United thriving with strictly business approach

Posted by Musa Okwonga

It's been an interesting few days for Manchester United, as David Moyes' first UEFA Champions League tie -- and win -- has come at the same time that the club has revealed a set of new financial results. This coincidence has allowed supporters to review the club's on-field and off-field activities at once, and they have been reminded, in both areas, just how thoroughly corporate their club can be.

The club's shortcomings in the transfer market have been remarked upon at length, but on a commercial front it has put up some impressive numbers. United have reported record revenues of £363 million, up by 13.4 percent on last year, and have announced a decrease in their debt by 10 percent, to £389.2 million. They are also looking to expand their activities in the United States, where the club's chief executive Ed Woodward hopes that television earnings will take the club's annual income well beyond the £400 million mark.

For the Glazers, the club's widely despised (thus unsurprisingly reclusive) owners, the figures represent an outstanding return at little risk to their own pockets. It is estimated that, since they acquired the club in 2005, the costs of their highly leveraged takeover have risen to £680 million. Their long-term bet on Manchester United's profitability, thanks in no small part to Sir Alex Ferguson's unique managerial skill, looks like it has paid off.

- Man United announce record revenue

The Glazers' approach, by all appearances, is strictly business. On the pitch against Bayer Leverkusen, the same could be said of Wayne Rooney. Unlike the Glazers, of whom several were suspicious the moment that they arrived at Old Trafford, Rooney's popularity has receded to the point where several see him as little more than a highly productive asset.

There's something unfortunate and perhaps sad about all this, even if he did first attract criticism through his public and private expressions of desire to leave Manchester United. It's difficult, in fact, to think of a player who has been as successful yet as unloved by one club as Rooney. To be the fourth-highest scorer in the club's history -- scoring his 200th goal Wednesday -- yet be unsure of the reception that he would receive at his own testimonial is a damning statement on how far his stock has fallen with the fans.

Some might say that modern football is merely transactional, that supporters should be content with Rooney's return on investment and nothing more. After all, viewed through a Glazer-tinted lens, an asset that produces five Premier League titles, one UEFA Champions League title and two League Cups after an outlay of £27 million has yielded exceptional value.

But supporters don't just invest money in their club. They invest their time, their hope and their passion, and it is an unwritten rule that the players should at least pretend that they are enduring, and sometimes even enjoying, the same emotional journey toward glory. They are not expecting to see Rooney sullenly kicking a can on his way down the Yellow Brick Road.

That's the thing about being in show business: You need to look like you're living the dream, or at least look grateful for it. Yet the situation has at times appeared to be a loveless marriage where Rooney and Manchester United are staying together for the sake of the children.

This, though, is the remarkable thing about Rooney's numbers this season. Despite the rumours over his future, despite missing much or all of games through injury (Liverpool) or selection (Swansea) and despite being subpar as a starter (Crystal Palace), he has produced three goals and three assists. That's an excellent return, especially for a player of whose happiness at Old Trafford Moyes is not entirely sure.

Rooney, to his credit, has made mostly the right noises since the summer, even if he did deal somewhat uncomfortably with that doorstepping of a postmatch interview with ITV's Gabriel Clarke. He is now looking ahead to the derby against Manchester City on Sunday, a fixture in which he has traditionally performed well. Meanwhile, Moyes' retention of his gifted forward is proving as just as important, if not more, as the acquisition of Marouane Fellaini.


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