The resolve of the Old Trafford faithful has been sorely tested following the departure of club stalwart Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of last season.
The Scot’s achievements, unparalleled by any other manager to date, left Manchester United fans with an overwhelming appetite for success, one that is being largely unsatisfied by new man David Moyes. Indeed, it is fair to say that the transition from well-drilled Everton to the Premier League champions has been far from a smooth one for the new Red Devils boss.
Losses to Chelsea, Tottenham Man City and Liverpool have all but ended their title hopes and have been further compounded by defeat to lowly Sunderland in the League Cup semi-final.
Now then, with just eleven league fixtures left, United lie in sixth position, fifteen points behind division leaders Chelsea and five points beneath fifth-placed Spurs, with the chances of a top four finish about as likely return for Massimo Taibi to the club’s number one spot. The ramifications of this prospective season of discontent then, if it continues upon the disappointing course it has trodden so far, are likely to be significant and wholly unwelcome.
By far and away the most obvious implication of finishing outside of a Champions League spot are finance orientated. Estimates have suggested that failure to qualify for next year’s tournament could cost the club anywhere between £40m and £70m. With a place in even the Europa League likely to see a reduction in gate receipts, broadcasting revenues and prize money
In 2012/13, United banked around £30m from UEFA for reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, whilst Premier League rivals Tottenham received just £4.5m for reaching the quarter finals of the Europa. It is thought that such an outcome to their turbulent season would be endurable in the short term but if not rectified quickly could potentially have substantial knock on effects to the ability to attract big name sponsors.
Furthermore, the latest set of rights deals for the Champions League, set to begin at the start of the 2015/16 season, will provide significant financial boosts to participating clubs, with United facing a very real risk of missing out.
Another area of concern regarding United’s current performances is the impacts they could have on the club’s world status. Under the stewardship of the long-serving Ferguson, United went from a principally English side to a multi-national footballing entity, with the glamour of playing for the biggest club in the world a huge draw for many-a international player.
Now though, without the prospect of working for the most successful manager in the game no longer a viable selling point, it’s not beyond comprehension that the attraction of representing a side who don’t qualify for Europe and cannot compete with the rival top domestic sides could well sharply diminish.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League then, or potentially even Europe, could put a significant dent in the club’s hopes of attracting the world’s very top players with whom they had previously been synonymous. The draw of Ferguson, European Football and Premier League titles is already beginning to seem like a distant memory.
It is important however, to be realistic about the chances of all these various outcomes actually being fulfilled. A one-season spell in the Europa League for example, would potentially give Moyes a chance to regroup and fashion the side into one of his own making as opposed to the inheritance he received upon taking up his new role.
If this were to be the case, then a brief sojourn out of the top four would be acceptable and the financial implications though unwelcome, at least manageable.
There is indeed much water to run under the bridge. What is increasingly seeming like a given though, is United fan’s feelings that Moyes might not be the man to continue their phenomenal record of the last twenty years, and it is this conundrum that the club’s chiefs must consider as they prepare contingency plans for the probable spell outside of elite European competition, however long it may be.