A "lack of value" has been Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's rationale for the Premier League champions' transfer market timidity this season. Ferguson's much-rehearsed insistence, however, that he has the £80million (Dh478m) United generated from Cristiano Ronaldo's summer departure to Real Madrid at his disposal, but will not reinvest it in an already inflated market, now appears inaccurate.
Public accounts for Red Football Joint Venture, the Glazer family-owned parent company of United, show the club's debts have spiralled to £716.5m for the financial year that ended in June 2009. Bank loans may have dropped by £9m to £509m, but the rise in kind loans, which typically have a higher interest rate, have increased by £27m to £202m. Already bitter over the Glazer's original debt-driven takeover, which lumbered the former PLC with crippling interest repayments, the revelation debt has grown by £17m - during a 12-month period when the club managed to turn a £47m loss from the previous year into a £6.4m profit no-less - will only stoke animosity.
Ironically, the loss-to-profit ration swing is the direct result of Ronaldo's sale. But far from justifying Ferguson's safety-first approach in the transfer market, the fact United's annual profit came through selling their best player will only serve to further worry fans who fear more players will be sold to balance the club's finances. In a year when £69m was paid out in interest payments alone, fans are further bemoaning Malcolm Glazer's withdrawal of £10m - individual loans of £1.67m for each of his six children - from Red Football. While perfectly legal, this has heightened hostility.
Supporters demonstrated their angst at the Americans with a banner reading: "Love United, Hate Glazer" at last weekend's home match against Burnley. A larger protest was averted when the supporters involved were ejected shortly after kick-off. That, however, came before Red Football released its annual accounts. With Mark Longden, the chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA), insisting the Red Devils are being "driven to oblivion", United's first-leg loss to cash-rich derby rivals Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-final on Tuesday has further exasperated supporters.
In a year when United lost Ronaldo, City embarked on a £173m transfer spree, including the capture of Old Trafford favourite Carlos Tevez, who scored a brace in the recent clash at Eastlands. All the while, Ferguson, a self-proclaimed socialist, has backed the Glazers' involvement. The Scot, who has supported the Americans' bid to re-finance United's debt by raising £500m through a bond issue, also risks incurring the wrath of United followers.
Johnny Flacks, a founding member and former chairman of the IMUSA, said Ferguson must realise that "if the Glazers stay in control, [Ferguson's] legacy is going to be destroyed". In an attempt to calm building tension, a Glazer family spokesperson stressed that the debt does not have any bearing on the club's operations. "The club have a £50m surplus to work with once the interest payments have been made," the spokesperson said.
How much of that Ferguson sees, and whether he chooses to spend it, remains to be seen. @Email:email@example.com