Despite Manchester United’s Premier League campaign having petered out some time ago, they can still have a big say over the race for Champions League football next season.
David Moyes would most likely say that he couldn’t care less who qualifies next season, but he really should. For the good of Manchester United and for the good of his employment he should be praying his old Everton side make it.
For a long while this season United’s league performances have been a matter of pride above everything else. They find themselves 10 points off fourth place with just five games remaining; a practically insurmountable difference. An upturn in form in recent weeks – including the arrival of Juan Mata – has suggested small positives going forwards for Moyes, and a victory this weekend at Goodison Park would be another small step in restoring the lost pride of the season.
But it may just be most beneficial for United if they were to shelf their search for pride this coming weekend. The battle for fourth place looks to be heading to the wire, and Arsenal have a one-point advantage. If they are to make Champions League football in 2014-15 then their financial power will continue to grow. As a club with worldwide international support, a 60,000-seater stadium, world-class training facilities, and a core of very talented players, Arsenal have the potential to make Man United’s inevitable hiatus from UEFA’s flagship tournament a longer, more painful wait.
Everton, for all their improvements this season, still don’t have the kind of clout in Europe that Arsenal do. They’re very much still a work-in-progress club, reaching for the stars but having only recently left planet earth.
Roberto Martinez has worked wonders this season, and if Everton achieve Champions League football they will thoroughly deserve it. But the reliance this season on loan signings demonstrates what the club lack financially. Martinez had to make do with a number of late temporary options because the club can seldom afford to pay the money that players like Romelu Lukaku would cost them.
The money that Champions League participation provides for individual clubs would be far more dangerous to Man United in the power of a club the size of Arsenal. Added to their recent sponsorship renewals and kit manufacturing deals, Arsenal would be a harder beast to tame, were they to have the luxury of Champions League football.
Roberto Martinez has already admitted he is planning a big spend this summer. And Champions League football would no doubt allow him to attract a higher calibre of player. But the resources of the club don’t enable them to pay the type of wages that the Gunners can offer, whilst Arsenal’s Champions League history makes them a far more attractive prospect.
United would be able to catch up with Everton far more easily than Arsenal in the long-term. If Arsenal miss Champions League football, what they have set out to achieve since the erection of the Emirates Stadium would be knocked back. If the club continues to benefit from Champions League participation, they become much more difficult for United to overhaul.
Heading into a new era of financial power, and with the monetary increase that the BT television deal will give Champions League clubs from 2015-16 onwards, Manchester United can’t afford their absence to be a long one.
By no way am I trying to question the professional integrity of David Moyes’ players. Each and every ones of them are under pressure to perform against Everton, many of whom are fighting for their Manchester United careers. They’ll be focused on derailing Everton’s progress in the home straight. And as a matter of pride for David Moyes, damaging his old club’s push for Champions League football would be some consolation, if only scant. But they should be mindful of the ramifications.
With all the names being bandied around in the media, and the financial power that Manchester United can still exercise, they are destined to strengthen this summer. Even with Champions League football, Everton can’t hope to challenge Manchester United when it comes to the transfer market. Arsenal can. Whether Arsene Wenger opts to is another matter entirely, but missing out on Champions League football would damage them this summer. Less competition for United would help, and Everton finishing fourth would be an important step in their rise back amongst Europe’s elite.