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.

In 2011/12, United turned over around €435 million, compared to just €230 million for their Anfield rivals (the percentages spent on wages were 51 and 70 respectively) and €355 million for Chelsea, who were second best in terms of cash generation that year.

But the numbers are all on an upward trajectory, with Premier League prize money, worth €83.5 million to United last season, set to increase this year to such an extent that even finishing where they currently stand – seventh – would bring in slightly more money, while Champions League money went up last year and will jump more significantly in 2015/16 due to new TV deals.

Commercial revenues at the top end of the market, meanwhile, are buoyant, to say the least, and rose 18.8 per cent year on year in the last quarter of 2013 alone. Now standing at around €60 million per quarter, they would be expected to hold up well in the short to medium term, even if the team’s fortunes slump.

Clearly, however, longer term growth prospects would be hit of things aren’t turned around.

Repayment schedule
Stripping out Champions League income that amounted to €39.3 million last year would, of course, be a blow even if United are at this stage over the absolute worst of their repayment schedule on debts that now stand at nearly €490 million.

Matters would be made worse if a direct rival, especially Liverpool, one suspects, was to get the bulk of that money instead.

Moyes’ most immediate challenge, though, would still be to persuade players he can afford to actually join. It is only if he fails to do that and the team’s fortunes are not swiftly reversed that his problems start to mount.

How his employers react will be of critical importance but while the Glazers are widely expected to approve large-scale spending this summer, they may not continue to back the manager if he fails to get things quickly back on track.

Fenway, on the other hand, may be encouraged to increase support for Brendan Rogers if the present rate of progress is maintained.

All other things remaining just as they are, of course, the sweetest, and swiftest, way out of the current conundrum for Moyes and United’s fans is undoubtedly to win the Champions League, far-fetched a prospect as that might seem.

Chelsea got €62.9 million for winning it two years ago and, while there are other factors, the basic prize money element has increased by a fifth since then.

They also got parity with the Premier League winners in terms of the sharing out of the following year’s TV Pool money which was worth an additional €10 million over and above what they would have got had they qualified by finishing fourth themselves.

And then, of course, there is the small matter of bumping the team that does finish in that final qualifying position.

Chelsea fans rather enjoyed seeing Tottenham miss out but think of the delight for United supporters in the event that Liverpool were on the receiving end.

Their rivals are unlikely to be losing too much sleep over the idea just yet, of course. United currently look like they might have their hands full with Olympiakos. Survive that, and it’s uphill all the way.