Manchester United’s owners have made it clear to Sir Alex Ferguson that he has a substantial transfer budget at his disposal for big-name targets during a summer in which the club’s bank account is expected to swell to more than £160m.
The £17m signing of the Atlético Madrid goalkeeper David de Gea will not be the last big signing during a close season in which the club will spend more than in recent years, and Ferguson has been given the green light to target the best players in the world.
The Glazers have consistently maintained that the manager has funds to spend, but fans have questioned the club’s ability to compete for the biggest names in recent years, amid concern at the club’s debt levels and interest commitments.
Having smashed the pay ceiling to give Wayne Rooney a contract worth around £200,000 a week in the wake of his threat to leave, the owners are said to be relaxed about the prospect of Ferguson breaking the bank to sign a marquee name.
It was the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80m in 2009, followed by the departure of Carlos Tevez to Manchester City weeks later, that raised concerns among Manchester United fans worried that the demands of servicing the loans loaded on to the club had left it unable to compete for the best players.
Club insiders say that any acquisitions will have to fit the template followed by Manchester United under the Glazers, with an emphasis on younger players who will retain value. The club has bought one player in the past 14 years who was over 27 and cost more than £3m – Dimitar Berbatov for £31m.
According to Manchester United’s most recent accounts, the club have £113m in the bank. That has fuelled suspicions that the owners will withdraw some of it in dividends but insiders claim it is there for transfers and to guard against unforeseen events.
That figure is expected to rise to more than £160m by the end of the summer, if it follows the pattern of previous seasons, once season-ticket revenue for the coming season is banked. Despite racking up a record pre-tax loss of £109m last year, much of that was attributable to one-off costs associated with a £500m bond issue.
The chief executive, David Gill, has repeatedly stated that the club will comfortably be able to pay the £45m annual interest on those bonds, especially as it bought back £26m itself, and still has about £60m in cash every year thanks to global growth in commercial and TV revenues.
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