Manchester United’s future hangs in the balance.
Controlling shareholders the Glazer family are still deliberating over whether to sell the club or accept minority investment to stay in control themselves.
As the painful process drags on, United are embarking on a transfer window with no clear idea of transfer budget or strategy, as Erik ten Hag admitted this week.
Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules have also been tightened recently and for the first time are likely to offer a serious limitation to what can be done even if significant investment is injected into the club.
Unlike every other top club in the world, Manchester United until recently have continued to operate without a director of football. One was finally appointed in March 2021, John Murtough, but the appointment was met with skepticism as it was an internal appointment of a friend of the then executive vice chairman, Ed Woodward, someone with no previous experience as a DoF.
Many, including former captain and pundit Gary Neville, saw it as the appointment of a “yes man” to Woodward and the Glazers rather than a genuine effort by the family to fill this crucial role.
Fast forward two years and Murtough is now faced with this unprecedented transfer budget uncertainty as the club tries to fill crucial and expensive gaps in the United side in a summer window that could determine the very future of Erik ten Hag’s tenure.
Simply put, there is a huge question mark over whether Murtough has the necessary experience and skills to do the job.
This situation is not lost, it seems, on Ten Hag, who this week did his best to hint United need a top notch DoF without going so far as to say anything against the current regime.
Asked at a press conference whether he agrees that the most important person at a football club is the manager, such as Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola at Man City, Ten Hag replied:
“I don’t know if that is true. About City, [director of football, [Txiki] Begiristain does a very…”
As per The Athletic, “There was an interjection: ‘That club is built for Pep Guardiola.’
“Ten Hag replied: ‘Yes but I think still, don’t underestimate the role of Begiristain.’”
Reporter Laurie Whitwell concluded that “His repeated insistence on recognising the work of Begiristain, City’s director of football, felt telling.”
While it is true that City’s UAE owners have bankrolled Guardiola, in fact Begiristain and Guardiola have managed to assemble their enviable dazzling array of superstars with a net outlay of less than half that of United over the last five years.
Yahoo Sports reports that United’s net spend in that period is £540.23m, as opposed to City’s of just £224.97m.
To all intents and purposes, this is the difference Begiristain has made.
Whoever becomes owner of Manchester United, or even if the Glazers stay, the appointment of a candidate of a similar calibre is, as Ten Hag himself implies, as important as the manager himself, or the signing of any individual star, or indeed, ultimately, as important as the identity of club’s owner.
There are unquestionably elite options available, or becoming available. Liverpool’s former sporting director, the man responsible for finding talent such as Mo Salah for the club, Michael Edwards is currently unemployed. As reported here this week, FC Barcelona’s Jordi Cruyff, a former United player, is also set to leave the Blaugrana this summer.
One thing is clear; judging by his comments, Erik ten Hag knows that this is an urgent problem at Manchester United and he will be pushing internally to make sure the powers-that-be are fully aware of the implications of continuing to maintain the status quo.
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