him off my list last weekend when writing about the finest British sportsmen and women of my lifetime. I led with Andy Murray and one reader quite reasonably queried the most glaring omission, but that’s where the cloud rolls in.

Because Farah has lived under one for some time. We can repeat over and again that there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by him, but there is also no doubt that he has had some awkward associations and made some interesting choices, whether that was his transformative partnership with Alberto Salazar, now banned for doping, or lying about his links to Jama Aden, a coach who fled Spain after being busted by police with various banned substances. Then there’s the record keeping around l-carnitine and the missed tests.

It is a cluttered picture that implies no malpractice but has been stood as a backdrop to Farah for years. A backdrop that was impossible to ignore in a sport that long ago forfeited the right to blind faith. As Farah prepares to end his career, it remains a shame that it all became so complicated.

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