Ten crucial days off and on the pitch

Manchester United have the biggest stadium in the English Premier League 76,000 seater Old Trafford and with matches since restart for last quarter of the season being played without fans they lost 5.5 million pounds per home game. Over the course of the season that's 111 million pounds and 18% of clubs overall income. Broadcasting revenues constitutes 38% as per 2019-20 figures and the rest 44% comes from commercial deals wherein the Champions' League qualification has meant United do not lose out on adidas clause and retain 20 million pounds instead. Worst case loss of revenue this fiscal year July 1st, 2020 to June 30th, 2021 could be 111 million of match day receipts plus loss of broadcast revenue of 80 million plus loss of revenue from commercial that includes cancellation of lucrative pre-season tour, suspension of tour of Old Trafford and Museum, and loss in shirt sales, all in all its a massive loss of over 200 million i.e., a third of total revenue (627 million in 2019) wiped out!

Loss in last two quarters Q3, Q4 of 2019-20 season might be the sum of 60.5 million from 9 matches in EPL and 2 in Europa League plus 20 million returned to broadcasters already plus about 9 million to nullify Alexis Sanchez's contract i.e., 89.5 million minimum. For Q3 of 2019-20 (01Jan to 31Mar) club had already announced a loss of 28.5 million with net debt increasing to 429 million which was 127 million more compared to previous year affected by pandemic and USD-GBP exchange rate. In the end of May club secured 140 million in revolving credit facility for reasons stated as player transfers and other expenditures but as it turned out they paid 9 cents a share dividend on 3rd of June! If fans are not allowed till March a year from the start of pandemic, player salaries might be impacted as player wages account for about 50% of revenue discounting 3% minimum of Sanchez's astronomical wage bill. United had shown 307 million in cash though as of June, 2019 which can cushion the blow. Q4 and 2019-20 full year results and earnings report conference call has been postponed to October from last week of September.

By the end of the year net debt might reach levels of 660 million which was the case when the Glazers did the leveraged buy out of the club in 2005 and might put MUFC back in the market for Saudi's to try takeover again. Manchester United was mostly debt free from 1931 when James W Gibson stepped in to help the club and remained so till 2005, consequently eyed by every businessman during that time from Louis Edwards to Michael Knighton and Rupert Murdoch via BskyB. David Conn in the Guardian published in 4th October, 2018 said that Glazers via dividends, executive pay to directors, share sale have taken more than 1 Billion out of the club while Man City's owners have put more than 1 Billion into theirs, gulf between two local Manchester rivals is greater than 2 Billion. Pandemic has put the redevelopment of Old Trafford on hold which was long overdue. At a valuation of over 4 Billion there are indeed very few takers. The $559m shirt deal with Chevrolet and training kit deal with Aon expire at the end of this year and a new deal with new sponsors needs to be struck.

With an uncertain and unpredictable future this season it will not be easy to spend 108 million pounds on a single player. United had two scenario's: Jadon Sancho will only be signed in the last week of transfer window to save paying his huge wages till the last minute if Dortmund agree to slightly reduced fee with installments spread over few years OR pursuing cheaper alternatives early in window. They chose the former but fans are getting nervy if Dortmund decline and United do not sign any alternatives like the chase for Raphael Varane under Jose Mourinho. Faith in clubs transfer process has deteriorated steadily since the last years of Ferguson when very few deals were done due to 'lack of value' and later club pursued the strategy of doing transfers with big agents post Ferguson that resulted in most of the talks being in the public domain via leaks to pent up the price. The change in recruitment under Solskjaer is noticeable but much still needs to be done in scouting. When was the last time they signed a player who was tracked for a good number of years and signed without paying a hefty fee without any delay?

They hired Neil Ashton for PR last January and who till the end of last season had done a good job especially while the club was supporting local communities affected due to the pandemic. It isn't as though the club are complaining about the negative sentiments from most of its 1.1 billion fans on lack of transfer activity. Instead this #MUFC hashtag remains relevant throughout the transfer window and reaches a crescendo when the player is actually signed up. This sounds deliberate of how business imperative forces a footballing decision to be delayed in order to maximize social media and online traffic. Both Solskjaer and Ashton haven't been able to change this yet!

Manchester Evening News rightly points out that United deal for Sancho was always planned in the last week of transfer window i.e., the first week of October in order for it to be impacting the financial reporting of Q2(01Oct to 31Dec). Unless player's and agent's terms are agreed in advance its not possible for deal of this size to be concluded within four days. Does that hold good for Alex Telles or Dayot Upamecano? No and Yes due to the size of the transfer fee. Club are in talks to sell Chris Smalling for 18 million while Sergio Romero has not yet returned who is unlikely to play for Solskjaer again after being dropped for the Europa League Cup semifinal against Sevilla. Rojo, Jones, Lingard and Pereira have no concrete offers yet. Two more promising players have gone out on loan - Dylan Levitt to Charlton Athletic and James Garner to Watford who join three other players - Tahith Chong at Werder Bremen, Matej Kovar at Swindon Town and Joel Pereira at Huddersfield Town.

United won 3-0 away at Kenilworth Road against Luton Town with a Mata converted penalty won by industrious Brandon Williams, Greenwood assist for Rashford to get back in form and finally Rashford assist for Greenwood. Matic and Fred both started to provide cover for battered defense to not lose confidence while giving a platform for new signing Donny van de Beek to make his first full competitive start. That protection in front enabled Eric Bailly to provide a sound display alongside Harry Maguire including a goal line clearance and Solskjaer might retain the duo against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday. Jesse Lingard played full 90 minutes with good link play only final shot was missing. Dean Henderson made his senior United debut with a stunning save to deny Hatters an equalizer and this made David de Gea to say "I feel the best I've felt in my career" before the match on Saturday. Solskjaer with that win has taken his tally to 50 wins in 92 games as United manager just behind Ernest Mangnall and Jose Mourinho!

After the restart last season United played a weakened BHAFC team that were aiming for survival which will not be the case on Saturday especially after they beat NUFC 3-0 away a fantastic result. Last time United lost their opening two games in English Premier League was in 1992-93 when they went on to win their first league title in 26 years! Solskjaer has his priority set right after an abysmal defeat on the opening game of this season against Crystal Palace "My focus is solely on the game and I can’t be thinking any other way. We need three points in this game.” Probable XI: De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Shaw, Maguire, Bailly, Fred, van de Beek, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford.

United will play the Seagulls again in the League Cup round of 16 on 30-Sep. 04th October they welcome back Jose Mourinho's Tottenham to Old Trafford before the International break with Newcastle, Chelsea and Arsenal to follow next. Tough fixtures in October also adds to the pressure on getting the away win at Brighton today.

Opening day loss at home: how bad is that for United?

Just the second home loss to the start of the Premier League season for Manchester United. First was in 2014 under Louis van Gaal's first match in charge when United lost to Swansea 1-2 with captain Wayne Rooney's consolation strike while Ander Herrera made his debut and subsequently club signed Angel di Maria from Real Madrid who left after just one bad season. United finished 4th in the Dutchman's first season in charge improving from 7th under Moyes previously. Solskjaer had taken the team from 14th after the draw with Liverpool to 3rd in the last season but is a slow start warranted yet again?

Lost 1-3 to Crystal Palace in this seasons' opener. A much heaver defeat for Solskjaer than van Gaal with a much better squad though. Main reason is the lack of rest after a pandemic enforced break and subsequent lack of pre-season to bring players up to match fitness required for the demands of the grueling season. Paul Pogba was rushed back after just recuperating from corona virus. Donny van de Beek came on for Pogba looking sharp and scored a goal on debut. Did Scott McTominay provide enough protection for the defense? Perhaps van Gaal's honest assessment forced United's hand to break British transfer record for di Maria "To win the title this season would be a miracle. But that isn't to say that it isn't possible, I think the Glazer family understand this or I would not have accepted this job." Solskjaer hasn't said anything as striking for Glazers to act.

Prior to 2014 loss the next one was far back in 1972 season a 1-2 loss to Ipswich Town, that's 40 year proud unbeaten home record in between. Frank O'Farrell lost his job midway through that season after a nine-game winless streak at the start did not improve league position enough and United were hovering over the foot of the table ushering in the Tommy Docherty era. That unbeaten record withstood the changes in managers from Docherty(2 matches unbeaten in opening home fixtures), Sexton(2), Atkinson(4) to Ferguson(15). It is a blemish on Solskjaer's reign unfortunately especially since he is so steeped in United's rich history.

Absence of fans makes the loss less scathing but equally affects how tamely the team might respond. Would Solskjaer have used Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Scott McTominay and David James in front of fans at Old Trafford in the first match of the season? Is it a subtle dig at the Glazers to force Jadon Sancho transfer? Even Jose Mourinho managed to win both his two home games at the start of 2nd and 3rd year in charge. Could Solskjaer instead have taken advantage of not having fans to start with two defensive midfielders in order to neutralize the opposition before unleashing Greenwood for the last twenty minutes?

First away loss was in the inaugural Premier League season against Sheffield United 1-2 with Mark Hughes scoring the only goal and ultimately United went on to win their first league title after 26 years. Next one was against Aston Villa 1-3 when Sir Alex Ferguson introduced his fledglings that made Alan Hansen to say "you can't win anything with kids" that helped create a siege mentality to unite the squad winning their second double of Premier League and FA Cup. United lost 0-1 in 2004-05 to Chelsea under their new coach Jose Mourinho in his first match in the English Premier League. United finished 3rd and trophy-less that season. Injury hit squad were without both strikers in Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha while captain Roy Keane played as centre-half. Team: Howard, Silvestre, Gary Neville, Keane, Fortune, Miller, O'Shea, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes

Solskjaer rightly pointed out that United must rebound quickly. They face Luton Town away in League Cup 3rd round on Tuesday wherein the squad will be much different than the one that faced Crystal Palace with Dean Henderson certain to make his debut in goal, before visiting Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League at the Amex Arena on Saturday. Amidst an exceptional season due to the pandemic form book goes out of the window more often and United must do their bit first to take advantage. League Cup can serve as a tough practice match as the Hatters defeated Derby County and Reading in their first two rounds, and help United regain their sharpness. Is giving important players a vacation one after another like Ferguson (Beckham, Scholes, Schmeichel) did during the treble winning season the answer? Due to Euro 2021 having been postponed to next summer, next season clubs might face the same issue? Hope Glazers understand that squad depth and rotation certainly helps before the transfer window closes.

United crave to be consistent through the season to retain top four status

An unusual 2019-20 season drew to a close in late August in which United's fortunes contrasted with their worst start in 33 years before the pandemic forced break and the joint best finish aided by 14 game unbeaten run culminating in finishing 3rd to qualify for lucrative Champions' League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side earned a maximum four week rest after Europa League Cup semi-final loss to skip the opening round of the new English Premier League season and instead play their season opener against Crystal Palace on 19th September. Transfer window though remains open until 5th of October as UEFA has extended the business hours to facilitate spending in a market hit hard by the lock-down. United thus far have made only one signing of Donny van de Beek from Ajax as clubs look to do late deals to either save paying high wages for couple of weeks or strike a late bargain at the cost of squad integration.

United will have Bruno Fernandes available for the whole season and Dean Henderson returning to challenge David de Gea. Solskjaer has settled on a starting XI post restart last season and will hope that will give United a greater share of points this season than paltry 66. First choice right winger and backup is thin be it in central-defense, left-back or left-wing. Fans skepticism is valid based on what transpired just two years back when Jose Mourinho asked for a top quality centre-back as his first priority for which the club set aside 100 million but got no one except Fred the midfielder and Dalot the young right back. United have fortuitously signed Donny van de Beek as Real Madrid backed out of their stated interest and credit to the board for closing the deal swiftly. The main target however has always been Jadon Sancho costing around 100 million. Will United fail their manager again? Bruno Fernandes played in all matches for Sporting Lisbon in January and signed for United at the end of the month, will same hold true in case of Sancho? Is the delay in transfer due to his completing more than 10 caps for England and 100 caps for Dortmund to earn his agents bonuses?

Mason Greenwood has moved into 100 most valuable players in the world as per transfermarkt who value him at 40 million. Its huge for a home grown player from the academy. The front three Martial, Rashford, Greenwood contributed 44 premier league goals last season though none of them played more than 31 league games suggests more can be expected of them this term. Sancho has the stats that are better than Fernandes to take United up another notch to close the huge 33 points gap with Champions. That's the reason behind the obsession with Sancho. Next season he might prefer other clubs hence the urgency to complete the deal now. Fans hope he will not be remembered like Alan Ball the 1966 World Cup winner whom United missed to sign from Blackpool when the player himself and his father wanted to join but destiny proved otherwise. 


United have a home game on 6th February, 2021 against Everton that coincides with the services to mark the tragedy at Munich in 1958 as per the fixtures released. Play Liverpool away on 16th January and at home on 1st May, both in later half of the season which will be good news as Solskjaer hasn't beaten them yet and United can hope to build good momentum till then to mount at fierce fight with their traditional rivals. First Manchester derby will be at Old Trafford on 12th December followed by reverse fixture on 6th March. Games against biggest spenders Chelsea are on 24th October, home and 27th February, away. Much hated rivals Leeds under maverick Bielsa are back in the top division after 15 years and intense matches are due on 19th December at home and 24th April away. West Bromwich Albion and Fulham are the other two promoted sides. October presents a tough proposition with Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal all to play for.

Club has continued its focus on youth following last season's rejig with Nicky Butt being appointed head of first team development and Nick Cox taking over the academy. U23s got promoted to EPL2 consequently under coach Neil Wood. They have acquired a slew of young players Marc Jurado from Barcelona, Alvaro Fernandez Carreras from Real Madrid,  Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Tromso, Joe Hugill and Logan Pye from Sunderland and Radek Vitek from Sigma Olomouc. Quinton Fortune leaves his U23 assistant manager role to be part of first team setup at Reading. United reached the semi-finals of FA Youth Cup for the first time since winning it in 2011 with Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, the FA are still hopeful of completing the last three matches to declare a winner. United face Chelsea while Blackburn face City in another semi-finals.

United after Sir Alex Ferguson have never finished in the top four in consecutive seasons, and that's the next test for Solskjaer to overcome. Club needs to mitigate the risk of hedging summer transfer on just one important target in Jadon Sancho by having room to sign-up alternatives if the deal fails. Challenge is that only Lionel Messi was better than Sancho last season! Instead United could bid 50-60 million for Dayot Upamecano and chase Sancho again in the next transfer window but sustaining top four will become very challenging. Ideally United need both Sancho and Upamecano to challenge the top two. The struggle to get the right value for Chris Smalling after an excellent first season on loan to AS Roma reveals the cautious spending by clubs across Europe. United still regard him highly and he could end up as a dependable backup to Maguire-Lindelof though not as a challenger. Teden Mengi the U18's captain has been fast-tracked due to his pace to compliment club captain Harry Maguire, and came on as a sub against Aston Villa in a practice match last Saturday. Sergio Romero will look to exit after being snubbed for Europa League semi-final. Will United pay compensation to release Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones like they did for Alexis Sanchez if they sign one centre-back?

Predicting the league standings after a disrupted season is always going to be tough, given the transfer window being still open and VAR rules modified for new season. After the winter disruption of 1962 next season saw Liverpool under Bill Shankly crowned as Champions after being promoted from division two just two years before and having finished 8th in previous season! If Jadon Sancho sings United could retain 3rd spot and if not, have enough faith in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to secure fourth. Under Solskjaer team has evolved through the last year to a settled starting XI that can still improve and having Bruno Fernandes for the whole season in addition to new recruits does make a formidable force by itself.

Its 30 years this May since I started following Manchester United. Back then they played Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final and won in a replay, today they start their new league campaign against the same opposition. Sadly football and its finances of today dictate the need to finish in the top four ahead of FA Cup final. Solskjaer to his credit did not let the three semi-finals distract him from the goal of achieving Champions' League football which deserves to be backed up by top quality signings from the board, and that focus will see him through a far tougher and unpredictable season through the pandemic where it still remains unclear if and when fans will return to the stadiums to give life back to football. 

Earnestly hope though the club do away with this new zebra kit and introduce a retro one.


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