Manchester United Claim They Can Cope with a Bad Year, but at What Cost?

Stuart Howard-CofieldFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2013

Old Trafford
Old TraffordMichael Regan/Getty Images

For Manchester United Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward, the timing could not have been worse to have a wide-ranging interview with popular fanzine United We Stand published.

The interview raised several controversial topics, including the spectre of not qualifying for the UEFA Champions League and of a Manchester United B team taking up a place in the Football League.

His attempt to reach out to supporters was laudable, particularly following a summer and early season of discontent and frustration that has focussed on the lack of transfer activity. He could quite easily have spoken to well-oiled PR machines like the official club programme or magazine.

However, he chose to take up the offer of an interview with an outlet that has a more direct contact with supporters—knowing that such a publication was likely to ask more pertinent and tricky questions.

Unfortunately, the publication of the interview coincided with a home defeat to Everton. With more ground lost in the league table and the real possibility that Champions League qualification could prove to be out of reach this season, supporters around the globe will be looking for reassurance that this is just a blip.

Per Bleacher Report, Woodward had given a statement earlier in the 2013 suggesting that record revenue levels were achievable this year, which meant that money would certainly be available for manager David Moyes to bolster his squad.

This did, however, come with the caveat that "the team finishes third in the FA Premier League and reaches the quarter-finals of the Champions League and the domestic cups."

But what if the fan’s nightmare of not qualifying for the Champions League became reality?

Woodward’s comments on this possibility, as reported by Mark Ogden of the Telegraph, were that an unsuccessful campaign would not inflict lasting damage on the club or the team.

Reassuring words, but when expanding further on the subject, he commented:


“If you fight hard and just fail, people will still watch you on television, still turn up and buy shirts.

“There’s still a lot of affinity with the club and interest, but the reality is that you can’t always win.

“Take Liverpool. They still sell an incredible number of shirts and have the second biggest shirt deal in the Premier League.”

These comments seem to suggest a touch of arrogance and reflect the thought that the brand is so big, that they will not be affected by one poor season. They will also upset those supporters who feel that the club has placed more focus on commercial activity and gathering sponsors recently than they have in backing their new manager.

The January transfer window will obviously be the acid test for both Moyes and Woodward. In the meantime, though, results must start to improve for United, beginning with Saturday’s tricky home fixture against Newcastle.

The crowd at Old Trafford has been supportive so far and the club may feel that they have the finances to cope with a bad year and be able to strengthen the squad with new players. 

But will a Manchester United without Champions League football really still be as attractive a proposition for both global supporters and top players?