Once seen as one of the most dominant football club in the world, Manchester United has struggled to replicate its successful history in recent years despite spending over £1 billion in the transfer market.
Old Trafford’s theatre of dreams has rapidly fallen to old nightmares and at the heart of the club’s failure on the pitch is the dire financial situation that they have thrown themselves into.
£80 million players have been disappointing from the start and red carpet multi-million signings have been allowed to exit out of the back door for pennies.
Now with United in substantial debts, Financial Fair Play is lurking close behind waiting to see if the Red Devils will sink or to swim away from this worrying period.
But how much can Manchester United spend in the upcoming transfer window? And how does this affect their position in terms of Financial FairPlay?
Manchester United’s FFP Report
Despite being the fourth-highest revenue-generating professional football club in European football, Manchester United Football Club are dangerously close to breaking Financial Fair Play rules and may soon be suffering the consequences.
The UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations are a set of rules created by UEFA in 2009 with the aim to prevent European football clubs from overspending beyond their generated revenue in order to avoid financial calamity and unsolvable debt.
Although United have seen an incredible 23% increase in financial turnover in 2023, their outgoing expenditure and lack of success on the football pitch are cause for concern when Financial Fair Play is looking through the curtains. Last season, the Red Devils made a pre-tax loss of £115.5million – seeing the club lose almost £2million per week.
Since Financial Fair play was created to ensure that clubs avoid heavy financial losses and ran sustainably, United will certainly be looking over their shoulder for a potential FFP investigation in the near future.
Are Manchester United in Trouble with FFP?
In uncertain terms, Manchester United will be in serious danger of attracting an investigation from Financial Fair Play if they are unable to lower their outgoing costs in the near future.
Simply put, United’s rising wage bills, inflated transfer spending, and lack of additional European funding from competition qualifications could put them in the direct firing line of FFP
As an English heavyweight club supported worldwide, United are often expected to push for top European football in the form of the UEFA Champions League each season while challenging for silverware in the domestic competitions. Unfortunately for the club’s supporters, this expectation has become more of a hope in recent years, with Manchester United struggling to qualify for Champions League football and suffering disappointing losses in the English domestic competitions over the past ten years.
A lack of success on the pitch runs parallel with a lack of revenue off the pitch, such is the modern world of football. By failing to qualify for the Champions League, United have missed out on a share of the £2.5 billion that is generated by the Champions League broadcasting and shared amongst the clubs who have qualified.
How Much Can Manchester United Spend in 2023/24?
In keeping with the laws of Financial Fair Play, Manchester United can spend as much as they can generate sustainably, however, the rising debt that the club has found itself in may limit the Red Devils from making £100 million transfer signings as they have done in previous transfer windows.
The growing reports that British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani are the two parties bidding to take control of the club would likely mean that a majority of the club’s debts would be cleared if purchased in a takeover. With the clearance of debt and the consistent revenue generated by the club, United would be able to sustainably afford multi-million-pound transfers, develop facilities and continue to offer higher wages than their opponents. This of course rests on whether the club is purchased in the rumoured takeover.
Newcastle United is the most recent club to see the effect of a financial takeover with the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) purchasing the club in 2021. The Magpies have since spent over €300 million since the purchase of the club, while their success on the pitch has seen them finish one place behind Manchester United in the 2022-23 season. If the Red Devils were purchased by either Sir Jim Ratcliffe or Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, they could be set for an exciting few years in the transfer windows.
United will also be able to reinvest any finances gained from the sales of current players, with several of the United first-team expected to leave the club in the summer transfer window. The gain of incoming transfer fees coupled with the decrease in player wages would allow Manchester United to sign new players or reinvest the money into upgrading facilities without breaching any FFP regulations.
Manchester United’s Finances
From a financial standpoint, Manchester United can be seen as a poorly run company given that they are financially in debt equalling nearly €650 million. Compare this to the fact that the club is one of the highest revenue-generating clubs in the world (4th ranking) and it is easy to see why many supporters, pundits, and broadcasters have questioned the financial management behind one of the biggest hitters of the footballing world.
In 2021 alone the club’s debts rose from £477.1 million in December 2021 to £535.7 million, further highlighting the rapid rise of the club’s outgoings while trying to compete at the top level of European football.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired from the management of Manchester United in 2013, the players’ overall salaries has increased by 66% with the Red Devils having the highest wage bill in the Premier League at £384 million per year – a £60 million increase from last season. Alongside this, United have seen a severe drop in broadcasting revenue having failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League in previous seasons as well as overspent on several player transfers – their costs are rising faster than their income and the still impressive-looking revenue streams have failed to keep pace with an unmatchable rise of wage bills and transfer signings.
Manchester United’s Profit and Loss
In the 2021-22 season, Manchester United saw an overall loss of £115.5 million, the highest financial loss of any season in the club’s history. Since 2016, the club has only profited once at the end of a financial year with the 2017-18 season seeing them end with a £19.9 million profit.
What makes this consistent loss more surprising is the ever-increasing revenue that Manchester United gained. Matchday revenue rose to £111 million per year while broadcast revenue also climbed to a record £583 million per year, making United the club with the fourth-highest generated revenue in the world.
This growing revenue has been canceled out by Manchester United’s financial outgoings, which running parallel with the profits, has seen the club lose almost £2 million per week in the 2021-22 season.
Manchester United’s Transfer Net Spend Year-by-Year
A significant area of Manchester United’s rapid financial decline has certainly been the club’s business in the transfer market. Since 2016, the club has spent over £1 billion on incoming transfers while winning zero league titles in the process.
In three of the last four seasons, United have spent over £100 million on new players with the net spend at an all-time high. Their failure to receive any high transfer fees for outgoing players has also impacted the club significantly as they have lost value in the majority of players signed for over £40 million since 2016.
The notable over-priced transfers include the €80 million signing of defender Harry Maguire, the €84 million signing of striker Romelu Lukaku, and the €105 million signing of midfielder Paul Pogba – who was allowed to leave the club on a free transfer at the start of the 2022-23 season.
What is the Financial Situation of Manchester United?
With €650 million worth of debt, the fourth highest revenue stream in European football, and the potential for a £5 billion takeover in 2023, Manchester United’s financial situation is nothing to boast over but it could be corrected soon.
After qualifying for Champions League football in the 2022-23 Premier League campaign, the additional income from broadcast revenue will increase their streams for the 2023-24 season greatly. A higher revenue stream, which will likely reach roughly £700 million, may see Manchester United finish the 2023-24 campaign with a much-improved profit/loss figure than their current estimated loss which is at £80 million.
The potential for an ownership takeover would also help reduce or clear debts that the club currently have with British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani both rumored to be interested in buying the club. The clearance of the club’s considerable debts would allow United to move away from the uncomfortable edge of a potential Financial Fair Play investigation and further provide the club with a more sustainable way to increase spending.
The transfer market may be a key area for Manchester United in terms of achieving financial stability in both signing new players to achieve on-pitch success while also selling/releasing current players to trim down an already inflated wage bill. United currently has the highest player wage bill in the Premier League at £384 million which, if lowered through player sales, would free up some useful funds for future signings that can help improve the club potentially compete for the title in upcoming seasons.