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As Glazers cash in with share sale, Man United opening day loss shows need to spend on stars

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LONDON - With new investors to attract and a team in need of strengthening to appease disgruntled fans, it's a busy August at Manchester United as England's biggest club tries to push deals over the line on two fronts.

In Manchester, new manager Louis van Gaal has been evaluating the state of his squad after a sobering loss to Swansea — United's first defeat at home on the opening day in 42 years. Just two weeks remain for Van Gaal and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward to convince players to join a team in transition, out of the Champions League and facing a fight to return there.

In financial institutions this month, the task for United's leadership is highlighting the club's robustness and downplaying any turmoil in the post-Alex Ferguson era following the team's collapse under David Moyes last season.

"Manchester United is the most watched club with the biggest fanbase", a presentation being shown on the investor roadshow declares.

The Glazer family, which controls United, announced last month that it was selling another 12 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The six children of the recently deceased Malcolm Glazer will raise $196 million while retaining more than 80 per cent of the voting power.

Watching the Glazers cash in, following a 2005 leveraged takeover that has cost the club around $1.2 billion in finance costs, has proved particularly galling for some fans after the 2013 champions finished seventh in May.

Success, though, has been measured by other factors in the last year at Old Trafford. Take slide nine of that investor presentation. No major trophy was collected in 2013-14 but it did take "22 days to become the biggest Premier League club" on photo-sharing platform Instagram.

Fans have struggled to reconcile their 136-year-old club's heritage and the capitalist motives of the Floridian owners whose affinity to United is to the brand's money-making abilities. Slide 17 underscores this when United is called a "leading global marketing platform," enabling sponsors to have an "association with success."

Even after last season's despondency, Adidas signed a 10-year kit deal worth around $1.3 billion from 2015 on top of a seven-year $559 million shirt sponsorship with Chevrolet that has just started.

Woodward has been so keen to reassure fans that the owners are not just milking the club of cash that he boasted in July: "We're not afraid of spending significant amounts of money ... we are in a very strong financial position."

That's been clear throughout 2014, but the wisdom of the spending is less so.

Signing Juan Mata in January for a club-record 37.1 million pounds (then $61 million) briefly raised morale under Moyes. But the midfielder couldn't hold down a regular place at Chelsea and would go on to play just once at the World Cup — in Spain's group-stage finale having already been eliminated.

The much-vaunted summer transfer window arrivals aren't established international players, yet both Luke Shaw and Ander Herrara commanded fees of around $50 million.

Patrice Evra, one of three veteran defenders to leave in the off-season, was replaced with 19-year-old left back Shaw. When the three-times-capped Englishman joined from Southampton in June, he had appeared just once at the World Cup — like Mata, in the final group game with England unable to advance.

Herrara, signed from Athletic Bilbao, is a central midfielder who at 25 is yet to make a senior international appearance for Spain.

The challenge is convincing world-class players to join at an uncertain period in the 20-time English champions' history with no Champions League football on offer this season — and potentially in the following campaign unless the team returns to the Premier League's top four.

United has an admirable commitment to promoting talent from its academy, although to shareholders they are deemed players "carried on the balance sheet at zero book value." One of the refashioned back three on Saturday was Tyler Blackett, making his first-team debut at 20 in an unaccustomed defensive formation alongside Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.

Hardly a trio of names to instil fear yet into opponents to win titles or indeed plaster on the side of noodles in Malaysia, wine in Chile or credit cards in the United Arab Emirates in the Glazers' pursuit of global sponsorship riches. Revenue rose to another club-record of around 430 million pounds ($727 million) for the year to June 30, 2014.

Despite Van Gaal questioning the commercial demands during the pre-season slog across the United States, fans won't be able to count on the former Netherlands and Barcelona coach joining their anti-Glazer protests.

In fact, the 2-1 home collapse to Swansea on Saturday might have reinvigorated the anti-Glazer campaign online, but the years of glory under Ferguson eradicated much of the desire to expose a sustained public front.


Rob Harris can be followed at

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