Thursday, 3 September 2009

Man Utd haven't spent the Ronaldo money on players, so where has it gone?

Sir Alex Ferguson has not replaced Ronaldo, so perhaps United fans should expect the Old Trafford toilets to get a makeover.

Manchester United fans not wholly convinced by their team's performances, balance and strength in depth so far this season can take comfort from the explanations provided throughout the summer, that Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to spend little of the £80m received for Cristiano Ronaldo has nothing to do with the massive debts loaded on the club.

As the transfer window closed, Sir Alex Ferguson stayed true to his resolution, that he is happy with his squad, the market is overpriced and, perhaps most oddly, that in the whole of world football, the players are simply not there with the skill and psychological equipment worthy of a Manchester United squad number. In a summer of perpetual rumour, the only player United confirmed Ferguson genuinely did want was Karim Benzema, and after the French striker was swept up in Real Madrid's trolley dash round the Pannini sticker album, Ferguson did not look for another.

So United head for the heart of the season having replaced Ronaldo, who scored 25 goals last year in all competitions, and Carlos Tevez, who scored 15 while regularly being held in reserve, with Michael Owen, signed on a free after stumbling through 10 goals in a wretched flail against Newcastle's impending relegation. Ferguson is clearly confident that £17m spent on Luis Antonio Valencia (three goals for Wigan last year) will prove a prudent investment while Gabriel Obertan, the 20 year old French striker who played just eight league matches for champions Bordeaux and went on loan to mid-table Lorient, has been tracked as one for the future.

Throughout the summer, while Ferguson was emphasising his disdain for a market in which Real, with borrowed euros, and Manchester City, with Abu Dhabi oil riches, were the most substantial spenders, United's owners wanted it to be known that they had not banked the Ronaldo money to help deal with the debt.

The accounts for the thicket of Manchester United companies, which begin with a football club based in Stretford and ultimately lodge the Glazer family's ownership in the low tax, Las Vegas, roulette wheel US State of Nevada, were most recently filed for the year to June 2008. They showed the club £699m in debt to banks and hedge funds, three years after the Glazers borrowed £525m to finance their 2005 takeover. The interest payable in just three years after that, by a club always previously debt-free, has been a barely believable £263m.

That is money from fans, TV and other commercial income which could have been put to all manner of better uses. Yet even with the massive interest paid out, the debt the Glazers originally loaded on to United has continued to climb, because the most expensive borrowing, from hedge funds at 14.25% interest a year, has not actually been paid, but "rolls up" and is added to the total amount owed.

In Seoul on the United's pre-season tour, the Glazer family's spokesman stressed to the accompanying media that United, Ferguson included, did, despite all that, have £60m to spend. Even though United lost £44.8m last year, because of the £69m interest payable, the spokesman pointed to the club's booming turnover, and operating profit, to say the money was there if Ferguson chose to spend it.

"The manager has a significant amount of money to invest if he wants to," the spokesman, Tehsin Nayani, said. "The delay [in signing anybody] is because the manager has not been able to locate the players that he believes fit the Manchester United mindset.

"We are talking about a net amount of about £60m, and that is cash that can be reinvested in the squad, doing up the toilets or new carpets."

The transfer market may, as Ferguson complains, be inflated, although City have seen it as a buyer's summer, with some players available at fair enough prices because many clubs are in a financial squeeze. At Old Trafford, though, the argument has held: Ferguson has simply not wanted any more players for his squad even though all that money was available to him, and the Glazers have not insisted on banking it to fend off the vast debts with which they loaded the club.

Protesting United fans have been told from the beginning that they are being financially naïve and illiterate to think that hundreds of millions of pounds of debt, to pay for a takeover none of them wanted, will have any actual effect on their club. The Glazers have been able to point to three Premier League titles won since they arrived, and the 2008 European Champions League trophy, as strong evidence for the argument that nobody should worry about the debt.

Now, with Ronaldo and Tevez departed, and the blessed Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs scampering towards their sunsets, we can only keep taking the owners at their word, because there is no way of seeing where the £80m Ronaldo money has actually gone. As the transfer window has closed without much of the spare £60m reinvested in the squad, United fans know what to look excitedly out for: a wondrous new experience in the Old Trafford toilets, or some of the plushest carpets in world football.

Source: Guardian

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