A potential £60m loss, pay-cuts and an obstacle to signing elite players: The huge cost of Man Utd missing out on the Champions League

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After a dismal run of results, Erik ten Hag's side could yet miss out on a top-four finish and the prospect of returning to Europe's top table

Manchester United couldn't miss out on the Champions League again, could they? Oh yes they could! Erik ten Hag's side have been in the Premier League's top four since they won 1-0 at Wolves on December 31, but as they prepare to face Julen Lopetegui's side again on Saturday, they are in serious danger of losing that coveted fourth spot to Liverpool.

United had a seven-point lead over Liverpool less than two weeks ago after beating Aston Villa, but that advantage has been chopped to just one point since. If they fail to beat Wolves, Jurgen Klopp's side would leapfrog them with a win at Leicester City on Monday.

United do have a game in hand on Liverpool. but while the Merseysiders are in unstoppable form, United are in freefall. A large factor in them losing their grip on the top four has been their horrendous away form. The twin defeats at Brighton and West Ham meant they have lost eight away league matches this season, as many as Everton.

In their last 10 games, they have only scored eight goals, fewer than any other team in the league. The Red Devils look exhausted after playing more matches than any team in Europe's top five leagues and their confidence is on the floor, symbolised by David de Gea's howler against West Ham, as well as Marcus Rashford and Antony's wayward shooting.

Finishing in the top four is the most basic requirement for a club like United, who have never failed to qualify for the Champions League for two consecutive seasons. GOAL, though, looks at the possible consequences if they do miss out on Europe's top-tier competition once again...

  1. Financial losses
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    Financial losses

    United are fortunate that their revenue will remain high whether they qualify for the Champions League or not. This season they are on course to rake in between £590 million and £610m, although, according to The Independent, they would have posted record revenues if they had qualified for Europe's top competition.

    However, with the club needing to pay off £206m in credit from transfer spending, they will still be impacted by the financial hit. The difference in earnings between the Europa League and Champions League are colossal.

    Just for qualifying for the Champions League group stages, teams earn £13m. Every win in the Champions League group stage earns you a further £2.4m, with draws worth around £800,000. Last season in the Champions League, United won three games while drawing two, pocketing £8.28m. They earned an extra £8.3m for qualifying for the last 16, giving them a total of around £30m on top of matchday revenue. Had they reached the quarter-finals, they would have pocketed an extra £9.2m.

    If they were to go on and win the Champions League - admittedly a tall order - they would earn at least £73m. For winning the Europa League, you earn a minimum of £13m. To earn the same amount of money from merely qualifying for the Champions League, United would have to win the Europa League.

    United earned around £10m by getting to the Europa League quarter-finals this season. If they had gone as far in the Champions League, their earnings would have been closer to £35m.

    Based on current performance levels, a reasonable estimate on the total cost of missing out on the top four is at least £25m, and they would be surrendering the chance to earn a total difference of £60m. That could pay for a top young midfielder, or goalkeeper to challenge David de Gea.

  2. Pay cuts & prestige loss

    Pay cuts & prestige loss

    To protect the club from the loss in revenue in the event of not reaching the Champions League, United players' contracts contain a clause related to finishing in the top four. Failure to do so means an effective pay cut of 25 percent.

    For Cristiano Ronaldo, United missing out on the Champions League meant a pay cut of almost £120,000 per week. The club's highest-paid players, such as Bruno Fernandes, De Gea and Casemiro, can expect a similar loss in income this time around.

    For Fernandes, Rashford and many others, that will be a second successive pay cut. Although United have the second-highest wage bill in the Premier League, trailing only Chelsea, some players might find a second pay cut in a row hard to take. It's not impossible that they would seek to plug the gap in their pay packets by making a lucrative move to a team that is competing in the Champions League.

    And lower pay would not be the only loss to players. Casemiro and Raphael Varane won the Champions League five times with Real Madrid and were used to getting to at least the semi-finals. Not being even involved in it would be a huge blow to their morale.

  3. A more difficult transfer market
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    A more difficult transfer market

    United's top priority in this summer's transfer window is finding a prolific striker. Erik ten Hag has made it clear that a proven, 20-goal-per-season hitman is what his team are lacking the most, and recruiting the calibre of striker they need is a lot harder without guaranteeing them the chance to play in Europe's biggest competition.

    Victor Osimhen will be one of the most in-demand strikers this summer after firing Napoli to the Serie A title, but would he swap the newly crowned Italian champions for a team who are embarking on their second successive Europa League campaign? It's a hard sell.

    The same goes for Harry Kane, who turns 30 and is running out of chances to win a trophy. Would he really risk burning his reputation as a one-club man with Tottenham to go to another team playing in the Europa League?

    Without the lure of the Champions League, United would find it far harder to recruit truly elite players and would instead be forced to do their shopping at the level below. Instead of signing Kane, Osimhen, Randal Kolo Muani or Goncalo Ramos, they could be forced to look at options such as Jonathan David, Niclas Fullkrug or Ivan Toney instead.

  4. Renewing Rashford becomes tougher
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    Renewing Rashford becomes tougher

    Convincing transfer targets to give up Champions League football to join United is just one concern. They also need to think about players who are already at the club but are itching to hear that music again and shine on the biggest stage of all.

    None more than Rashford, who has little more than a year left on his contract and is enjoying the best season of his career. Rashford's camp have spoken to Paris Saint-Germain before, while plenty of other top clubs will have taken note of his resurgent form and his contract situation.

    PSG never struggle to get into the Champions League (winning it is another matter), nor do Bayern Munich or Real Madrid. If United miss out once more on the competition, Rashford's head may be turned by clubs who can guarantee him Champions League football.

  5. And what about Ten Hag?

    And what about Ten Hag?

    It seems crazy to suggest it after all the progress United have made under Ten Hag this season, especially compared to his predecessors, but if the team were to fail to achieve Champions League football, especially after being in such a strong position to qualify, then Ten Hag's position as manager starts to look weaker.

    David Moyes was sacked just days after it was confirmed United had no chance of finishing in the top four, while Louis van Gaal was also dismissed after he was unable to earn a Champions League berth in his second season, despite winning the FA Cup.

    Jose Mourinho got United back into the competition in his first two years, but once it became clear that their position in it was at risk during his third campaign, he too was sacked.

    The only manager who has failed to get United into the top four and survived another season is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2019, but he was given the benefit of the doubt as he had only just been handed a three-year contract and the job on a permanent basis, and he had inherited a team in dire straits from Mourinho.

    Ten Hag would most likely remain manager regardless, but he would then be under huge pressure to hit the ground running next season. And if United began to look off the top-four pace three months into the season, he could well find himself out of the job.

  6. Status among the elite
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    Status among the elite

    Despite not winning a league title for a decade, United are still seen as among the biggest clubs in Europe. But if they continue to not be involved in the Champions League, that status starts to look precarious. They risk becoming a legacy club and little more.

    They also risk losing out on younger fans who grow up watching the Champions League and only occasionally see United. Look at the popularity of PSG, Real Madrid and Barcelona among young fans, even in England, and the rise of Manchester City abroad. Man City versus Real Madrid is now becoming one of the great fixtures in modern European football. United versus Real Betis or Feyenoord just doesn't have the same pull.

    The loss of prestige of not being in the Champions League is immense, and arguably greater than the financial hit or problems recruiting players. Ever since they first played in the competition in 1993, United have seen the Champions League as their level, their natural home. They have won it twice and been in four finals. Not even being in the group stage is hugely embarrassing.

    That is why the final four matches of the season are more important than the FA Cup final against City that follows them. A heavy defeat to Guardiola's side at Wembley would lead to plenty of ribbing from their neighbours and work colleagues, but missing out on the biggest show in Europe would be worse.