Opinion: Newcastle’s new owners have learned the lessons of the Glazers’ Manchester United disaster

Manchester United face Newcastle United and the comparison in their approach illustrates why the Glazers have struggled.

During Alex Ferguson’s time at the club, the billionaire owners managed to get away with their lack of knowledge. His authority and charisma was enough to draw out what he needed from some brilliant players, some veterans, and even some rank mediocrities.

He imbued his team with a sense of inevitability that saw other sides roll over when – in the years to come – they would instead fancy their chances of victory.

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Ferguson’s contacts and negotiating skills also allowed him to operate over and above his financial abilities. He could coerce players like Robin van Persie to join even when Man City were the better backed side. He could find bargains like Javier Hernandez through his brother and other scouts. When he left, an ephemeral infrastructure departed and needed to be rebuilt.

Manchester United’s Robin van Persie celebrates after scoring a penalty with manager Alex Ferguson (Reuters)

Image credit: Reuters

Coaches, scouts, and negotiators had to step up, and instead they got Ed Woodward and Phil Neville.

The longer the club failed to tackle the fundamental problems to do with administration, the more the wrong candidates were appointed and the wrong players were bought for them. At this point, there simply isn’t enough money on the internet to host a full list of transfer disasters since Ferguson left.

Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez and others have been and gone, promising much from the past and delivering almost nothing in the presence. Managers of standing such as Jose Mourinho and Ralf Rangnick had at least some of the qualities to succeed, and instead they left with their reputations diminished after struggling against the tide of rot getting in their way.

Only now does it seem that the club are close to even realising they are in trouble. John Murtough and Darren Fletcher are hardly a glistening brains trust, but the fact their roles now exist is a step forward. Woodward, a man not known for identifying talent, is no longer there to interfere in buying players. There is still panic – see the late dash for Casemiro and Antony – but the players they have bought are actually talented.

But Erik ten Hag is still struggling. Players like Aaron Wan-Bissaka are clearly unsuited to modern football and have been unable to kick on to make the most of their promise. Fred and Scott McTominay should not be near squads with title ambition, but there is no way to manage the demands of a full season. The club have paid out a billion pounds in transfer fees and could credibly finish below Newcastle United this season.

The North East side’s source of funding can, of course, be criticised. That source is ultimately a country that has attracted regular and severe criticism due to its abuse of human rights both home and abroad. While some Newcastle fans endorse that source, some also oppose it, and the following comparison is not an endorsement of the country itself.

With that necessary caveat out the way, there is a point to be made about the club’s football activities. So far they have elected to avoid the quickest way to waste money: splash out on big names who are willing to compromise. Players like Neymar, Aaron Ramsey and Arthur Melo were all offered up by their clubs this season, but instead Newcastle have been assiduously adding players who would not trouble Financial Fair Play, and who would improve over the coming years.

Bruno Guimaraes, Sven Botman and Alexander Isak are all examples of players who have the talent to make the difference now, are making the move to a bigger club, and carry no reputation for trouble making. For the moment, they are likely happy to regard Newcastle’s interest as a sign their career is going in a positive direction rather than entering a well-remunerated decline. Contrast that with United’s previous lunges for Radamel Falcao or their failed, desperate pursuit for Frenkie de Jong. Eddie Howe and those in charge of transfers have clearly decided that they are content to become better slowly rather than embrace chaos instantly.

For now, that means that a tilt at the title is years away, but they are so far on a sustainable upwards curve. United have arrested their flatlining, yes, but there is every chance they will be caught by those at St James’ Park in the coming years.

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