Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United won't hit panic button

By Robert Jones

It won't be the news nervous Manchester United fans want to hear, but the club will not be making any panic buys in the January transfer window.

Wednesday's home defeat by Everton ended any lingering hopes of United retaining their Premier League title, and now the fear in the stands is that David Moyes and his team won't make it into next season's Champions League via a top-four spot.

It was therefore expected that the club would be spending big next month in a bid to rescue the season.

But there is no material sense of panic at Old Trafford despite the club now being five points adrift of a Champions League spot.

The Glazer family, who own the club, are understood to feel that they have big enough pockets to take the financial hit that absence from the elite competition would bring.

Consignment to continental wilderness next season would cost United an estimated total amount of £15m.

The disinclination to submit to panic means that Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera will not be arriving unless his £30.5m price tag is significantly slashed.

And neither is there any United expectation that Everton will be willing to let them have England star Leighton Baines.

Also, chief executive Edward Woodward will not consider plunging into the market to add a stopgap midfielder to tide United over until May.

A top four finish is United's target now and failure to hit it will shatter their plans to develop when the spending starts in earnest this summer.

Serious spending is what United want it to be. They are highly likely to double their previous record transfer outlay on a single player, which at £30.5m for Dimitar Berbatov looks incredibly old school for a club with pretensions to be a global force.

This summer's late attempt to prise Gareth Bale from out of Real Madrid's clutches revealed the commitment to spending money on one of the top players in the world and the prospect of bringing Cristiano Ronaldo remains a genuine aspiration. Their commercial expansion continues in myriad ways as the club seek to marry elite business and elite football.

But the footballing part of the strategy will be shattered if United cannot offer Champions League football next season. The side who won the tournament four short years ago will instead find themselves involved in the kind of struggle to secure world class players that has beset Liverpool – and the battle to keep world class players that Tottenham lost when Bale cleared off for Madrid.

The club and its pockets are big enough to hold players to contracts, as Liverpool did when Luis Suarez yearned for a better quality of football this summer. But they may find players like Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and David de Gea remaining against their will.

Ryan Giggs said, with some justification yesterday, that United felt the sting of misfortune about the way Wednesday night had unfolded. It was certainly nothing like their worst performance of the season.

The 10 to 20 per cent component that Ferguson added, of course, was to generate wins from games like United's last three in which they have taken two points. They looked a beaten side when Bryan Oviedo scored Everton's winner. There were four minutes of time and five minutes extra time to run: an eternity in the world of Sir Alex Ferguson.

United purchases next month are likely to be an opportunistic response to situations which become available. The successful pieces of United winter business in the past have tended to be unknowns (Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra), players from clubs not in the Champions League (Louis Saha at Fulham) or inspired loans (Henrik Larsson).

So the champions will move by stealth, anticipating wins from a December which looks elementary on paper and some of the points accumulation which Moyes has only once briefly found, with the three Premier League wins over Stoke, Fulham and Arsenal.

If the club fall outside of the Champions League, the Glazers may sanction heavy summer investment to restore United's position.

Or they may decide against it. Their innate secrecy makes predictions difficult. The one certainty is that behind the exterior calm, United are waiting and hoping, desperate to move towards the fourth spot which once counted for nothing and now means everything.




Belfast Telegraph


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