How does the English Premier League [EPL], which has styled itself as the ‘best football league in the world’ reconcile that with the fact that the world best players hardly ever choose to play in the EPL? Over the last decade, La Liga [mostly Barcelona and Real Madrid] have had their pick of the top footballing talents. Think Real Madrid’s Galaticos and the Barca greats. This summer transfer season has heralded the rise of the French Ligue 1 with their capture of the two most-sought strikers, Falcao and Cavani. Also, the Bundesliga with the capture of Guardiola is no slouch either. Further proof that the EPL isn’t the top haven for talents?
Fabregas, Ronaldo, Alex Song, Balloteli and Modric are examples of local EPL stars that opted to send their talents elsewhere. Given that we have established that the EPL does not always attract the best footballing talents, it is not so great a leap in logic to assume that the most celebrated EPL club would attract the ‘best of the rest’ that choose to play for the EPL. Interestingly, this is not so. By virtue of winning the most EPL titles, this article considers Manchester United as the most celebrated football club. This article aims to understand why Manchester United fails to attract the top talents despite every big-name player linked to a move to the club every season. By no means is this an analysis of United’s transfer policy rather this is an observation of the transfer market forces that control and influence Manchester United’s transfer options and policy.
This summer has seen the new man in charge, Moyes facing a rather unique situation; convincing Wayne Rooney to stay put after handing in a transfer request. Whether he chooses to sell Rooney or keep him, both decisions will have serious implications for the club. Should he choose to sell Rooney, the question of how to best replace him arises—Choose to keep him and how do you best re-integrate him into the club and the supporters who at the very least view him as a mercenary for agitating for a move away from Old Trafford. The Rooney conundrum aside, Moyes has been linked all summer with the Spanish U21 midfield star, Thiago Alcantara. Initial reports suggested that his lack of playing time had caused his price to drop from €90million to €18million.
That coupled with the midfielder’s desire for regular playing time to force his inclusion in the Spanish team for the 2014 World Cup suggested that this was a match made in heaven for both parties. The club has not had quality midfield investment since Anderson and the player was more or less guaranteed a starting berth in a team that will contend for trophies on all fronts. However, as with most of big-named talents United have been linked with, recent reports claim the player’s preference is to stay with his parent club. With others linking him to a move with his former coach at Bayern Munich. The question then is why is this situation a recurring nightmare for United fans?
The first explanation I offer is that the club has a rigid wage policy structure that inhibits it from outspending its rivals. That is to say that unlike teams like Real Madrid and most recently Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG, United cannot offer inflated wage deals to attract top talents. Michael Essien, Eden Hazard and Wesley Sneijder are example of marquee players that would have significantly improved the club’s midfield. The reason these proposed transfers never materialized was because the players in question were either lured away by higher wages elsewhere [Essien and Hazard to Chelsea] or opted to stay put at their parent club [Sneijder].
With the EPL choosing to enforce the Financial Fair Play [FFP] regulations, United are best served not paying so much for players but an immediate effect is that they lose out on players to rivals. This explains why most United players tend to develop their superstar status whilst at the club. The club has also shown a preference for buying young talent [which coincidentally comes cheaper] to groom and develop. The worry is that United risks ending up as Arsenal buying young talent because of a stubbornness to meet player wage demands. It is important to understand however that for those running the club, they have values that they believe define United and a player holding the Club hostage is a situation that has never been tolerated at the Club. Would the new manager and chief executive feel differently and adopt a different approach? Only time will tell.
Player power in football is undeniable and it is for this reason that the other explanation this article offers for United’s poor showing during the transfer window is essentially another manifestation of player choice. A quick quiz for die-hard United fans out there; What do Ronaldinho, Kaka, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Torres and possibly Alcantara have in common? These are players that have snubbed United to play for other clubs. This is a manifestation of the EPL’s poor standing when compared to other European leagues.
Wage issues aside, there was nothing United could do to stop these players who run at the chance to represent the teams they have always wanted to play for as children [Modric, Benzema and Ronaldinho] or those who are comfortable with their current clubs [Torres when he was still at Athletico Madrid and possibly Alcantara]. Unless United can find some way of making itself a more appealing destination, it has its hands tied when chasing the best talents on the market. City and Chelsea tackle this by offering ultra-competitive wages, United does not. This is not to say United does not have its appeal. An old club with a rich history, there are many players who would relish the opportunity to play for United. Perhaps the difficulty is finding these players who also have the quality to significantly improve the squad.
By and large, United’s success has been built by promoting from within, identifying potential young talents and investing in them and finding quality role players. Speaking of role players, former coach Alex Ferguson showed remarkable man management skills in bringing the best out his squad such as O’Shea, Daren Fletcher, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham.
Say what you will but United, at least during the Ferguson era had players content to play whatever role and position the gaffer asked of them. Moyes would have to continue in the same vein to get the most out of his squad. Unless he is able to change United’s fortunes during the transfer window, United fans should to expect more of the same—signing exciting young talents and promoting youth players. This method has resulted in 19 EPL titles and 3 UEFA champions league trophies thus far. But is this enough to compete in Europe and even the EPL?
Share your response to the above question in the comments below and also any other responses you might have to the article above.