In almost six years as chief executive of Manchester United, David Gill has signed Wayne Rooney, sold Cristiano Ronaldo and been part of a club that has had to fight its corner against the new money brought to English football by the owners of Chelsea and Manchester City.
He was a key member of the United board that sold David Beckham in 2003 and signed Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron (2001) and Rio Ferdinand (2002) for the best part of £80m. They were the biggest-spending days of United's transfer history which, but for the intervention of Barcelona, would surely have included the signing of Ronaldinho in 2003.
Seven years on and the economics of the transfer market have changed. United will not get into auctions with Russian oligarchs or Abu Dhabi oil billionaires and neither, says Gill, will they pay the hyper-inflated wages paid to the biggest players in Spain and even Italy. With Sir Alex Ferguson, Gill has charted a new direction for United that he says will enable them to compete with the vast wealth of Sheikh Mansour and the seemingly limitless funds of Real Madrid.
United still have money for transfers – Gill is adamant that the Glazer family ownership has not changed that – but a significant part of football's landscape has changed. On Thursday, Uefa introduced the "financial fair play" regulations that will require clubs to break even by 2012. The era of a big money, record-breaking transfer every year at Old Trafford is over.
Already, this season, the club have committed around £20m to signing the 21-year-old Mexican Javier Hernandez, Fulham's England under-21 international Chris Smalling and the Senegal international Mame Biram Diouf. That is the way they intend to go from now on: a policy of more players like Ronaldo (£12.24m at the age of 18) and fewer like Dimitar Berbatov (£30.75m at the age of 27).
Gill said: "The only player in his late 20s whom we signed for a lot of money was Berbatov and people forget we spent a lot of money on Ronaldo who was 18 at the time. Players like Smalling and Hernandez – we try to identify all those with great, great potential. They become fantastic players but they are not the finished article.
"The other issue we have to face going forward is financial fair play with Uefa. That will have ramifications for squad sizes, we are bringing that into the Premier League next year [25 players, eight of which must be "homegrown"] and we are comfortable with that.
"It is wrong to say we are not in the market [at the high end] but Hernandez is coming in and we believe we can make him a fantastic player and his wage will go up. It is not like getting him when he is already a top, top star in that market. That's our philosophy.
"We are not going to do that [pay big fees for players in their late 20s]. The other issue you face with certain players coming from overseas is the wages. We pay very good wages by English standards but we have never competed against the top Spanish wages or the top Italian wages. We are not going to do that. There is less chance of a top, top player coming from overseas.
"We are not out of the market. We pay excellent wages. But what you read [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic was earning – not that we are interested in him, but just to give you an example – we are not into that [reported to be around £170,000-a-week at Barcelona].
"When Ronaldo went to Real Madrid we made a lot of money out of it and he made a lot of money out of it. We have always had a sensible pay policy that ensures that we can attract and retain top players within the confines of what is good for Manchester United as a whole. And that is what we aim to continue to do."
Equally, however, United are not prepared to lose any of their established stars. When the question was put to Gill that Real Madrid would try to sign Rooney this summer, his immediate answer was short and to the point: "No chance".
"He [Rooney] is on a contract [with two years remaining]. I don't want to put timelines on it but I am sure we will sit down with Paul [Stretford, Rooney's agent] and draw up a new contract. He [Rooney] won't go there. He won't want to go there. There may be some noise around it. I don't care.
"In [comparison] David Beckham was clearly a lot older in terms of his career [when he moved to Madrid] and Cristiano had six years with us and he had wanted to move the previous year. There is nothing in Wayne's demeanour or Wayne's comments that he is anything other than very happy with us.
"As you can imagine, he is a big personality around the training ground. He has a young family now, his first son. He is very happy here. I get on well with Paul, he's fine. He is a sensible agent. He understands and you can negotiate with him. It's the ones who don't listen that you get problems with.
"He [Rooney] is a fantastic signing and he symbolises the club. Skill and work ethic all combined, like Ryan Giggs. He works his socks off. That's a Manchester United player. If you had to sum them up it is a combination of skill, work ethic, real guts and determination."
Gill's expectation of the summer was that "some will leave, some will come in" and "there won't be any major players leaving". Whether the definition of "major" includes the out-of-favour Michael Carrick or Luis Anderson can be debated but Gill does not envisage the club selling Berbatov, who has not fulfilled the expectations of him when he joined from Tottenham.
Gill said: "He has three years left on his contract. It is two years plus an option for us. We spent a lot of money on him. We have no real desire to sell him. He will be there next season and Alex has been clear on that. He [Berbatov] gets a bit of a difficult press in some respects."
It would not be Manchester United if there was not pause for thought about the future after a season in which Chelsea won the double and brought to an end three seasons of United dominating the Premier League. But even with the green and gold protest gathering momentum since January and the funds available to Roberto Mancini at City, there is no panic.
Gill said: "It is quite interesting that when Roman Abramovich first took over Chelsea in 2003 people said it would be impossible to compete with them. They spent a lot of money very quickly. Then they dropped back a bit [in terms of investment]. City have ambitious plans and you have to respect those. They will continue to attract top players to the club.
"[Next season] there is a limit of 25 in your squad [with unlimited under-21s]. We have to have the best scouting, the best analysis and then compete for the players and make sure we can sell to them the benefit of coming to Manchester United: 76,000 every week, the history and heritage and the great players.
"It is a balance. It is not as simple as saying 'We have the most money, we'll buy the best players'. There is a correlation between the wages you pay, the transfer fees and the performance [but it is no guarantee of success].
"We are not skinflints. A first-team player in the squad at Manchester United is not going to be hard up even with a 50 per cent tax rate. We have to invest in all areas of medical and sports science. There are enough players out there and we have to ensure that we get the best players for United. It is good for the league. To have strong competition is no bad thing.
"We are not frightened by the competition. Our business model is good. We have revenues touching £300m and growing. Football is a high-margin business. We continue to invest in players. We have got plans to improve the training ground again to attract players. We are doing work at Old Trafford to improve the executive experience. But we can do it within our own means."
Under Uefa president Michel Platini's plans, a rich owner of an ambitious smaller club will only be able to cover losses of £40m over three years before his club is forced to match their revenue with their spending. It will make challenging the established clubs like United even more difficult but Gill is taking nothing for granted.
"'They [rich owners] will do that [invest heavily] for a short period but whether they continue to do that [is not clear]," he said. "We can't complain. If they have got the money to do it – and want to do it – we have to get ever clearer on our own business plans, our commercial revenue and improving our scouting. The name of Manchester United still resonates."Reuse content