Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has cleared the decks for a summer transfer splurge aimed at ensuring the Red Devils do not get lost in the wilderness.
Woodward was speaking to investors following the announcement of United’s second-quarter results which, as expected, showed significant rises in commercial and broadcasting revenue.
While United’s financial power has been well established for many years, what has created significant interest at present is the likelihood of them not qualifying for next season’s Champions League under manager David Moyes and the impact that would have.
Woodward played down the consequences of a period outside Europe’s elite, citing the present example of Liverpool.
“It takes a long time to build a huge fan base,” he said. “That will not go away for a long time.
“Some of our competitors have not won the league for a long time and they still sell a lot of shirts globally; one of them is just down the road from us.
“That is not something I am sitting here concerned about.”
The proof of those words can be seen in online shirt retailer Kitbag’s pre-Christmas sales.
While United, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea took the top four spots, Liverpool were in fifth – ahead of the England national shirt – even though the Reds won the last of their 18 league titles 24 years ago and are presently in their fourth successive season outside the Champions League.
What Woodward is clearly anxious to avoid is presiding over the demise of a club that has won 13 of 21 titles since the Premier League was formed, that last season finished top by 11 points and as recently as 2011 reached its third Champions League final in four seasons.
And that is going to cost money. Lots of it.
“We are not afraid of moving in the market in a way we haven’t seen in previous years,” he said.
“Our starting-point long-term strategy is to focus on building a competitive squad that challenges for trophies.
“The financial strength we have demonstrates we have the ability to do that.
“We are not in the position we want to be in. We are working hard to change that. With 13 games to go there is still a lot to play for.
“But I am focused on the long-term strategy of making sure we are building a competitive squad that challenges for trophies.”
The news will be greeted with relief by United fans, who within the list of figures released on Wednesday discovered the overall cost of the controversial takeover by the Glazer family in 2005 has now reached an eye-popping £686million.
It gives credence to Roy Keane’s accusation of a club “cutting corners” in the last few years even though Sir Alex Ferguson managed to keep them scrapping for top honours until his retirement last summer.
As a stand-alone business, United continue to go from strength to strength.
Commercial income alone stands at £42.3million up 18.8% for the quarter to December 31 and 30% for the financial year so far.
Broadcasting revenue for the period was £46.9million, an increase of 18.7 per cent, due to a rise in revenue from the domestic and international Premier League rights agreements, and increases in the share of the Champions League fixed pool distributions given United won the title last term.
Staff costs were £51.6million, an increase of 16.7 per cent, primarily due to the impact of player acquisitions and renegotiated player contracts.
As Juan Mata’s arrival did not fall within the accounting period, the main signings were Marouane Fellaini, who joined from Everton on deadline day for £27.5million, and Wilfried Zaha, the winger who was signed from Crystal Palace, immediately loaned back to the Eagles and has just joined Cardiff after failing to impress Moyes.
Gross debt has been reduced by 2.7% to £356.6million.
A reduction in profit by almost 50% has been put down to a £25million ’swing’ in tax credits.
Such figures may be cause for celebration, but maintaining them would be challenging without a drastic improvement from a team currently languishing in seventh spot and set for United’s worst top flight finish since the awful 1989-90 campaign in which Ferguson came so close to getting sacked.
Yet, in revealing big increases of Twitter followers and Facebook ’likes’ in the week after Mata’s arrival, Woodward was confirming interest in United is enormous. The club estimate they now have more followers in the United States than the United Kingdom.
“We have not seen any impact on the wider business from the current on-pitch performance,” Woodward said.
“Our partners choose Manchester United because we offer them something no other team can deliver – a global brand who can magnify their exposure through a club that has 659 million followers around the world, with 325 million of those in Asia and 108 million in China.
“Statistics like these are not achieved in one season, rather than because of the history and heritage of the club and success achieved over 136 years.”