The decline of Manchester United hit a new low following the release of the club’s latest financial reports in February, but the Red Devils have reason to hope for a swift rise.
A breakdown of their second-quarter results for the 2019-20 season revealed United’s total revenue fell almost 12 percent in the six months to December, while net debt rose to $508 million (£391.3 million) over the past year, an increase of $95.5 million (£73.6 million).
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may wonder what he has to do to properly ignite the Old Trafford revival he’s envisioned since arriving back at his former stomping ground in December 2018. His side are unbeaten in seven games and recently climbed to fifth in the Premier League–only for this report to paper over much of that fine work.
It’s been discussed at length that United need a director of sport who can bridge the gap between the playing squad and the board. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has functioned as de facto director, but the accountant is maligned among many of the club’s supporters.
The senior board member has frequently spoken about the progress that’s being made at United and the success of their financial arm, per BBC Sport’s Simon Stone, but those types of lines are already wearing thin for many fans:
In a statement released on Tuesday, Woodward described the January signing of Bruno Fernandes as “an important step in that direction, demonstrating our commitment to adding experienced, world-class recruits to the exciting crop of academy graduates that are at the heart of this developing team.”
It’s true that Fernandes has shown great promise early in his Old Trafford career. The former Sporting CP star netted his first United goal from the penalty spot in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Watford before notching his second assist in as many games for Mason Greenwood to score:
While some supporters may find it difficult to rally behind any encouragement stemming from Woodward, there’s a lot of truth to that message about the direction in which the team is moving.
The club continues to fight for a top-four finish in the Premier League and has hopes of silverware in the UEFA Europa League and FA Cup, having failed to win any major trophies in the past two seasons.
And while it may be a frequent point of frustration for fans to hear of what’s to come in the future, but it’s also worth highlighting the potential in a squad that only has seven outfield players over the age of 25. Solskjaer has offered chances to younger players like 18-year-old Greenwood, Brandon Williams, 19, Daniel James, 22, and Scott McTominay, 23, each of whom have come to play important first-team roles this term.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, also 22, joined for £45 million from Crystal Palace last summer and has shown great promise from right-back, while £80 million captain Harry Maguire has become a staple for club and country. Backing up the youngsters is David de Gea, arguably United's best player, and one of the top goalkeepers in the world at the prime age of 29. In truth, only Marcus Rashford’s back injury sits as proof of the bad that can come from relying too heavily on a younger talisman, but the experience these players are receiving should also pay dividends in the years to come.
Of course, not everything in the squad smells like roses. It looks increasingly likely that record signing Paul Pogba—now one of the elder players in the team—will leave United for a second time this summer. The bad blood between the club and Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has only hurt matters and recently spilled over onto social media following a spat with Solskjaer:
Putting the Pogba situation to rest is of critical importance to the club—either via a transfer or an internal resolution—if a new era is to thrive under Solskjaer. That one issue in particular has affected morale on and off the pitch, and is a problem few managers would envy.
As for the club's financial woes, they should recover in little time provided the manager can return them to the Champions League. If on-field performance is a priority for those in power, there's little question whether the United manager can execute on that goal. Even more tantalizing than short-term results, however, is the clear potential at United–which could see them fighting for much loftier prospects in the near future.