Debate: Is Cristiano Ronaldo return to Manchester United a step too far for debt-ridden club?

Comment by John McDougall

With Real Madrid winger Cristiano Ronaldo confirming on his Twitter account that reports over a new deal are false, former club Manchester United are among the circling vultures.

Former Red Devils hero Ronaldo sprinkled magic on the Premier League during his six years at Old Trafford, before departing in 2009 for a world-record £80million.   

His old club are known admirers, as are Russian billionaire-funded French side Monaco, who have already bought Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho.   

With any prospective purchase likely to exceed this figure, would United be willing to spend more on a player now four years older and would have little future resale value?

The 28-year-old’s footballing credentials are beyond doubt – the Portugal captain has scored more than a goal a game during his time with Los Blancos.

He is second only to Barcelona star Lionel Messi as the world’s best player and has arguably been so for the past four years.

Although another Champions League title has so far evaded him at the Bernabeu, his time has been successful, winning the Copa Del Rey, Supercopa de Espana and La Liga.

A great deal of United fans would no doubt salivate at the prospect at seeing him in an attack alongside Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, should he stay.

It would go against club policy – long instilled by the departed Sir Alex Ferguson – of paying big fees for aging players, but this was the case with Van Persie and that worked out well.  

The signing would also immediately give new United boss David Moyes a boost and prove the club are determined to make a smooth transition in a post-Fergie era.  

From a pure footballing prospective, it is a no-brainer, but modern day football finances often complicate matters and this scenario is no exception.

Last month, the Old Trafford club announced a new loan deal that should save them around £10million annually, despite last year paying about £50million in interest.  

Malcolm Glazer’s takeover in 2005 sparked anger and disgust among some sections of the Stretford End faithful as the club was plunged into more than £800million worth of debt.

Despite the biggest debt in football history, the club has remained competitive and won five out of their last seven Premier League campaigns.

Key to that though has been United’s relentless quest for sponsorship deals to fund the interest payments needed to pay back such an astronomical figure.

Just this week, the club signed a four-year deal with Mexican bank INVEX to make United-branded credit cards, adding to their portfolio of more than 30 different sponsors worldwide.

The range and diversity of worldwide contributors to United’s commercial income is staggering – everything from snack partners to telecommunications and even a noodles partner for the Far East.

This all helps pay towards reducing the £307million still owed to lenders – something that will continue to eat into the Red Devils’ transfer kitty for the foreseeable future.

But the club’s TV revenue from the latest Premier League campaign eclipsed £60million and supplements a new eight-year £160million deal with Aon to sponsor their training ground at Carrington.

For sponsorship revenue, United are in a league of their own which makes a case for re-signing Ronaldo even more compelling, especially given the financial incentives that come with him.

The brand that comes with signing a marquee player brings undoubted commercial and financial benefits as Madrid discovered by earning back Ronaldo’s transfer fee within a year through shirt sales.

The case was the same with David Beckham’s £25million fee in 2003, which means United and Ronaldo’s sponsors Nike would be eager to cash in on any proposed transfer.

It would also give the American giants some pleasure to take him away from Real, who of course have arch-rivals Adidas as their kit suppliers.

Despite bearing one of the largest debts in football history, United have coped and could afford to re-sign the Madeira-born star – if they really wanted to.

Or maybe Tottenham Hostpur’s Gareth Bale would fit the bill better, both on the pitch and the balance sheet.

Only time will tell.    

Picture courtesy of Gordon Flood, via WikiCommons, with thanks.

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