The Glazers must take the blame for exhausted Man Utd's miserable end to the season - the team are paying the price for the owners lack of vision and short-term fixes

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As well as saddling the club with debt and letting the takeover drag on, the owners' mismanagement can be seen in the team's limp finish to 2022-23

Three weeks ago, Manchester United’s place in the top four of the Premier League and a return to the Champions League looked practically assured. Now, though, they are anxiously looking over their shoulders, feeling the heat from a resurgent Liverpool and dreading the very real prospect of their number one objective evading them at the last.

While Liverpool have awoken from a difficult campaign and hit their stride at the business end of the season with six consecutive victories, United’s exciting season has spectacularly come off the rails. Erik ten Hag’s side have taken only four points from their last four league matches, and in their last six matches in all competitions they have only won once inside 90 minutes, scoring just three goals.

After losing back-to-back games against Brighton and West Ham, United are only one point ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool and need to win three of their last four matches, against Wolves, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Fulham, to be assured of a top-four finish. It is hardly a mammoth task, but with the way United have been playing recently, three wins is far from guaranteed.

The team that in March Jurgen Klopp described as “a results machine” is now looking rusty and faulty, its features no longer working properly from overuse. United have played more matches than any team in Europe’s top five leagues and have been badly affected by injuries to their two first-choice centre-backs Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane. But too many games is no excuse. A team of United’s size and ambition should be going deep in all competitions and must be set up to do so.

Which is why the blame for the team’s sudden decline should fall squarely on the Glazers woeful management of the club and for dragging the sale of the club on for months.

  1. Lost billions that could have gone on the squad

    Lost billions that could have gone on the squad

    Let’s start with the basics. Since they bought the club in a highly controversial leveraged buyout in 2005, the Glazers have taken more £1.1 billion out of United. According to football finance blogger Kieron O’Connor of the Swiss Ramble, United have paid £743 million in interest payments since the takeover, when the Glazers acquired United for £790m but only put up £200m of their own money, saddling the Red Devils with eye-watering debt.

    Between 2010 and 2022, the club has paid out £517m in interest, almost as much as the rest of the Premier League in the same period. The six members of the Glazer family who have been directors have also taken an estimated £50m in directors’ fees in that time. In the last seven years, they have collected £166m in dividends.

    If you count the £465m the Glazers have received in selling Class A shares, none of which has been reinvested in the club, the total amount the family has taken out of United stands at more than £1.6bn. That’s £1.6bn that could have been spent on transfer fees, salaries and redeveloping a creaking Old Trafford and outdated training ground, but instead went towards enriching a billionaire family.

    In terms of owner funding between 2012 and 2021, United ranked bottom of the Premier League on minus £154m. Manchester City’s owners invested £684m, Chelsea's £516m. United may have spent large sums of money recently - they have the second-largest wage bill in the Premier League, only trailing Chelsea - but all that money has come from the club itself and its vast commercial revenues, a lot of which stems from its heritage and the sustained success under Sir Alex Ferguson.

  2. Frantic spending after a nightmare start

    Frantic spending after a nightmare start

    United fans have held huge protests against the Glazers since 2005, with the demonstrations gaining extra momentum this season. Rival supporters have had little sympathy on the whole with their complaints, however, pointing to the large amount of money the club spent in the summer, when they splurged £229m on six players.

    Take Jamie Carragher poking fun at Gary Neville after the defeat at West Ham, pointing to the fact United spent big on Casemiro and Antony in the summer, and saying that it was not the fault of the Glazers that Erik ten Hag was deploying Wout Weghorst as a No.10 to little effect.

    But Carragher’s point merely underlines how badly United have been run. As Neville said in his reply to Carragher, the owners have only dipped into their pockets and spent big when things have gone badly wrong, pushing through the deals for Casemiro and Antony after the club’s woeful start to the season, when they lost back-to-back matches against Brighton and Brentford. And their frantic spending in the summer led to them being left with no cash for transfer fees in January, forcing them to replace Cristiano Ronaldo with Weghorst on a loan and bring in Marcel Sabitzer as another temporary measure.

    Liverpool, by contrast, snapped up Cody Gakpo for half the amount of money United had spent on Antony, while Arsenal made smart deals for Jorginho and Leandro Trossard. And Arsenal and City did their business early when they signed Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Erling Haaland, respectively, ensuring they were not forced to pay over the odds.

  3. Not enough money to buy a De Gea upgrade
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    Not enough money to buy a De Gea upgrade

    A lack of forward planning has also led to the problems United have had with their goalkeeper. David de Gea has been one of the club’s most important players over the past decade, but is no longer suited to the modern game due to his lack of ability on the ball.

    While City, Arsenal and Liverpool long ago recognised the need for a ball-playing goalkeeper, United kept faith in De Gea thanks to his shot-stopping ability. But his capacity to make world-beating saves is fading, and this season he has made four costly errors leading to the goals.

    His catastrophic error against West Ham saw him equal Hugo Lloris as the most error-prone ‘keeper in the Premier League this season. United, however, are set to renew the Spaniard’s contract as they do not have enough funds to buy a goalkeeper as well as a new top striker.

  4. Lack of transfer expertise

    Lack of transfer expertise

    Even though United’s form has suddenly exposed the squad’s limitations, the problems have not occurred overnight. Their issues are down to years of neglect. Take the fact that the club only hired a sporting director for the first time in March 2021.

    And they decided to promote the relatively unknown John Murtough to the role rather than get an prominent figure. Murtough’s lack of experience in the transfer market was exposed last summer when United persisted in trying to sign Frenkie de Jong when it was clear he wanted to stay at Barcelona, and when he flew to Turin to try and do a deal for Adrien Rabiot, only for the midfielder's wage demands to be too high.

    United also failed to sign Moises Caicedo in 2021 from Independiente del Valle in a low-cost deal. The Ecuador international is now one of the most valuable midfielders in the world. United have instead favoured signing high-profile names such as Casemiro and Ronaldo, quick fixes that create fresh problems down the line when they go past their peak and have little or no sell-on value.

  5. Ronaldo return a symptom of owners vision
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    Ronaldo return a symptom of owners vision

    Ronaldo's return to the club in 2021 summed up the problem with the modern United and how the club has valued style over substance.

    The Portuguese's second coming broke records for social media interactions and sparked a merchandising frenzy. It also conveniently distracted fans from the Glazers' role in the creation of the doomed European Super League. But while Ronaldo scored plenty of goals, his return came at the cost of the team's overall performance, and United picked up their lowest-ever points total in a Premier League season.

    The club spent £25m, plus a reported wage of £500,000-per-week, on a 36-year-old, and 15 months after his much-celebrated return, Ronaldo publicly embarrassed the club in his interview with Piers Morgan, leading to him leaving barely two weeks later. During the interview, Ronaldo highlighted a number of the club's failings under the Glazers, pointing to how their infrastructure paled in comparison to Real Madrid and Juventus.

    Last summer, United had no takers for Ronaldo and their need for a proven striker has been laid bare in recent weeks after failing to take their chances against Tottenham, Brighton and West Ham, with the team relying too much on Marcus Rashford for goals. Had they not spent so much on Ronaldo in 2021, they could have recruited a younger forward last summer who could lead the team's line for years to come, rather than one nostalgic season.

  6. Takeover uncertainty affecting next season's planning
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    Takeover uncertainty affecting next season's planning

    The Glazers' mismanagement of the club has not just affected the team's fortunes in the last few seasons. Their handling of the sale process could have a lasting knock-on effect on the club for the next campaign and possibly longer.

    Despite the family announcing they were exploring "strategic alternatives" in November and inviting takeover or investment bids from interested parties in February, the process has still not been completed almost six months on.

    The uncertainty over whether the Glazers will remain as minority owners or whether United will be owned by INEOS or Qatari billionaire Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani will inevitably be harming the club's planning for next season. April and May are key months for transfer business, but United cannot properly pursue targets when it is not known who will be running the club next season or what their budget will be.

    United's impressive run of results between December and March papered over the cracks in the squad, but the bedraggled state they look in now has highlighted the need for more investment. They need a goalkeeper to challenge for or take De Gea's No.1 spot, a striker who can get them a minimum of 20 goals a season and a young midfielder who can learn alongside Casemiro then take the baton from him.

    The longer the takeover process drags on, the harder it will be to get the players United need to sustain a proper title challenge, which is what the club have to aim for next season. They need owners with a long-term vision and a viable plan for seeing it through - something that the Glazers have proven they are incapable of offering.