Moyes has gone but greater problems lie elsewhere at Old Trafford

David Moyes’ abject reign as Manchester United has come to an end. It’s come a lot sooner than most of us had anticipated after he was awarded a six year contract ten months ago, making him ‘the chosen one’; the successor to the great Sir Alex Ferguson.

But with Moyes out the door, have the causes for United’s poor season been severed? Or are the problems at Old Trafford rooted far deeper than those that appear to the naked eye?

Since the latter stages of the 2009/10 season very little anti-Glazer sentiments have rung out around Old Trafford. However with this campaign bearing no fruit in the shape of silverware, will Manchester United voice their antipathy with their controversial owners once more?

Following their takeover in 2005, you can argue that the Glazers decision making, at least on the footballing side of things, has been almost minimal. The seemingly autocratic way in which Sir Alex Ferguson ran Manchester United masked the underspending for a club of United’s stature. United’s spending under the Glazer regime has been dwarfed by that of Manchester City and Chelsea and perhaps even more significantly, they have been outspent by Liverpool and Tottenham in that time period. Whilst many will point to the on field success enjoyed under the Glazer stewardship, in reality it is more a further indicator to the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson. Over time Ferguson developed a well-oiled machine that continued the success that is so engrained in the club, despite relatively small investment in comparison to the clubs revenue. Where as many Premier League clubs reinvest the profits they make, United’s financial outlay has been very different. A sum of over £696 million has been spent on interest fees, bank charges and debt repayment, whilst a comparatively modest investment of around £383 million has been shelled out on new players. So although the spending under the Glazers has hardly been frugal, it should have been so much more for a club of United’s stature. Perhaps the most confused myth also lies in that unlike Roman Abramovich and Sheihk Mansour, who invest large amounts of their own money, the Glazers have simply used the clubs financial coffers, with their own personal investment almost non-existent.

One of the most telling examples of the Glazer reluctance to indulge in lavish spending is what happened when Cristiano Ronaldo was sold in the summer of 2009. The Portuguese winger was United’s star asset and when he departed Old Trafford for Real Madrid for a then world record £80 million, many thought the money would be used for a world class replacement. The incoming transfers that summer represented nothing of the sort with Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan arriving at Old Trafford to fill the void.

Whilst Michael Owen possessed great Premier League experience and the other two were seen as potential wingers for the future, none were of the calibre Manchester United required to continue their period of sustained success which had seen them win three consecutive league titles. It is often said for a side to remain successful, they need to invest and strengthen when they are at their strongest and that summer United significantly weakened.

So what now for the moneymen inside Old Trafford? The signs are that the Glazer may finally be beginning to loosen the purse strings with the arrivals of Marouane Feillani and Juan Mata for a combined fee of almost £65 million, although the formers performances will not offer much demonstration that you can achieve value for your money. The Glazers will not find another manager like Ferguson, a one off, a freak of nature so investment will be required and the sanctioning of a spending spree looks likely with a number of names being linked with United in recent weeks. But the austerity of the Glazer regime should not be forgotten despite the success they have enjoyed and it should be pointed out that United under Sir Alex Ferguson were successful in spite of them, not because of them.

Harvey Taylor

Follow on Twitter @HarveyTaylor13

The State of a Nation: The accelerating decline of English players in the top level of the game

I love football. As a youngster I used to hop over the fence at the bottom of my garden and with a few friends, go and ‘train’ with my local football league team. I guess at the time, it was the last thing the coaches wanted, but hey we enjoyed it, and it gave us the opportunity to believe we were professional footballers (which is about as close as I ever came to being one!).

That was back in the 1970s and the opportunity to play for a top professional team in those days was not out of the bounds of possibility for anyone talented enough to make it. But what of the chances for today’s talented young English players? Do we have the tools in place to help our future top players make it, or is it simply easier to forget about developing home grown talent and buy-in success from abroad?

There’s no doubting that things have changed since my time running about in that park, but have things changed for the better?

For sure kids aren’t expected to kick cans or tennis balls round the streets. Instead and in far too many instances, thanks to new FA designated ‘best practice’ required by clubs to ensure they have the Charter Standard accreditation, kids today should expect nothing less than grass pitches that are properly marked out.

Fair enough in theory, but far too many have grass that could be up to 6” long, on pitches that resemble the Lake District more than Wembley with line markings that have been ‘burnt in’ so many times, they resemble crevices more than lines. The fact that many are open council pitches can also mean today’s young players having to dodge piles of dog mess that dog owners appear to believe is O.K to leave on playing fields.

Granted, not all pitches are as described above and organisations such as the Football Foundation amongst others are making a difference where possible, but still the majority are not up to the standard that the FA must surely have envisaged when putting together the new way forward.

But surely we’re not the only ones to have well thought out plans that haven’t quite been realised in the way originally envisaged are we?

Well, let’s take Spain as an example. After all, they are reigning World Champions right? In the South-East of the country there is a small village called El Paretón. It has less than 2,000 inhabitants and yet this dusty little village has one of the finest footballing complexes I have seen. It has the finest 4G artificial pitch with just enough seating for spectators and parents to sit and enjoy watching their children have fun learning how to enjoy playing football from one of the many qualified coaches that use the facility day-in, day-out.

Is it any wonder that Spanish players are extremely comfortable on the ball and can play pass-and-move football all day long from an early age?

But of course it’s not just facilities that are stagnating English football. A severe lack of higher qualified coaches and how they are used is I believe far more of an issue.

You see as a country, we actually don’t do too bad compared to Spain at UEFA Level B (the basic level to be classed as a real coach). However Germany has more than twice as many B Licence holders and a staggering 5 times more A Licence holders than us. Worse still, Italy has over 37,000 B licence holders , that’s four times more than we do!

In England, we have according to UEFA’s latest statistics, 9,500 B Licence holders, most of whom have to accept barely enough payment to cover their expenses when coaching. Rarely will you see a B Class coach in charge of a grassroots youth team – the clubs simply don’t have the finances to pay for them. So instead we have to rely on parents to get involved and hope that they can develop the kids in the best way possible.

Right now the FA requires every designated youth team coach to have passed the FA Level 1 course. Unfortunately, and speaking from experience, having a certificate that says you can lay out a set of cones in 20 different patterns is not sufficient. It is not until you get to the first part of the Level 2 (UEFA B) course that the FA train you to actually coach, but that costs £250 and is simply too much for many cash-strapped clubs.

For those that can get past the cost barrier, other obstacles are continually placed in front of parent/volunteer coaches that take time and ability away from the most important things such as concentrating on developing training sessions to help players develop and enjoy the game. Instead of spending time that could be spent developing the players, coaches may be required to clean clubhouses, mark out pitches, arrange for teams to come to the annual gala, and of course placate agitated parents who are concerned that (i) their child is not getting played enough, and (ii) wanting to know why the team are not top of the league!

Occasionally, the odd player will stand out and may well get asked to join their local professional football club. That must be a good thing right? After all, that is what we want to see happen. But how many of these kids, some of whom may only be six years old, actually stay the distance and get signed up as a professional player? More to the point, how many simply get tossed aside after six weeks to see their dreams and ambitions demolished – some never to play football again?

How on earth can you determine if a child at six years old is going to be of the calibre required to play professionally at 18? You simply can’t, yet up and down the country, that’s what can happen.

It might be me, but does it not seem that for too many professional clubs, as highlighted at the start of this article, that developing young home based talent really isn’t worthwhile and it is indeed much easier to buy-in foreign players that are already good on the ball, and can play pass-and-move football etc, etc…

Easier yes, but does it make sense, especially in this era of Financial Fair Play? What if, instead of paying upwards of £3million for an untried Spanish or German player, the top English clubs ‘invested’ that money back into their community with one or two strategically chosen junior clubs. Facilities such as that available to the inhabitants of El Paretón would be easily available to our players.

Our existing community clubs could then be tasked with developing young players, with the support both technically and financially from local professional clubs. New coaches could come into the game in this country with the knowledge that they would be plenty of opportunities to help develop players of all ages and abilities and the clubs would be in a position to embrace them thanks to the financial support that could be offered by pro clubs.

Such a strategy could be taken a stage further with the professional clubs contributing further to the development of local talent by making a series of staged payments for any player that goes on to sign full terms, such as signing-on fee, and appearance fees.

Perhaps the end cost may come to somewhere in the region of about £1million per player signed up. Less than the clubs may be paying now for untried foreign players.

Unfortunately such a plan would take a lot of organising and football is very much all about the now, so I fear such a scheme might never make it off this page. One thing is for sure though… If we don’t do something soon, the number of top English players active in our top league will continue to diminish and the game we love become less and less relevant.

Mike Hemmins  @mikhem

How far can football clubs go to maximise commercial income before it all gets too much?

With the English Premier League growing in stature and global appeal year on year, are we about to see a change in dynamics from football clubs with regards to their identity, in order to further increase exposure and commercial gain?

This saga has been brought back to the surface again over the course of the season, this time by Hull City Chairman Assem Allam. Dr Allam already caused a stir earlier on in the year by changing the clubs company name from ‘Hull City AFC’ to ‘Hull City Tigers’, with the ultimate long-term aim to alter the football clubs name to just ‘Hull Tigers’.

The reasoning for the prospective name change and advertently altering the clubs identity is down to Dr Allam’s preference of using shorter names in business to give a more powerful message in marketing terms. Dr Allam gave an exclusive to the Hull Daily Mail in August stating; “In the commercial world, the shorter the name, the better. The more it can spread quickly. My dislike for the word ‘City’ is because it is common. I want the club to be special. It is about identity. ‘City’ is a lousy identity. Hull City Association Football Club is so long.”

It was again brought up in the media once again in early November when Dr Allam confirmed that he plans to rename the football club to simply ‘Hull Tigers’; even after having meetings with representatives from various supporters groups who have aired their displeasure of the name change.  Dr Allam explained that the decision has been made in order for the club to improve its global appeal and to be self-financed with or without him. After recently being deprived of opportunities to acquire the stadium freehold this means that the next best option is to change the clubs name to generate higher commercial income, with Dr Allam stating, “A shorter club name will hopefully enable us to do so, with a stronger, quicker marketing impact all over the world.”

Nowadays football clubs are far more than just a club, they are global marketing brands that have to be well looked after. All with the objective of capitalising on the commercial gains that come with competing in the best competitions in the world, that have increased media coverage. As the Barclays Premier League is watched globally by millions of people, there are so many different markets and opportunities that can be tapped into for these gains, which other clubs outside of England’s top flight just can’t get near to.

A good example of a Premier League club that has well and truly jumped on the bandwagon and reaping the rewards are Manchester United. Although already one of the most successful and recognisable football clubs in England let alone the World, they have been able to tap into various global markets due to the exposure they get through competing in the Premier League, and are what most other clubs aspire to emulate. The club has managed its commercial policy by splitting up their sponsorship rights on a territory-by-territory basis around the World to maximise income.

What with the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations coming into force – to prevent clubs spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success and in doing so getting into financial problems – the best way to balance the books is to increase their commercial incomes to the best of their ability using whatever means necessary. On some occasions these commercial ventures can whip up a bit of a frenzy with some club supporters who aren’t too pleased.

An example of a commercial move that went ahead but faced fierce backlash from the clubs supporters can be seen at  Cardiff City a couple of seasons ago. This came after the Cardiff City Owner Vincent Tan, made the decision to change the clubs home shirt colour from blue to red and nickname from the ‘Bluebirds’ to the ‘Red Dragons’. The decision to make these changes was in order to tap into the Asian market, as the colour red is seen as being a more dynamic colour for marketing in Asia, as well as the Dragon being very significant in that part of the World too.

As with the Hull City situation, the club gave their 15,033 season card holders the opportunity to take part in a ballot regarding the name change earlier this week. Although only 5,874 season card holders responded, there was a narrow victory in favour of changing the club’s name to Hull Tigers, with a total of 2,565 voting for the change and 2,517 against the proposal, and the remaining 792 voting they were “not too concerned and will continue to support the club either way”. After the results were published Fans’ group City Till We Die claimed that the result was “largely meaningless”, especially as back in March The Football Association’s membership committee made a recommendation to reject the plans.

Indeed, when The Football Associations Council met this week they rejected Dr Allam’s proposed name change of Hull City to Hull Tigers, with 63.5% of its members voting against the change following the recommendation by its membership committee. Responding to the decision, City Till We Die said that; “We are very pleased that the FA has recognised the importance of the historic name of Hull City AFC to the fans and the wider community of Hull. This is truly a victory for the fans.”

With the decision by The FA Council it seems that nowadays the clubs history plays a major part in stopping such changes to the clubs identity, which might ultimately end up helping the club in the future. As back in the 1960s, then Leeds United manager Don Revie changed the clubs kit colour to an all-white strip that resembled Real Madrid, in an effort for the players to aspire to higher things. Since this change the all-white kit has stuck, and although I’m not certain of the perception of the fans back then, the club went on to have great success on the pitch, both in England and in Europe.

Although not a change for commercial gain back when it was made, how was anyone to know that going against the clubs history by changing the clubs kit colour to all-white would have brought success just by a change in perception? This case study just shows that sometimes change can be good and beneficial to the club even if it goes against the clubs historical values and identity.

But ultimately this begs the question how far can football clubs go with regards to the commercial aspects of the game before it all gets out of hand? If the proposed name change was to have got the go ahead from Hull City to ‘Hull Tigers’, it would have resembled a name that wouldn’t have looked out of place in some American sports. This is due to the vast majority of sporting teams across the pond including various nicknames of which are very marketable and catchy.

This is the case with the majority of teams in the NFL and NBA, as just as a couple of examples, but although not as global as football (soccer in the USA) the reach and popularity alone in America is large enough to make it all worthwhile. Some examples from the NFL can include; the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars, just to name a select few.

So what if Dr Allam’s move goes ahead in the future and Hull City will be known as ‘Hull Tigers’, will this mean a possible change in name for some of the other Premier League clubs to gain more commercial income? Will we be seeing the Manchester Red Devils up against the Arsenal Gunners, or a local derby between the Sunderland Black Cats and the Newcastle Magpies in the not to distance future?

I’m not too sure about that, but it is interesting how far football clubs will go in order to compete both on the pitch and financially.

Russell Collins

Follow on Twitter: @russcollins08