With Manchester United’s progression to the Champions League quarter-finals, David Moyes has been granted a stay of execution.
A temporary one, but still, he would rather be peeling his neck off the chopping block than be axed in month eight of a forecasted 72.
While the comeback against Olympiakos was improbable, considering the teams man-for-man it should have been expected.
But that is the story of Moyes’ tenure so far – a seeming inability to get his squad to realise the sum of its parts, and a failure to see that his tactics just do not work, even when it is glaringly obvious to the rest of the world, including those who do not hold a coaching licence.
Are the United hierarchy similarly short-sighted or, as suspected, are Sirs Alex Ferguson and Bobby Charlton managing to hold off the reportedly increasingly impatient Glazers until – as Brendan Rodgers put it last week – Moyes kicks on?
Perhaps Fergie and Bobby are focused on the field of play, but the same cannot be said of Ed Woodward and his minions upstairs.
Barring relegation, United will always have massive pulling power when it comes to gleaning investment from the world’s biggest corporations, but looking at recent events you would be forgiven for wondering if the Old Trafford suits are treating it as more of a business than a club.
It all stems from the Glazer takeover in 2005, when the first thing the Americans bestowed on the club was a crippling debt which has sucked over £696 million out of United to date – more than £77 million a year.
Naturally the Reds’ revenue is large enough to buy top players, but when you consider the massive outlays of Chelsea and City – £693.7 million and £600.2 million respectively – the £382.9 million invested in the United squad begins to pale.
Out of the teams that have competed in the Champions League over the last nine years, only Arsenal have spent less than United, spending £217.75 million, which is a testament to both Sir Alex’s and Arsene Wenger’s management skills.
But Moyes is certainly not Ferguson, and will not be able to defy the circumstances and compete with the apparent endless generosity of his rivals’ owners, so for the foreseeable future the situation at Old Trafford is looking bleak.
At least United can take comfort from the fact that, in Woodward, they have an executive vice-chairman who will more than make up for his disastrous lack of transfer nous with an accomplished background in accountancy…in theory.
Take the Nike vs. Uniqlo battle to sign a United kit deal, which has been reported as being worth as much as £700 million – it’s a boost to the club’s coffers, but how much will go towards regenerating the squad?
It shows that despite the team’s poor form which has resulted in their worst campaign for 24 years, the club is still seen as major marketing vehicle – the problem is that the United hierarchy seem to share that view.
The Glazers’ and Woodward’s priority is not on-field success, but profits, which they know as well as anyone is best achieved through winning trophies and therefore maximising the club’s worldwide popularity.
Though for the suits, the team doing well is a means to an end, not the be all and end all that it is to the fans, the manager and (most of) the players.
However, for the two to go hand in hand you need someone who can convince top players to sign up for a reasonable price i.e. David Gill, rather than £28 million for Marouane Fellaini – look at the effect that signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic had for Paris Saint-Germain.
The fact that Gill departed at the same time as Sir Alex, leading to a restructuring of the boardroom, appears to have been one stroke of bad luck too many.
Woodward has shown that he is adept at brokering lucrative partnerships from tyres to noodles, but putting someone with a background in finance management in charge of bringing in players is a major oversight.
Though it’s not Woodward’s fault – would you turn down the role of United’s executive vice-chairman?
Instead, the finger of blame can be pointed at the owners, whose sports portfolio does not instil much confidence.
The Glazer-owned Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Superbowl in 2003, but since then the owners’ unwillingness to spend – their wage bill is $13.6 million below the salary cap – and several managerial changes has left the Bucs on a steady downward spiral.
Here is an easy-to-read summary for any aspiring sports club owners: top players lead to success and more public interest, which in turn piques the interest of sponsors, equalling bigger revenue.
Unfortunately the Glazers fail to grasp that concept, and a lack of Champions League football next year will be the first pin in the balloon.
So we have a serious danger of not qualifying for Europe, a manager who has either not found his feet yet or just not up to it, a vice-chairman who is hardly transfer-savvy, strong rumours of player dissatisfaction, and, most importantly, owners who would be better described as leeches.
The only real counterbalance is the club’s status as a marketing heavyweight, though for how much longer under the current ownership remains to be seen.
Still, we can all look forward to having a good go at Bayern Munich.