Manchester United are about to prove why new transfer report has embarrassed them – Tyrone Marshall

There is a theory in modern football that the spending power of the biggest clubs is now so extreme that the correlation between cash and success has never been clearer, but there is one club that has been doing its best to debunk that myth.

Having access to the riches on offer at clubs such as Manchester City and Paris St-Germain certainly make silverware more likely, but Manchester United are hardly paupers, even if they have a very different ownership model.

United’s unique ability to bring in revenue will always sustain their transfer market spending and the latest report from the CIES Football Observatory backs that up.

But it’s also a damning indictment of a 10-year transfer strategy that has squandered the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson era and left the club lurching from one crisis to the next. Their latest spending spree came last summer but has only led to yet another calamitous season.

The CIES report has looked at net spend across the top five leagues in Europe over the last decade – so since the summer window in 2012 – and this is one table that United are top of.

According to the report United have spent an eye-watering €1,545m on players since the summer of 2012, while bringing in just €470m in sales. That leaves them with a net spend of €1,075m, which is €91m clear of Manchester City, who come in second.

Such extravagance has landed City four Premier League titles, an FA Cup and six League Cups in that time. United have won one Premier League, one FA Cup, one League Cup, one Europa League and an awful lot of embarrassment. That sole title came in the first season the report considers.

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But the report doesn’t just shine a light on United’s reckless recruitment, which is perhaps best summed up by the fact they had players signed by five different managers on the pitch for extra-time of their FA Cup defeat to Middlesbrough on Friday night. It also highlights their poor approach to bringing in revenue through the transfer market.

The reason United are ahead of City at the top of the table is that the Blues have made €245m more in sales over the last 10 years. You have to go to ninth in the table to find a club that has made less than United in player sales in that period, which is Aston Villa. Chelsea have sold players worth €1,201m and still been more successful.

Unfortunately for United, their lead at the top of that table could be increased this summer. Whoever is appointed as the next permanent manager will want to put his own stamp on the squad and it’s clear United need to spend significantly on a central midfielder, at least.

The summer will expose their failures in selling players. Seeing Lee Grant, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani leave on a free transfer won’t hurt, but if Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard both depart for nothing then that is more than £100m in lost transfer fees.

Pogba told United he wanted to leave three years ago and has performed sporadically since then, but has still managed to reach a position where he will leave the club on a free transfer for the second time in his career. Lingard was in demand last summer but United decided to keep him and never play him. This is not a great market for selling players but United could have got close to the £89million they spent on Pogba if they’d sold in 2019 and perhaps a little less than that in 2020. They could have easily cleared £25m for Lingard last summer.

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Those are missed opportunities to fund transfer spending and that is why they sit top of this list with very little to show for it. It’s almost certainly going to be another expensive summer, but United need to start learning the lessons of the past to become a shrewder operation when it comes to transfers.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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