It would be thoroughly unreasonable to expect Manchester United supporters to be thoroughly reasonable about their nearest rival artistically blitzing through everything in their path and remaining unbeaten to the point where the ‘I’ word is being mentioned above a whisper. Even so, nobody could have anticipated what strange curveball they would collectively throw in order to explain away the huge disparity between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s City, a curveball that disregards all logic and defies belief.
The narrative has been bubbling away for some weeks now but has really sparked into life following last weekend’s derby defeat, a 1-2 loss that realistically condemned United to battling for a Champions League spot, their title hopes dashed. Facing the mockery of their neighbours they could have retorted with their vastly superior record at bringing through their own youth talent – a taunt that would barely have touched the sides but it would have at least been something – or, like in the grim Van Gaal days, they could have ignored what was going on in the wider world and looked solely inward: with Mourinho’s wanton dismantling of their proud reputation for attacking, adventurous football who could have blamed them for turning on the Portuguese pouter.
But no, instead their claim, thunderously aired across social media and in the pubs – is that Manchester City have simply outspent their peers, and more so United have been financially hamstrung.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this – just like it would be hard to counter an insistence that the sun is green – but thankfully there is no need to head down the familiar rabbit holes of past expenditure. United used to regularly smash the transfer record for the likes of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand and from 2008 to 2012 City undertook a period of accelerated spending that treated money with the same respect as confetti and none of that matters anymore.
What matters are three indisputable facts. The summer before last both clubs recruited world-renowned managers; the season before each club finished the 2015/16 campaign on 66 points (separated only by goal difference); and at the time of Guardiola and Mourinho’s appointments both clubs were jam-packed with world class talent.
As a starting point that’s as neat as we’re going to get.
Before we get to the figures though it is necessary to assess the squads that both coaches inherited. Guardiola took charge of the oldest squad in the Premier League, a group that had by the estimation of friends and foe alike reached the end of its natural cycle and was in urgent need of restoration.
It was therefore necessary to buy and sell at a quantitative rate not seen for a decade, moving on Hart, Demichelis, Dzeko, Jovetic, Nasri, and Bony, and bringing in Bravo, Stones, Gundogan, Sane, Nolito, and Jesus. Mourinho by contrast had some straightforward pruning to do, selling Schneiderlin and Depay and replacing them with the superior Pogba and Mkhitaryan. He also secured the services of Eric Bailly to shore up the defence and snagged the brilliant Ibrahimovic on a free.
United used to regularly smash the transfer record for the likes of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand and from 2008 to 2012 City undertook a period of accelerated spending that treated money with the same respect as confetti and none of that matters anymore.
It follows then that in the summer of 2016 Manchester City’s net spend (£145.1m) was nearly a third more than United’s (£99.2m). Such is the necessity of an overdue overhaul and perhaps for balance it should be noted here that half of their signings were aged 23 or under.
Fast forward a year and after a disappointing season for each – in the league at least – both clubs again flexed their significant financial muscle and recruited expensive embellishments. On this occasion the net spend is a pipsqueak away from being even with City’s £138.1m a smidgeon more than United’s £136.2m.
Yes but enough of this net spend nonsense I hear you cry. What about gross?
Well, okay let’s get right to it and state that since Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho arrived in Manchester the blue half of the city has spent £365.8m to United’s £291.3m.
Those, right there, are the figures that United fans are clinging to in order to explain why City are presently 11 points clear with such a disproportion in class that one side was scared to come out and play the other in a conventional manner last week. A difference of £74.5m.
Which of course is an awful lot of money, but sadly not in today’s transfer market. Largely due to United themselves stretching the parameters of what is acceptable to splurge on a singular talent (both the Pogba and Lukaku fees dwarf City’s record purchase of £54m for Kevin De Bruyne) the depressing truth is that £74.5m would now realistically secure one top class player.
Are United only one top class player away from City? Let’s say it was Ivan Perisic, the Inter winger that was long linked to Old Trafford until the Italian giants dug their heels in and demanded a figure close to what is under discussion. Would the addition of Perisic be anywhere near enough to haul United into contention this season? Would he be their sole elixir? Even concentrating on a solitary game would the Croatian man-marking Kyle Walker last Sunday instead of United’s £36m signing Anthony Martial have been the difference between a pivotal loss and a famous victory?
As for United being financially hamstrung in relation to their neighbours it does need pointing out that City are no longer reliant on their wealthy benefactor and indeed their summer outlay was funded entirely by earned revenue as the club’s brand continues to soar globally. Even so they trail in this regard to United who recouped an extra £122.7 in 2016 according to the last Deloitte figures.
Manchester United are lightyears behind City on the pitch this season and there are many reasons for this. To suggest that it comes down to money is not only erroneous but sour grapes. Cheap ones at that.
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