Ferguson banks on youth as funds run dry

Manchester United, the most valuable sports club in the world and the biggest spenders in the history of the Premier League, have no money left to spend. That was the official bottom line presented yesterday by United's chief executive, David Gill, as he announced the club's annual figures.

The purchase of Wayne Rooney from Everton this summer for £27m means that United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has already blown his entire transfer kitty for 2005. Ferguson will be unable to buy again in the transfer window in January or, in all likelihood, next summer, without selling first.

"Our plans were to bid for [Rooney] in summer 2005 but Newcastle United's bid, and Everton's subsequent interest in selling him, forced us to accelerate our plans or risk losing him," United said in their annual report. "As a result we have now spent next summer's transfer budget unless players are disposed of to realise cash for reinvestment." Pressed on whether there was any leeway, if the chance arose for Ferguson to add to his squad, Gill said: "There won't be a signing."

Asked whether the situation might change, for example if cover were needed due to injuries, he said: "I'm not going into specifics about what we're going to do next summer. But we have made it very clear in our statement that next summer's budget has been spent. Alex was clear when we approved [Rooney's signing] that it was an acceleration of spending."

Rooney's transfer came too late to be included in the accounts, which cover trading in the year to 31 July. The figures showed that United had made a record operating profit of £58.3m in the year, up 5.9 per cent, but pre-tax profits fell nearly 30 per cent to £27.9m. Turnover was £169m, or £4m down on last year.

United warned that next year's figures will see a drop of around £14m in media revenues due to finishing third in the League this May. That will affect next year's League earnings (forecast to be down £8m) and Champions' League television income (down around £6m). The latter is because United will receive only 15 per cent of the "pot" provided this season by Uefa because they finished third in England.

Yesterday's results were notable for a detailed breakdown of United's spending on agents' fees. The club made commitments to pay out £5.5m in agents' fees in the year to 31 July and actually spent £5m of that figure. Another £3.5m is still owed in agents' fees for deals completed before the end of the review period. The figures do not include agents' commissions for Rooney's transfer.

According to Gill, the data in 12 months' time is likely to show that United's ratio of wages to turnover has risen above 50 per cent, which is widely seen as a "healthy maximum" for clubs to aim at. Most fail. United's consistent ability to stay within that range is one of the main reasons they have established themselves as the most successful club, financially, in the world.

"We treat that 50 per cent figure very seriously," Gill said. "If it is 51 per cent next year we will just about be able to live with it but if it went towards 60 per cent, it would be a serious concern."

By sanctioning the purchase of Rooney, Ferguson is presumably not concerned about the lack of spending money for the coming year. No doubt expenditure of £50m since January - on Louis Saha, Gabriel Heinze, Alan Smith and Liam Miller, as well as Rooney - is the main reason for that confidence.

Ferguson's medium-term aim of rebuilding his squad with an emphasis on youth is taking shape, with a dozen players aged 23 or under already in the first-team squad or on its fringes. Rooney, 18, Miller, 23, and Smith, 23, are among them, as are Cristiano Ronaldo, 19, Darren Fletcher, 20, and David Bellion, 21, while two teenaged prodigies, Spanish defender Gerard Pique and Italy's Giuseppe Rossi, a striker, are in the wings.

With no cash left in Ferguson's pockets, the future is in their hands.

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