Despite looking like they’ll end this season in the Champions League places, the illustrious history of Manchester United means that many see the last two years as a particularly low point in their history. Things were always going to be difficult following the exit of Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of the 2012/13 season, but few expected the fall from grace that so swiftly and forcefully followed.
David Moyes was seen as a more than competent replacement and was chosen by Ferguson himself. Cut to the end of that season, however, and Man Utd would finish 7th, out of the European places and with their worst finish of the Premier League era. This left many asking – is the empire finally falling? Was the place once dubbed The Theatre of Dreams actually producing nightmares?
Those were questions posed and ones which, as yet, remain unanswered. However, recent revelations have proved that, where their performances on the pitch may have continued to suffer, their brand certainly hadn’t. In the same season as their worst league finish of the last quarter century, Man Utd posted a record annual revenue of £433.2 million in the year 2014. Given that the club had lost the substantial income normally brought in every season by regular participation in the Champions League, this was no mean feat. But perhaps it was another revelation of the monetary kind which proved exactly how strong the pulling power of the Red Devils still is.
Statistics released by Mike Ashley-owned Sports Direct showed that none other than Angel Di Maria, United’s £59 million pound Argentinian signing had topped their replica shirt sales for the season 2014/15 so far. Proof, if any were needed, that image and brand can really sell. Di Maria undoubtedly started well on arrival in the Premier League but has hardly set it alight when the season is considered as a whole. I hear what many of you may be thinking though – it doesn’t matter what club Di Maria plays for. He was a star of the most recent FIFA World Cup and one of the rising stars in world football in the last 10 years. But look at the rest of the top 10. No less than 5 are Man United players. This includes David De Gea, the only goalkeeper to make the grade. Often an unglamorous position with few admirers, goalkeeping tops are amongst the lowest selling, so to make the top 10 is some achievement. It’s doubtful De Gea would have made that list if he wasn’t between the sticks at Old Trafford, ability (remarkable as it is) aside. As if to further prove the point, 3-goal-man and all-round expensive flop Falcao still manages to make the list, outselling none other than Segio Aguero, Steven Gerrard and United teammate Robin Van Persie.
Some may scoff at the significance of shirt sales, of course. Small change, you may think, in comparison to the TV deals, transfer fees and other wads of cash flying around in today’s game. But the truth is, in a game where image is everything, where players have the rights to their likenesses written into contracts for the sake of protecting potential financial reward, shirt sales are becoming a more important part of the to-and-fro of finance in football. The first memorable instance of shirt sales being an integral part of a player transfer was in the transfer of David Beckham from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2003. Brand Beckham was already in full swing and Real Madrid acknowledged this, with Adidas stating that Real Madrid shirt sales rose 350% in the year after Beckham’s transfer. Beckham, himself, used this to his advantage, taking the number 23 in an attempt to piggy-back on some of the marketing opportunities exploited by Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player. There’s no doubt the tactic paid off for Brand Beckham. In fact, throughout his career, it’s thought Beckham’s shirt sales exceeded £1 BILLION, with French club Paris St Germain making a staggering £15 million from shirt sales alone in Beckham’s 6 month stint at the club.
The phenomenon continues today and is a serious consideration for clubs seeking to recoup the ever-increasing transfer fees being spent. Real Madrid again, though, seem to have this down to a fine art. It’s believed sales of James Rodriguez shirts brought in £21 million pounds in revenue in just two days after he signed. Furthermore, its believed sales of replica Cristiano Ronaldo shirts have. alone, exceeded the £80 million fee paid for the Portuguese star. Ronaldo, like Beckham, has built a brand around it, using his shirt number and initials to create the ‘CR7’ brand.
S0 there you have it. Shirt sales may once have meant nothing – but today? Today, they mean a lot. The dominance of Manchester United over the market over the past two years proves that, despite a poor spell in an otherwise trophy-littered history, they still have that special something. They have that elusive quality of invincibility and attractiveness that others around them have tried to buy. Sure, there have been high profile instances over the years where players have resisted the strong pull of Old Trafford. Alan Shearer opted to join his boyhood club, Newcastle United, for a record £15 million in the summer of 1996, instead of heading to Manchester. And we all know how close Paul Gascoigne came to pulling on the famous red shirt. But the fact remains, Manchester United have always been a club with the ability to attract the very best and there’s no doubt that statistics show that attraction remains, not just for the players wearing the shirt, but also for the fans buying it. With European football in the not-so-distant future, the excuse that ‘not being in the Champions League’ will stop players heading there will cease. Manchester United may have taken a knock or two since Sir Alex left. They may have been mourning what’s been lost. But Premier League opponents need to be wary – they’ve been licking their wounds, hibernating and recovering. And all the while, the till has kept ringing, lining the coffers of a club all but ready to bounce back. Something tells me a return to old ways may be on the cards as soon as next season – and Jose, Manuel and Brendan may get a lot more than they bargained for.
Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.