Banners, scarves attacking ownership and walkouts are now common at the theatre of dreams with United fully spiraling out of control. Fans will be mocked and pitied for these performative actions, but what else can they do? They have watched their club be mismanaged to the point of irrelevancy, as the club continues to reach new and higher levels of revenue.
A start to a season for a historic club shouldn’t be this bad, where fans are begging Adrien Rabiot to save their club from years of chaos. Alas, this is Manchester United’s current situation and it’s easy to dog on ten Hag and his players, but the issues plaguing United are much deeper.
The players deserve their fair share of the blame, I mean de Gea played like Anders Lindegaard, but it denies. While it’s too early to judge ten Hag, it’s not early to judge the club’s policy with transfers and player recruitment given the abject failure of these policies since 2014. From losing Pogba for nothing to paying a hefty ransom for Jadon Sancho, United is so far behind their rivals.
At the end of the day, sports is a business and as long as profits are being made, the actual product on the field can be sacrificed. Corporate partnerships and sponsorships become more crucial to ownership than participating in a title race. United fans are correct in their anger at the Glazers for overseeing the total decline of the club, but it may never bring any change.
So much attention has been directed towards United over the past few seasons, including this writer, but at this point it’s useless to just laugh at the players. Rather, it’s more useful to examine what has led the historic club to this point.
At one point, close to a decade ago, Manchester United ruled the transfer window, being able to sign just about any player they wanted including from rival clubs. However, since around 2017, the transfer and recruitment policy has been awful and has contributed to the club’s decline.
In the early to mid 2010s, United pulled off impressive signings from getting Robin van Persie from Arsenal to securing la décima hero Ángel Di María. Not every signing succeeded of course, but they were still able to throw their weight around in the market.
The summer of 2016 was truly the peak and end of this era, as it was also the last time that the club was fully willing to put together a title challenging team. After breaking the transfer record to bring back Pogba, United added Zlatan Ibrahimović and Dortmund MVP Henrikh Mkhitaryan. All this was done to give manager José Mourinho the best chance at the title that United had in years.
Mourinho’s reign at United was a truly mixed back where he got the club to finish second, but the chaos at the club ruined all the progress that he had made. It’s also at this time where the wheels truly fell off and all the dirty laundry at the club was aired out finally.
These past two summer windows have truly been the epitome of the club’s decline, starting with the return of Ronaldo. On face value, signing Ronaldo, Sancho and Varane should have been a hit, but Varane has barely played and Sancho has failed to replicate his form that electrified the Bundesliga. These failures with player recruitments have been compounded with the utter failure of making proper transfers this summer.
After the embarrassment of the loss at Brentford, United has been desperate to sign players to fix the glaring holes in the midfield. Frenkie de Jong’s open refusal to join the club and fan’s begging of Rabiot to save the club have been embarrassing for the once great club. The only hope for fans may be in Casemiro which is a great signing, but his fit in ten Hag’s system is awkward.
Although some will argue that every stable club starts from the academy, but it’s hard to deny the true importance of transfer and recruitment policies. For United, both failures with academy and player decisions have combined to sink the club.
Over the past week, United fans have been trying to organize a walk out during the rivalry game against Liverpool and other fans have been actively discouraging fans from even paying tickets. While these actions will bring attention to the club’s situation, these are nothing more than performative actions.
It’s not the fans’ fault that this will be performative, as they have no way of truly holding the Glazer family accountable for their mismanagement. Since the Glazers purchased the club in 2008, the club’s profile on the pitch has dropped off a cliff while their business portfolio has rocketed to the moon. This juxtaposition is striking because fans would assume that the club’s fall would result in the revenue taking a hit as the club continues to fail in England and Europe, but the club’s business model is different.
Forbes releases the financial evaluation of the largest clubs on earth with their revenues broken down into what areas they make the most from. United’s financial breakdown is both unsurprising and interesting, as it fits into the modern landscape of the sport. The lion’s share of revenue comes from broadcasting deals, which is normal, but the other areas where they make a lot from are commercialization and brand value.
To further illustrate this point, take one look at the partnership page to see the amount of official sponsors that drive so much of that revenue. From big companies like Chevrolet to more obscure brands like Mister Potato, United has been willing to shill out the club’s brand to drive that profit.
This is also what makes any sort of walkout useless, as the club will ignore that as long as their sponsors don’t mind it. The brand is stronger than any result the club may have, unless they potentially get relegated, meaning that the club can still find buyers to throw their name on anything. Even if ownership changed, there are no guarantees that this would change given the current soccer landscape.
In a way, this reflects so much of the problems facing the world, with the financial power of any entity overriding any sort of grass roots movement. Fans can scream at the top of their lungs, walk out as the team loses 5-0 to Liverpool, but it’s all likely to change nothing. The only way for things to change is if a new ownership group appears or if sponsors start to leave, which is unlikely, so fans are in a tough spot.
Fans clearly want to see their club return to its iconic heights, but as long as the money printing machine keeps going, ownership will only be there to cash the check. As depressing as it sounds, walkouts and banners won’t bring any change to United.
Unless you’re a United fan, it’s objectively funny to see the mess that the club currently is with failed transfers and horrid performances occurring weekly. At the same time, United’s situation is that of a club that wants to be more of a brand than a club. Condemning fans to watch their club suffer on the pitch while continuing to become one of the most profitable sports properties in the world.
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