It’s been a long time since Man United were in the Champions League, but it’s not too late for them. They’ve made a solid start to the Premier League campaign and will want to keep their good form up before challenging for European glory again next season.
Manchester United need to progress in the Champions League this season. They have a super-Equalizer, but they will not be able to justify it if they do not make it into the next round of the competition. Read more in detail here: is manchester united out of champions league.
4:00 p.m. ET
Dawson, Rob Correspondent
When Manchester United released their financial results earlier this month, Richard Arnold, the club’s new CEO, claimed, “We are adopting a plan to win and we will develop a culture of excellence via a world class football environment.” It was the latest iteration of a topic that has grown all too common during their investor conference calls. Best in class, world-beating, outstanding, record-breaking… yet it’s been ringing hollow for a decade now.
United will try to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League — the world’s best club tournament — for the third time since 2011 when they face Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. Excellence? That’s not even close. They aren’t shy about claiming to be the world’s largest football club — a banner on the website put up expressly for investors even states, “Manchester United is the No.1 club in the No.1 sport” — but there hasn’t been much to back it up on the field.
United has only won two knockout fixtures in the Champions League in the ten seasons since reaching the final in 2011: against Olympiakos in 2014 and Paris Saint-Germain in 2019. (For comparison, Chelsea has won 10 Champions League knockout matches in the same time frame, while Manchester City and Liverpool have each won nine.) And that’s just in terms of Premier League opponents.)
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When questioned about their recent record, Brazilian defender Alex Telles replied, “Of course it’s a surprise.” “Every competition United enters, they must focus on winning.” We haven’t been satisfied with our performance in recent years, but we’ve worked extremely hard to improve, and I believe we have a chance to do so this year.
“To alter this, we need to work hard and win games, and tomorrow is our chance to do so.”
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Man United believes they belong in a group of super-clubs including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Juventus (many of which also invested in the European Super League endeavor of 2021), despite the fact that Real Madrid has won 24 Champions League knockout matches since 2011. Bayern Munich isn’t far behind with 22 points. United was fourth in the 2016 Deloitte Money League, which ranks teams by income, after Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, but they are nowhere near the top in terms of pure sport.
Atletico Madrid is rated 13th, yet they have won two domestic championships and reached the Champions League final thrice in the last decade. It’s the type of success United can only dream of right now. It isn’t for a lack of effort, either.
United has spent £1.4 billion on transfers in the last ten years, behind only Chelsea (£1.6 billion) and Manchester City (£1.5 billion), but ahead of Liverpool (£1 billion) and Arsenal (£1 billion). The salary cost for 2021 was £323 million, which was less than Manchester City (£355 million) and Chelsea (£333 million), but greater than Liverpool (£314 million).
If Man United want to live up to its off-field aspirations of being one of the sport’s largest and most successful clubs, they must progress in the Champions League. Manchester United/Ash Donelon/Getty Images
There are genuine concerns to be raised about the club’s owners, the Glazer family, who bought the team in a leveraged purchase in 2005 and put it into debt. They routinely draw out tens of millions in dividend payments without investing any of their own money, and they’ve remained virtually nameless during their time at Old Trafford, although United has consistently underperformed its financial power for years.
Paul Pogba, a midfielder, has reached the point where he is willing to reject down one of the most expensive contracts the club has ever given in order to go on a free transfer in the summer and pursue titles elsewhere. Since his return as the most expensive player in the world in 2016, he has won the League Cup and the Europa League, both of which are considered subsidiary tournaments by anyone’s standards.
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday night’s match against Atletico Madrid in Manchester, United are at a fork in the road.
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Football director John Murtough noted on the same investor call as Arnold two weeks ago that the next permanent manager, who will take over in the summer, must get the club “back to fighting for domestic and European crowns,” but that’s easier said than done. United is now in fifth place in the Premier League rankings, barely missing out on a place in the Champions League next season. Manchester City and Liverpool lead by 19 and 16 points, respectively, and history predicts the margin will widen further by the conclusion of the season. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last victory in 2013, United has finished an average of 22 points behind the winners.
It’s no surprise that some of the individuals Murtough is considering for the top post are wary of putting their reputations on the line in order to meet the club’s high goals.
Even if a revised Champions League structure offers them a more secure road, there is no fast answer for a decade of deterioration. For the time being, interim manager Ralf Rangnick says all he wants United to do when they meet Atletico Madrid is “prove we can compete with the greatest clubs” after so long in the Champions League wilderness. It’s a long way from Arnold’s lofty expectations of a bright future, but a quarterfinal appearance would put them one step closer to reclaiming their spot at Europe’s top table.
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