David Moyes playing for more than Champions League survival

Manchester United are set to spend big this summer – but their current manager might not be there to oversee it

Alex Ferguson celebrates with his Manchester United players after winning the Champions League final against Bayern in Barcelona in 1999. It looks like David Moyes will have to emulate his predecessor and win the Champions League this year to earn a place in next years’s edition. Photograph:  Phil Cole/Allsport

Alex Ferguson celebrates with his Manchester United players after winning the Champions League final against Bayern in Barcelona in 1999. It looks like David Moyes will have to emulate his predecessor and win the Champions League this year to earn a place in next years’s edition. Photograph: Phil Cole/Allsport

Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 01:00

He might be some way yet from being shown the door by his new employers but as David Moyes takes his Manchester United squad for training at the Dubai Sport City complex this weekend, the Scot will know the next few weeks will have a crucial bearing on how difficult it will be to make a success of his job over the longer term.

Moyes has had a nightmarish start, with the title-winning team he inherited needing to make up a point a game on Liverpool between now and the end of the season if they are to qualify through the league for next year’s Champions League.

The only alternative route is to win this year’s competition, as Chelsea did when finishing fifth in the league two seasons ago, but on present form just getting past Olympiakos to reach the quarter-finals would come as a relief.

Getting that far was what United budgeted for at the start of the season but then they also reckoned they would make the same stage of FA Cup, which they didn’t, and finish at least third in the league, which would require a miracle.

In the League Cup the team bettered the financial department’s “worst case” projections by one round – a fact Moyes would surely not even mention in the event he was required to explain his performance thus far to his employers.

Baseline projections
Far from precipitating an immediate crisis at the club, however, falling short of the baseline projections laid out for him by the club’s accountants is simply likely to mean they will not exceed the £400 million (€544 million) revenue mark for the year as had been hoped.

The team’s generally strong performance in recent years combined with the marketing department’s remarkable success in capitalising on it means United can comfortably survive a temporary blip.

For Moyes, though, it would make life more difficult for a manager who has never won anything having to sell a club with no Champions League to offer next season to players who, if they are of the calibre now required at Old Trafford, expect nothing less.

United’s already steadily rising wage bill might also be expected to grow far more dramatically as the club would be required to significantly outbid rivals for the most talented players. But, as former striker Andy Cole asked recently, just how do you outbid the likes of Manchester City, PSG or Real Madrid?

“I think the worry if you don’t make it into the Champions League is trying to attract players to your football club,” he said last week in Dublin doing promotional work for Setanta TV. “Liverpool have been through that and the more they missed out on the Champions League the more they struggled to bring in better players. “

Bottomless pockets
The problem is compounded by the apparently bottomless pockets of clubs like City who, he pointed out, had just tried to spend big again in the January window. “If you’re trying to buy two centre halves for £50 million in January, what are their aims for the summer? To spend another £200 million? £250 million?

“Now if you spend that kind of money – and you’re all going to be fishing in the same pond for the best players – if one team’s in the Champions League and one team isn’t; you tell me, what’s going to happen?”

In strictly financial terms United could certainly compete – Champions League prize money and participation fees have generally only amounted to between 10 and 15 per cent of income for the top English clubs over the last few years and Liverpool would still be a long way adrift of their old rivals in the money making leagues even if they do qualify at United’s expense for next season’s competition.