Reports yesterday suggest sacking Jose Mourinho is likely to cost Manchester United £24m (€26.8m) in a pay-out to the Portuguese native, which will soften the blow in his household this Christmas at least.
Even allowing for a club the size of Manchester United — its income was £590m (€655m) last year — that’s a significant figure.
What is the thinking behind that kind of short-term financial pain?
The first point is that United are legally bound by the terms of Mourinho’s contract. Managers in the Premier League do not have standardised contracts; the league has a minimal number of agreed provisions which need to be included in those contracts, but after that the deal is very much what the club and the manager — or rather his agent — can strike.
Mourinho signed a new deal less than a year ago to take him through to 2020, and the general rule is the earlier in the term of the deal the manager is sacked, the higher the compensation.
Why, however, is the board of Manchester United willing to part with so much money?
Because the club needs to get a new long-term manager in place — a caretaker boss to manage the club until the end of the season will be appointed in the coming days — and because the stakes, if that decision is not the right one, are simply too high.
For instance, United need to be figuring in the Champions League because of the size of the financial rewards. The total revenue from the 2016/17 Champions League season was €2.09 bn, and Uefa breaks down how that revenue is allocated to participants as follows:
“Clubs that qualify for the knockout stage can expect to receive the following amounts: Qualification for the round of 16: €9.5m per club; qualification for the quarter-finals: €10.5m per club; qualification for the semi-finals: €12m per club; qualification for the final: €15m per club; the Uefa Champions League winners can expect to pick up an additional €4m.”
However, to qualify for Europe United must also be competitive in their own domestic competition.
Last weekend’s defeat by Liverpool was not only a dagger in the heart for fans, losing to their bitterest rivals, but it condemned the club to the wilderness of sixth place in the Premier League, and the possibility of Champions League participation is slipping away by the week.
On top of those pressures — which are common to all clubs operating at the top end of the Premier League — there are United’s huge financial commitments to the Glazer family.
The American investors took a controlling interest in the club in 2005, but David Conn of the Guardian reported just two months ago that “United’s borrowings remain at £487m (€541m) from the Glazer takeover...
“This debt is more than financially manageable now after Ferguson’s successes saw United through the early Glazer years of eye-watering payments, but the 2017-18 finance costs were still £24m (€26.8m).”
The concern for United fans is that the club must now try to find a manager who will replicate the successful record on the field of play of Alex Ferguson, mentioned above by Conn, obviously.
But perhaps it should also be searching for a dominant personality such as Ferguson’s for other, less tangible markers of efficiency.
Recent reports from Rory Smith for the New York Times suggest scouting offices are left unoccupied at United’s training facility “because the department has not been staffed adequately since before Ferguson’s departure; the fact that a number of players have sought medical treatment with outside specialists, and complained to (Ed) Woodward (Manchester United executive vice-chairman) that the care on offer at the club is not what they receive with their national teams or were afforded at their former employers; the decline of the reputation of United’s academy, now regularly rejected by prospective recruits in favor of Manchester City’s.”
United are paying off Jose Mourinho, therefore, in order to get the club back on track as quickly as they can.
If not, supporters of the Red Devils will fear the downward spiral will continue.