Manchester United wage structure needs reset after millions wasted

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Marcus Rashford, Casemiro, Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane would be the poster boys in any Sir Jim Ratcliffe whitepaper examining how the Manchester United squad could move to a more modest or even performance-related wage structure.

In the world of elite football, with hyperinflated salaries, performance-related wages are a pipe dream, but imagine if United’s lucrative base salary was slashed and generous incentives based on, for example, the ratio of goals and minutes played.

Related: Antony’s poor form at Manchester United is due to ‘off-field issues’, claims Ten Hag

Because? Because an inconvenient truth for the United executive is that no sensible judge this season could make a credible case for Rashford, the top earner at around £435,000 a week, Casemiro (£430,000), Sancho (£350,000) and Varane (£340,000) giving the club a bang for their generous investment. It is a trend that can be traced across the 11 years since Sir Alex Ferguson led the club to its most recent league title.

The factors range from the misfortune of various injuries and illnesses, to a loss of form, to Sancho’s clash with Erik ten Hag, which culminated in him returning on loan to Borussia Dortmund. All point to financial policy regarding recruitment, contract length and remuneration requiring a reset for United’s long-term financial health.

Within the framework of the aforementioned quartet and many others are Ten Hag, who as a manager has a hiring veto; his predecessor, Ole Gunnar Solskjær; the director of football, John Murtough, whose department has the other veto; Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold, the last two executive directors; and the owners, the Glazers, who until Ratcliffe’s arrival on Christmas Eve signed all the agreements.

As Ratcliffe, the new incoming 25% shareholder, and his top lieutenants, Sir Dave Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc, carry out a structural assessment on how best to fix United, this story of inflated wages is sure to come to light. Injuries and other absences, as well as loss of form, are part of the whims of any team, however the riches paid to the United squad can make these an embarrassing waste when combined with questionable recruitment and deal offers. .

In the five months since the beginning of September, United have paid a minimum of £500,000 in each of the 18 weeks (a total of at least £9 million) to players who were not in the match day squads due to injuries, poor form, illness, private issues or, in Sancho’s case, for disciplinary reasons.

Sancho was, in fact, on strike after rejecting Ten Hag’s demand that he apologize for calling him a liar for claiming the striker was left out of the trip to Arsenal for not training at his level. Including the 3-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium on September 3, the 23-year-old missed 26 games and was paid £9.1 million. Whoever is right about Sancho and Ten Hag, there is no doubt that there has been a breakdown in the basic requirement of not doing anything else to complicate the difficult task of winning games.

From here we move on to Rashford, Varane and Casemiro. Losing form (Rashford and Varane) is as undesirable as getting injured (Varane, again, and Casemiro). However, like Sancho, Ratcliffe can hardly ignore how costly his prolonged absences have been. Should Varane and Casemiro be at the club or earn what they earn? The Ineos owner asked this about the latter during his tour of United last March.

Ratcliffe may also wonder whether it was wise, in July, to make Rashford United the club’s highest-paid player after last season’s 30 goals. A scan of his resume would have shown a patchy record of five goals in 2021-22 and, in previous seasons, 21, 22, 14, 13, 11 and eight goals for a total of 126 in 384 appearances.

Rashford’s campaign so far has been disappointing (he has three goals) and last month Ten Hag sidelined him for four games, from the 2-1 win over Chelsea on December 6 to his return for the win. 3-2 Boxing Day win over Aston Villa (he was sickened by the 1-0 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich during this period).

Over the full five months of the season, Rashford has earned £21.75m and if goals are the metric, a striker is judged by his three, they have cost the club £7.25m each. Taking into account the 26-year-old’s six assists, the price for Rashford’s nine ‘goal actions’ remains undervalued at £2.41m.

There is less science to help judge Casemiro’s on-field performance in midfield but, as Ratcliffe has pointed out, his age could have been weighed against the price and length of the contract – approximately £360,000 per week as a basic salary. , plus 20% for the Champions League. qualification, for four years – and the profile of the selling club.

The Brazilian was 30 years old in the summer of 2022. The fact that Real Madrid were content to let go one of the driving forces behind their last five Champions League triumphs offered a clue that could have alerted Ten Hag and Murtough on his assessment of Casemiro’s prospects.

Evidence from this season suggests that age may be causing a decline in the 31-year-old’s physical robustness. He was ruled out for three games (October 21-29) with an ankle injury and then, after returning for the Newcastle defeat on November 1, suffered a hamstring problem that has yet to be resolved. recovered. Casemiro has been paid £7.3m for 17 games lost.

In the summer of 2021, Real Madrid were happy to allow the then 28-year-old Varane to leave. From September 3 to 26 this season, an injury caused the defender to miss four games, missing another against Brentford on October 7 for what Ten Hag said was a “minor issue”, and was out of the match. XI, overall, during a loss of form for 10 consecutive games, from Manchester City’s defeat at the end of October to Bayern’s defeat on December 12. During the 14 games lost he was paid £4.7 million.

Add the money paid to Sancho, Casemiro and Varane when they were unavailable, plus the price of Rashford’s goals, and the sum rises to £26.5m – a figure that should interest Ratcliffe, who, as incoming manager of United’s football operations (once the Premier League ratifies his purchase) may see this as a useful part of the fee for the elite midfielder, number 9 or centre-back that Ten Hag covets.

For further evidence of United’s dubious value for money deals, consider Antony, who in 2022 became United’s second-highest transfer at £85m and earns £200,000 a week. He was granted a leave of absence in September to address allegations about his private conduct, which he denies, and he did not start seven games. He subsequently missed another seven due to performance reasons and in 21 games this season the striker has not scored a goal. Anthony Martial has made just seven starts this season and scored twice for his £250,000-a-week wages.

No player wants to miss games due to injury, illness, loss of form or anything else. But in an era of financial fair play, Ratcliffe will surely wish that United’s wage structure, contracts and recruitment weren’t so costly if any of this were to happen.

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