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Dreary United beginning to count cost of Euro failure

By Ian Herbert

Manchester United believe that winning the Premier League is now a far greater achievement than lifting the Champions League trophy and would secure them far greater global recognition than Europe's elite competition, which they exited on Tuesday night.

The mindset at Old Trafford pre-dated elimination after the 3-2 defeat to Wolfsburg, though sceptics will consider it convenient and point to the huge symbolic and emotional capital attached to the 1968, 1999 and 2008 European Cup wins.

The desperately uninspiring European campaign this season places manager Louis van Gaal under pressure to deliver a serious Premier League challenge to justify the £250m investment in his squad and prove that the club are advancing under him.

Though the manager has total support from a board that feels he is making progress, Van Gaal's position could come into question if he cannot mount a title challenge in the spring and a growing backlash from fans accompanies more anaemic football.

The view from United is that going close to winning the Premier League - they are currently fourth - would be a big achievement, given that the division's vast TV revenues mean even the so-called smaller clubs parade world-class internationals.

Exiting the Champions League at the hands of the side currently fifth in the Bundesliga means an immediate loss of the £4m United would have collected for reaching the last 16, with a further £20.7m in prize money available to the side who wins the tournament..

Missing out on potentially three more European home games and the TV revenue that a journey to the final in Milan would have brought deprives them of up to £40m.

United were not gracious in defeat on Tuesday, notifying a Uefa match official before flying out of Germany that their dressing room at Wolfsburg's Volkswagen Arena had been too hot.

But their broader complaint stems from the failure of their renewed attempts to persuade the Premier League to help their Champions League efforts by timetabling some of their games around continental commitments.

Friday night games would have given them three or four days' rest before Europe.

The message has come back firmly from the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, that there is not the remotest chance of assistance.

It is thought that the emphasis between Premier League and Champions League, as viewed from Old Trafford, has shifted from 50-50 to 80-20 in the domestic competition's favour.

But United midfielder Marouane Fellaini admitted that relegation to the Europa League, with its Thursday-Sunday fixture sequence, damages United's title hopes. "Yes, because when you play Thursday it is closer to the weekend so it will be tough," he said.

United are pessimistic about the prospects of strengthening the squad next month. The new £5.1bn TV deal means no Premier League club will be willing to lose a player whose departure might damage them and most can afford to reject advances from wealthier rivals.

United, who are most likely to look for reinforcement at left-back following Luke Shaw's long-term injury, could revive their interest in Southampton's striker Sadio Mané.

However reduced United's view of the Champions League might be, it is a level of football that leading continental players want.

Fellaini was asked what had gone wrong in the European campaign. "We didn't score," he replied. "We should have finished it against PSV Eindhoven."

Belfast Telegraph


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