United’s Plight Highlights Arsene’s Brilliance

Today a guest post by  Alastair Brookshaw  @albrookshaw

A recent (somewhat transparent) PR drive by the Glazers has seen talk of a £100, or even £200, million war chest being made available for floundering David Moyes. But if that’s true, it will signal a marked change in United’s transfer policy over the past 5 years.  Manchester United are one of the English Premier League’s big spenders.  They have one of the highest wage bills in the league and have one of the most expensively assembled squads in the country. But despite all this, their transfer dealings in the last few years have had far less in common with the mega-rich, oil-funded clubs than they have with the work of the most famous penny pincher of all … Arsène Wenger.

Where’s The Money?

When United splurged £30 odd million on Dimitar Berbatov in 2008 it was simply a show of the sort of financial muscle we had come to expect from them. An already talented squad was being topped up with a world class, top-price signing.  It was the sort of purchase that had kept United at the top for season after season.  But nearly 6 years have gone by and United haven’t made a signing like it since.

A look at their dealings in 2009 sums up a general theme that has held true ever since: we see a mixture of ‘youth with potential’ and slightly underwhelming ‘mid-range’ purchases.  So in came Pogba, Mame Biram Diouf, Obertan, Michael Owen (on a free) and Valencia.  2010 read even more like a ‘Wenger window’: Smalling, Lindegaard, Bebe and Hernandez.  A year later: Phil Jones, De Gea, and Ashley Young, and so it goes on.

This is the team that spent £30 million on Rio Ferdinand in 2002.  Think for a second what an equivalent purchase in 2014 terms looks like. It’s certainly not Chris Smalling for £10 million! Robin Van Persie may have been a marquee signing in many ways, but in terms of cost even he was still very much off the M&S shelf rather than Harrods.  Would they have got him for £50m with 4 years left on his contract? The evidence of the past 5 windows suggests not.

‘Doing A Wenger’… Not So Easy Apparently

This period has also been one in which Fergie’s reputation truly soared above Wenger’s.  While Arsenal scrambled for 4th place and famously failed to land trophies, United somehow remained at the very top, despite the extravagant spending of the oil-enhanced teams, and even as their squad appeared weaker and weaker.  There can be no doubt that Fergie’s final trophies were an extraordinary testament to his will to win and his ability to wring every last drop of talent from the players at his disposal.  I have been predicting their downfall for at least 2 or 3 seasons and each time have been left astounded at his ability to challenge for title with the squads at his disposal.

However, if last season is a testament to Fergie’s greatest strengths, then this season is surely highlighting some of his failings.  In particular, it offers the clearest evidence yet that even he might have struggled with the task that Wenger was set just under a decade ago.  If this was Fergie building a squad ‘on a budget’, it is another reminder of how impressive the job is that Wenger has done in since the stadium move.  After all, Wenger didn’t have the luxury of relying on the greats he had assembled during the good times.  Part of his task was to sell off the Invincibles – and later stars – at the best price he could get for the club.

By contrast, last season the league was won primarily by the United squad that Fergie had assembled at huge expense over the years preceding 2008.  With the notable exception of Van Persie (and I suppose if we’re being generous De Gea) there is not a single ‘post-Berbatov’ signing who can be said to have been truly instrumental.  Fergie may have had to sell Ronaldo and offload Tevez, but a comparable situation to Wenger’s would have probably seen them without Giggs, Scholes, Vidic, Ferdinand and Rooney last season.

So Where Have United Gone Wrong?

I’m being fairly kind to Fergie by likening his budgetary constraints to Wenger’s.  United may have tightened their belt in relative terms over the last few years, but they are still one of the richest clubs in the world.  And some of those average players still cost a considerable amount of money.  Jones, De Gea and Ashley Young may not have been star signings, but they still amounted to over £50 million spent.

Whilst Wenger certainly made some missteps with his cheaper signings, in the ‘mid-range’ bracket he has blown Fergie out of the water.  Since 2009 United have spent approximately £120m on: Kagawa, Zaha, Jones, De Gea, Young, Smalling, Hernandez, Bebe, Valencia (9 players).  Compare that to (over the same period) £90m on: Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla, Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta, Gervinho, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen (10 players).  There is of course the anomaly of Van Persie being available for £22m, but otherwise, player for player the gap in quality is pretty astronomical, as is the gulf in cost. And that, of course, is the period in which Wenger was slowly allowed to loosen the purse-strings. Imagine Fergie having to live by the budget Wenger did in the 5 years from around 2005.  If his period of ‘austerity’ since 2009 is anything to go by, it might not have been at all pretty!

So What Does It All Mean?

If you’re a Manchester United fan none of this makes comfortable reading.  Arguably it hints that Moyes won’t have anything like the war chest that is being reported in the papers – surely a factor in their failure to land any of their main targets in the summer. (Perhaps it also explains why Moyes was the first choice for the job in the first place? He is, after all, a man with a reputation for keeping teams competitive on a tight budget.)  And should they fail to reach the Champions League next season those budgetary constraints will only get worse (particularly as one can only assume it will have a knock-on effect on their celebrated commercial revenue).  Sure, there will always be money available – the money they wasted on Fellaini in the summer proves that – but, unless their spending policy for the past few years has been some sort of clever ruse, I don’t think Moyes will be able to spend his way out of trouble as easily as some would have you believe.

As an Arsenal fan it is yet another reason to re-evaluate the last 8 or 9 years of ‘failure’.  Fergie is rightly considered to be one of the greatest managers of the modern era and yet even he has struggled to build and improve a squad under financial pressure that is minimal, compared to the constraints Wenger was under, in the early Emirates years.  Unlike Wenger he was under no pressure to sell his ‘big guns’ so still had enough quality in his squad to keep winning trophies, but the overall impact is now being felt.  Many of those players – Vidic, Ferdinand, Scholes, Giggs, Evra, Van Der Saar – are either recently retired or on the wane and suddenly this season we are presented with a vision of what United’s squad might have looked like if they had had to tighten their belts to the extent that Arsenal did.

It also offers a vindication of Wenger’s care in the transfer market, especially at higher prices.  If one cry has been most common amongst a certain section of fans it has been:

“We understand we can’t afford Messi. That’s not what we are asking for. Just buy top quality players in the £15m-£30 mark.”

I’ve written elsewhere that, unless you’re careful, some of the worst value in football is in this category, and United’s transfer list post 2009 shows how easy it is to waste your money.  The usual suspects are still moaning that not all of our transfer kitty was spent in the summer, but it would only take two or three ‘Fellaini-style’ missteps for that money to disappear down the drain very quickly.  There is, of course, an irony that the same people moaning about it are the ones who have been most critical of our ‘deadwood’ in years past.  As another transfer window progresses, perhaps it’s time for some of those critics to start considering just how many times Arsène has got it right and they’ve got it wrong!

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92 comments on “United’s Plight Highlights Arsene’s Brilliance

  1. There was a time when Cleverly was supposed to be better than Wilshere

    yeah …and samba should have been bought instead of mert



  2. Jack Willy’s getting his groove back….so said AW.
    Obvious to see. There’s also been a calming effect Oz has added to the mix.
    Hope to see it (the calm) grow in the approach if the Ox, who had me worried with “that” rash tackle in our last game not unlike the one that had him jacked up for 5 months.

    Can’t wait to see Diaby in March.


  3. ..now this is interesting.


    we could be talking about Barca’s Plight Highlighting AW’s Brilliance, in a year or more…Alastair


  4. “that the ‘Leo Messi & Friends’ exhibition games played in Colombia and elsewhere last summer were possibly used to launder drug money. That investigation remains ongoing.”

    lol….also watch the two escobars documentary….some serious mad shit going on there..


  5. This is the sort of article that should be made into a giant poster in picadilly circus and outside the ground, made into 60,000 leaflets to be handed out in N5 and tatooed to Stewart to robsons forhead


  6. lol, a_or_b…tatooed to Stewart Robson’s forehead


  7. massive documentaries worth watching

    two escobars
    once brothers (story of nba stars divac and petrovic and yugoslavian civil war)

    awaiting with interest the ones that will be made on schumi and arsene


  8. Just this month…

    Wenger (18/1/14) – Ozil is a players’ favourite.
    Arsène Wenger has likened Mesut Ozil to Zinedine Zidane because of the respect both men have earned from their team-mates.

    Wenger (19/1/14) – Cazorla is back to his best now
    Santi is about using two legs, you don’t know really if he is right or left footed and once he cannot do that as freely as he is used to he has a handicap

    Wenger (13/1/14) – on Jack Wilshere…
    He has found his change of pace back, his game about that and his penetration because he’s not only a passer but he’s guy who is incisive with the ball. It’s his strengths so from that you need to be at the top of your game physically.

    Wenger (12/1/14) – Giroud reminds me of Alan Smith.
    He’s a tough, tough boy. Even when the medical people say he should rest, he says: ‘I’m alright’.

    Wenger (10/1/14) – Arsène Wenger has hailed Lukas Podolski as one of the best finishers he has ever seen. “If there’s one you want to see in front of the goal in a shooting position, it’s him”.

    Talk about telling THE TRUTH, a.k.a. positive reinforcement.

    Can’t wait for Diaby, Ox, Jenks, Gibbs, etc..to get theirs.
    What a squad..oh what a squad!


  9. aman stop this propaganda please…you think we iz IDIOTS?

    arsene lacks the leadership qualities to guide a competitive football team in the 21st century the way the game has developed….thats the truth….


  10. Aman at 5:01PM
    The allegations of corruption engulfing so many big clubs doing business with South America footballers should be no surprise. Where else on earth do we see so many conflicts of interests; fathers as agents, 3rd party ownership, dodgy clubs and a culture of indulgence towards white collar crimes. Just a case of chickens coming to roost.


  11. “If the Financial Fair Play comes into place, it should come for everybody, not for some,” Mourinho told Sky Sports News at the Football Writers’ Association dinner on Sunday.

    “Chelsea at this moment is working very, very well, thinking that the Financial Fair Play is going to be in place and we have to obey certain rules.

    “(But) our owner (Abramovich) is still the same owner and his passion for football is still the same. If we are free to spend our owner is more than happy to be free to spend.

    “Our owner is respecting the new rules that we are waiting for and hopefully, for the good of football, it’s for everybody, not just for some.”

    yes jose!!!!!!! for the good of football!!!! above all!!!!!!!


  12. Shotta,
    are you saying world football + cycling, F1, all basketball, tennis, golf, etc & tiddlywinks sportsfare, are awash with the laundering of re-privatized resources of many of the Earth’s endowments to her ordinary peoples?

    Hunter….are we into thiz diabolical game too? Iz monsieur W in on zis az vell?


  13. (wouldn’t doubt zat zat Dein fellow’d be up on it like a fly on zi pou-pou)


  14. ..will eet all blow up one day?

    ..will ze cosequences yield abuzed ballboyz?

    …how doz thiz feed into za gambling?

    ..iz Seedorf Silvio’s Obama?…will Silvio make a comeback?

    ..who elz iz on ze take?..iz Yogi on zi take..perhapz?


  15. ..we know ze horses are knee-deep in it, are ze jockeez on za armstrong too?


  16. Do we have to be really careful about our hand signals now that we’ve signed up with Huawei?

    its a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world I tell ya!

    Q: does Globalization rock or suck for you?


  17. ..will West Brom be relegated via financial sanctions next?

    ..will Ban Ki Moon be @ the Hawthorns tonight?

    ..heard Sunderland just signed a Vergin? Is that allowed in the EPL?


  18. is he a proper gander?………….hunter?

    (ok…I’m spent)


  19. (one more, pleez)….

    ..do “they” keep us inebriated with zi sports while they change ze rules & take over ze world?

    I mean is this “www” a means to track zeir progress?
    Are ve just guinea-piglings?

    (gasping..) is Arsene in on it?


  20. f’giv me PG…i let go now


  21. “fly on zi pou pou”

    “iz zeedorf zilvios obama ?”

    i am zo glad zat i did not read zis while at offize or id be fired vit … 🙂


  22. Interesting comments all around. Only thing missing is music.
    DJ AMAN cacofonix.
    Quick with crazy by patsy Kline.
    To add to the great selection from yesterday. (0(


  23. TITLE : “It takes something Special”

    INTRO : Fighting for football justice

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS : Gazprom, Bank de Santader, Milano Investment Inc

    PART I : Struggling in Catalunia
    (a) – Father, Teacher, Moral Compass : Sir Robson
    (b) – Learning Languages & How to carry cones
    (c) – Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola : First Blood

    PART II : How i cheated the world with Porto
    (a) – Riding the donkey : Zesualdo Ferreira
    (b) – McCarthy VS Paul and giving the finger to United fans inside O.T
    (c) – Alenychev, i love you.

    PART III : The Russian revolution needs a General
    (a) – The Moderate Contract
    (b) – Winning on a low budget
    (c) – The Gentlemen of Chelsea

    PART IV : Killing the General
    (a) – I never asked for Shevchenko
    (b) – Glorious entertaining football
    (c) – John Terry is a cunt

    PART V : Coming back to my tactical Home
    (a) – Materazzi becoming my son-in-law
    (b) – Winning on a low budget again
    (c) – Death at Camp nou & Sprinklers

    (a) – La Manita was a lie
    (b) – Judo, Tae Kwon Do & other ways to beat Barcelona
    (c) – Being a family

    PART VII : Niagara falls
    (a) – Perez and Zizu tell me how to fuck off
    (b) – Ronaldo and Ramos wanting to beat me
    (c) – Whoring myself to Sir Alex : Epic fail.

    PART VIII : The return of the General
    (a) – Attractive football : The set up
    (b) – The road to FFP
    (c) – Me, Myself and Media

    CONCLUSION: Being happy = Owners happiness to spend

    Bonus Reading : How i cheated Luis van Gaal

    Special Bonus Material : Being a Voyer and other Hobbies


  24. What the fuck is going on here tonight?


  25. Fucked if I know. But don’t tell me “the drugs don’t work”


  26. “..iz Seedorf Silvio’s Obama?…will Silvio make a comeback?”

    “(b) – Judo, Tae Kwon Do & other ways to beat Barcelona”



  27. Thanks Alastair

    Somebody older and no doubt wiser then me said that Don Slurgies end at ManIOU a little bit resembled the end of Don Revie’s Leeds. There could be many similarities 🙂


  28. I’m hoping somebody has a word with The Ox on his defensive techniques. Or just plays him a video of Gazza’s infamous FA Cup tackle whilst watching Rosicky in training.


  29. Really interesting article Alastair, but as good as Fergie was, there is no denying that his larger than life reputation in England and licence to bully officials gave him the little advantages that helped him in the last years when the team was waning and succeeding more on reputation than merit. The odd point here and there soon adds up over a season. How many years was it since manure conceded a penalty at home until this season? The last few years have taken the edge off his reputation for me.

    “gervinho flopped and we sold him”

    I cannot agree with this. There were many reasons why things did not work out for him at Arsenal and attitudes like that was one of them. In the right circumstances he is not a duff footballer. He is a league winner in France and Roma don’t seem to be too unhappy with his contribution. I think he deserves a little more respect than that for his contribution.

    Interesting point re Carrick Gains. I remember Arsene was an admirer of his back in the day and those stats explain why.


  30. What the fuck is going on here tonight?

    we are humbled by the Special One’s desire to see equality for all clubs in football. We should mark this date and celebrate it every year, the 20th of January, Twat’s day.

    une occazion…spezial


  31. Hahaha. he’s on a roll. Let it take its course. That was a great tribute to the mother of al t•••$.
    Roman ❤ jozeee
    Part two. this time when he is fired , there won't be a place to run to.


  32. Agreed on 3gs , PASSENAL. . the man got a semi-raw deal and didn’t half deserve it. Our loss , Roma s gain.


  33. Don Revie Fins ?
    I hope not – Leeds got to the European Cup final the season after Revie left – losing to an immaculate Bayern team

    Moyes has no hope of matching that – trust me


  34. I did not know that many of that Leeds team went on to a final.
    Must have added to Clough’s joy when he went on to win with Forest!

    I had thought Man United would make a good stab at fourth.
    If Arsenal beat them it could be fun *apply anti-jinx*


  35. Anyone writing off the Mancs for a CL place is a bit daft IMO Fins

    End of an era some say – not just yet

    Very tight between the chasing pack – expect a pick up in Trafford Park on the run in


  36. Wow.
    Just fucking wow.
    Handclapping standing ovation.

    It is nearly the full year since this gaff was set up by the refugees who believed the sunshine bus would come back again, driven by the best manager we have ever seen. (bar Clough).
    If Alastair had written this in January 2013, some people would think he was even crazier than Hunter.
    George was right, you lot were right, I really hope Alastair is right about that shower of feckers up in manchester and surrey and I never ever want Hunter to be wrong.

    P.S. January 28th seems to be Positively Arsenal’s birthday.
    I hope we have a parade!

    God save our meerkat.


  37. Anicoll 10:31pm
    dam right.

    A Double-tap to the chest and one to the head.
    Then a wooden stake through their chest.

    Throw the corpse into a lead sealed box, and throw it to the bottom of the ocean.
    Then, only then would we write-off United’s chances.

    In the meantime it is fun watching them be a bit like we used to be,
    but not coping with it one jot.


  38. Hunter 8:38pm

    You Sir, are unexplainably superlative.


  39. if all the great mind blowing songs of the 60’s were wrote on L.S.D. then Hunter needs a urine sample!


  40. DJ Cacofonix: better late than never…..zis one’s for goonerkam..(hic!)


  41. Much obliged mr. DJ. 😉


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