Manchester United's owners the Glazer family have never denied Sir Alex Ferguson transfer funds, says vice-chairman Ed Woodward

 

Manchester United did not miss out on signing the Brazilian midfielder Lucas Moura because of a lack of transfer funds and the Glazer family have never denied Sir Alex Ferguson the resources to sign a player, the club’s vice-chairman Ed Woodward said today.

In a wide-ranging interview on the club’s ownership structure two months after the Glazer family floated ten per cent of the club on the New York Stock Exchange, Woodward, who runs the club’s London-based commercial operation, said that servicing the owners’ debt had no impact on United’s transfer policy.

The battle-lines over the Glazer ownership, now in its eighth year, are well established, with fierce opposition from sections of the United support and despair among fans’ groups at the estimated £500m that has gone on servicing the debt, as well as legal fees connected to the 2005 takeover.

United’s relatively low impact in the transfer market in recent years - a trend which changed to a degree in the summer with the signing of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa among others - has also raised suspicions that the servicing of the Glazers’ debts have restricted Ferguson in the transfer market.  Moura, 20, eventually signed a deal that will see him join the Qatari-funded Paris Saint-Germain in January.

Woodward said: “The Glazers have never said ‘No’ to Sir Alex’s request for a player. There is no difference between staying as a plc [the corporate structure of the club pre-May 2005] or the Glazer takeover in terms of the team on the pitch.”

Woodward said that capacity crowds at Old Trafford were an indication that the majority of supporters were happy with the club and the considerable successes of the last seven years. “We do have a majority of very happy set of fans because of what happens on the pitch,” he said. “The purchase of Robin van Persie was an example of Sir Alex buying players and always being allowed to buy players he wants.

“There was no secret about bidding for Lucas and three years ago trying to buy [Karim] Benzema. The money has always been made available to him. That is the disconnect [with the supporters]. There is a thought that if ‘X money’ has gone out the door - ignoring the extra money that has come in [through increased commercial revenues] which you should argue should be counted – it would have been spent on players. But it wouldn’t.”

He added that despite opposition to the Glazer takeover, which was financed with £525m of debt loaded directly into the club, the current level of debt – around £360m – was sustainable.

Woodward said that there was a need to “communicate” better with fans. The Glazer family have so far done one interview – Joel Glazer, with MUTV, on the day of the takeover.

The club’s aggressive new approach to sponsorship has landed them the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in football history with Chevrolet – £350m over seven years, starting in the 2014-2015 season – as well as a number of deals based on “segmentation” of territories and products. Recent deals include a Japanese soft drinks manufacturer and an Azerbaijan telecoms company.

As a result, Woodward said, annual commercial revenues have grown by £100m since the Glazer takeover. Ferguson himself has argued in recent years that there has been “no value” in the transfer market. Woodward said that he would not discuss why certain potential transfer targets had not joined the club but denied that funds had never been an issue.

He said: “I’m not the person who manages the football team. Sir Alex and David [Gill, chief executive] have their own views as to the players they want to go after and who Plan B might be if they are not comfortable with certain levels ... that is all discussed with Joel [Glazer, chairman] and signed off with the three of them on the phone in a quick manner.

“It can be a whole raft of reasons [that a player does not sign]. It can be the change in the players’ attitude through the negotiations. It can be an agent getting involved in a certain way that changes things. Or someone turning their head for a different reason, and all these things can happens.”

The price of the United shares listed in New York has fallen from $14 (£8.7) to $12.30 (£7.60) currently, despite initial plans to list at as much as $18 (£11). Woodward said that he had no fears about the share price in the long-term as long as United continued expanding their business plan which includes pursuit of new sponsorship deals through a newly-opened Hong Kong office and another in New York.

He dismissed comparisons between United’s falling share price and Facebook’s disappointing stock market debut. The strenuous opposition among fans to the Glazer’s leveraged buy-out, which has included the establishment by disaffected supporters of breakaway club FC United, and the ‘Green and Gold’ campaign that was at its height around three years ago, had not, he said, materially affected the club’s popularity with sponsors.

“We have continued to sell sponsorship deals, or MUTV deals or mobile deals, whatever it may be, all the way through the last seven years. A great deal has happened in the last seven years, particularly in the last five. We even did all these deals through 2010 when things were perhaps at their most choppy because of the bond [the major refinancing of the takeover debt]. That should answer it. Our shirt sales go from strength to strength.”

“The debt is tiny compared to the value of the business. The coverage of the interest payments is small. Communicating that is not easy. I try to do the best I can to explain we are completely relaxed. It is like having a tiny mortgage on your house and the person in the house has got richer and richer through income and the mortgage is going down.

“I really hope that we can continue to communicate and get fans comfortable and demonstrate that we are financially strong by buying players. Obviously that helps so that they don’t feel concerned. They really shouldn’t be concerned.”

The levels of the club’s debt were sustainable, Woodward said, on the key indicators such as ratio of Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, deprecation and amortisation) - which was £109m in the last accounts - to total debt. He also denied that the match-attending supporters had been forced to bear the cost of the Glazers’ ownership through disproportionately steep rises in ticket prices.

“The previous seven years up to the takeover in 2005 it was 5.5 per cent increase [in ticket prices] year on year. The average now is four per cent. I would argue that four per cent is not much relative to inflation. When the Glazers bought the club it was the 19 most expensive ticket in the league out of 20 for the best product and we are now 7 or 8 [on a recent survey United’s cheapest ticket was the 12 least expensive]”

“If you look at the Kop prices they are about 25 per cent more than the Stretford End [Liverpool’s cheapest season ticket is £193 more than United’s]. We should be sensitive for ticket price increases, but hopefully you have seen in the last few years as we have developed commercial business, ticket prices have pretty much been flat.

“The blended average growth is four per cent. Two years ago when Liverpool put their prices up ten per cent, we were zero. I think they are fair prices. We sell out every Premier League game.”

United will benefit from the new Premier League television deal next season, which is pnds3bn over three years, and the sale of digital media rights. They will also begin renegotiating their kit supplier deal with Nike who have a six-month exclusivity period starting in February. Given that the original deal was done in 2001, it is expected there will be a significant improvement.

The club believe that there is much more scope to do sponsorship deals in the current market, to the extent that all that is holding them back is the speed at which they can train staff and open new offices. “I don’t feel like we are anywhere near base-camp,” Woodward said. “This [London] office is now full. We are ‘half-populated’ in Hong Kong. There is so much to do, it’s ridiculous.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home