Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Manchester United are a blunt force

  • Off the pitch, Manchester United remain the biggest commercial attraction
  • On the pitch it is a different story with the current side far adrift of the leaders
  • To get world class stars, United will need to offer pay packets bigger than rivals 

It is a pity that Manchester United are not in the market for high-end commercial people this summer, because they would have them queuing around the block.

In that field, United remain football's biggest attraction - but players are what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs right now, and they're more of a problem.

Manchester United are currently fronting up an advertising campaign for Remington shavers. Remington are a famous name. 'Est. New York 1937' says their branding, but the company actually dates back to E. Remington & Sons, a gun manufacturer from 1816.

Manchester United are unbeatable off the pitch but are simply second best on the pitch

This Remington branched out into typewriters and were first to use the QWERTY keyboard which is standard today. Subsequently, the Remington brand broke up across several markets.

Still, it's an instantly recognisable sell, particularly now they are the 'official electrical styling partner of Manchester United'.

See what they did there, though? Left a door open to cut a deal with another firm for wet shavers. United are smart like that. They break their commercial contracts up into individual products, and then individual countries and continents.

Who are Manchester United's soft drink partners? Well, that depends where you are. In Nigeria, it's CHI; in China, it's Uni-President; in Indonesia, it's You C1000.

It's brilliant. Manchester United are the market leaders in monetising their commercial arm. If there was a league table for that, they'd be winning it by 30 points.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

Led by Ed Woodward off the pitch, Manchester United are one of the best in the business

So if, this transfer window, the club needed to recruit teams of suits, it would be a cinch. That they need a squad capable of restoring them to the pinnacle of English football is more of an issue, because United are no longer market leaders in football.

The Remington advert — 'The story of you' is the slogan, whatever that means — shows three Manchester United players sculpted and ready for business in their red and black strips.

Chris Smalling holds up a shaver, flanked by Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. They look like masters of the athletic universe. Of course, if that image depicted United as it really is now, one of them would be covered in shaving cuts, blood and bits of soggy tissue paper, another would have a patchy six-day growth where he simply couldn't be bothered and a third would be telling anyone who would listen that he prefers Braun. It's a mess.

Speaking before the latest disappointment, at Huddersfield, Solskjaer said that he thought United could still attract world-class talent, even without Champions League football.

'You'd be surprised how many agents have been touting their players, telling us they would love to be part of United in the future,' he said. 

Of course, that was before a year in the Europa League — and, potentially, a campaign that starts in its second qualifying round on July 25 — was part of that future. Interesting to hear if the phone is still ringing this morning. If it is, what those conversations will sound like when it comes down to brass tacks.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail
Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

Despite dipping in and out of the Champions League, United managed to pay big for top stars 

For there is a way for United to attract world-class players — but it is the same way they have done it in previously underwhelming seasons. They pay through the nose for them.

The summer that the club brought in Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they were also only offering Europa League football. It came with a premium. Romelu Lukaku rejected Chelsea for United the summer after the club had finished 24 points behind them and, again, it cost.

The day Alexis Sanchez chose United over Manchester City they were 12 points and 19 goals behind, and quite obviously second best. So United made it a financial call. What other option did they have?

Solskjaer said that players know because of United's size and potential they will eventually return to the good days, but that isn't true. Other clubs are growing in stature, and economic strength, too.

Solskjaer is naive if he thinks the agents who are touting players around Old Trafford are not making the same calls to Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, who will all be offering Champions League football next season.

Arsenal as well — if they can win the Europa League. And many of those clubs are engaged in rebuilding projects of their own, except with firmer existing foundations, and clearer visions. Bigger managerial reputations, too. Solskjaer may be a legend at Old Trafford, but beyond?

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United have spent £686.7million trying to build a title team

United's transfer market is global, meaning Solskjaer may be going up against the draw of Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid for players. And that's the nub of it: because if United intend replacing one set of marquee names with others, this can only pan out as another expensive gamble.

Manchester United have spent £686.7million on players since Sir Alex Ferguson stood down, and nobody is any the wiser about direction or strategy. Even the shortlist for director of football is inconsistent. What do Mike Phelan, Edwin van der Sar and Rio Ferdinand have in common, apart from that they used to play for Manchester United?

Where is the philosophy, other than turning the clock back to the good old days of the Stone Roses and Manchester United teams who knew what they were about and what they stood for.

'We're Manchester United, we'll do what we want,' the fans used to sing. Except that's not true, any more. Everything they do, these days, needs paying for — and, unlike Remington shavers, never at a discount.

Trips to Barca must be earned 

The strongest argument against the proposed changes to the Champions League was right there on your television screens on Sunday. Manchester United and Arsenal. Useless. Why would you want them in an elite tournament?

We can add AC Milan to that, or any other underachieving super club from across Europe with a heightened sense of entitlement. Josep Maria Bartomeu, president of Barcelona, is the latest to throw his weight behind the idea of a Champions League closed shop.

A sealed-off league for an elite cabal, with entry coming from the Europa League. The same tired old names and faces, engaged in endless repetitive fixtures, overblown and frequently meaningless. That is the vision, however they dress it up.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is the latest to back Champions League changes

'When we played Manchester United it was the first time they'd been here in 11 years,' said Bartomeu. 'Liverpool was the first since 2006. It can't be that we play many games, but not against teams like Liverpool and United.'

Why, if they're not good enough? It's not right to talk as if Barcelona and United never meet because, across those 11 years, they played twice in Champions League finals, in 2009 and 2011. In 2014-15, United did not qualify for Europe at all. In 2016-17 they only made the Europa League. In 2011-12 and 2015-16 they did not progress beyond the group stage.

So in six of the 11 seasons the teams either played, or United were palpably inferior. In the five when United got out of their group but avoided Barcelona, they were eliminated in the last 16 twice and the quarter-finals three times. They haven't gone beyond the last eight in eight seasons. So why should they get to play Barcelona?

The same with Liverpool, whose 10 years between visits to the Nou Camp included two seasons without European football, two more in the Europa League, two when they did not progress from the group stage and another when they exited in the last 16. The rest? Well, that's the luck of the draw. 

The idea that Barcelona are entitled to host the Premier League's biggest clubs, worthy or not, is the opposite of the competitive ideal. It doesn't matter whether you're good. It just matters that you're rich. 

However across Europe right now, there are a lot of wealthy, useless clubs, looking to get a free pass from this carve-up.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

Manchester United should not be given a divine right to play Barcelona due to the club's size

Going into Tuesday night's match with Bologna, AC Milan were six points behind fourth-placed Atalanta. In Spain, Sevilla and Valencia trail fourth-placed Getafe. So why should these new clubs be denied their place in the Champions League because of wealth or past achievement?

Atalanta are top scorers in Serie A, a bold, attacking team, with more touches in the opposition penalty area than any club in the league. Right now, they deserve the chance to play Barcelona next season, not moribund, entitled AC Milan.

Imagine if Leicester had pulled off the greatest title win in history, only to be told they could not take their place in the Champions League, because an inadequate Manchester United team had to play their yearly mismatch with Barcelona.

It is the scarcity of European pairings that make them special and memorable. If each season United were soundly beaten at the Nou Camp where is the appeal? Audiences would dwindle, as they do for the group stage now UEFA's money has created two distinct tiers.

We have already seen what the repetition of a supposedly elite fixture looks like, if the teams are ill-matched. Between February 19, 2013 and March 7, 2017, Arsenal and Bayern Munich met eight times. The games were competitive at first - in 2013, Arsenal won 2-0 in Munich but went out on away goals, having lost the first leg 3-1 - but quickly grew stale as the direction of the teams diverged.

Their last three meetings had the same scoreline: 5-1 to Bayern Munich. After the most recent one, Munich tweeted: 'Can we play you every week?' Yes, if the super elite get their way — but don't expect anybody to care.

Ditching Ramsey will prove to be a grave mistake

Mark Hughes didn't want to sign for Barcelona in 1986. Even on the plane he was looking for a way out. Aaron Ramsey's tearful farewell to Arsenal on Sunday suggests much the same about his move to Juventus. 

Nobody would have imagined he was going to play for one of the greatest clubs in the world as a team-mate of Cristiano Ronaldo. 

He looked utterly heartbroken. Arsenal haven't got enough players who care deeply to shed one who does. What a mistake his exit has been.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

Aaron Ramsey's tearful exit from Arsenal showed he was heartbroken to be leaving the club

Don't mourn Notts County

When a club with the history of Notts County falls out of the league, it is understandable that there is sympathy. Yet not even the oldest club in the world has the right to maintain its position in perpetuity.

Notts County have had 25 managers in 10 years — that level of ineptitude is eventually going to take a toll.

Meanwhile, in their place will come the winners of the play-off between Salford City and Fylde. Salford are part-owned by a collection of the finest footballers this country has produced; Fylde rose from the merger of Kirkham Town and Wesham in 1988.

Neither have enjoyed league status or have a history like Notts County's, yet they appear considerably better run. That is the story of football.

If famous old clubs could never fall, no new teams could rise. It is a sad day for County's fans, but sport thrives on change.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

Relegation to non-league is sad for Notts County supporters but sport thrives on changes

Maurizio Sarri admitted he erred in playing N'Golo Kante against Watford, after the player suffered a hamstring injury caused by fatigue. He is out this week — and might even miss the Europa League final on May 29, if Chelsea get there. 

This could have been a huge blow, had Kante played in his best position this season. As it is: meh. 

Hales fiasco shames ECB

In the end, Eoin Morgan made plain what the ECB should have known all along: Alex Hales showed a disregard for team culture with his second positive test for recreational drugs, and his place in the England team was untenable.

If Hales is telling the truth and a senior ECB official previously offered assurances that his indiscipline would not affect his international selection, then the dismissals should not stop there — particularly as the sporting side of the organisation seemed to be the last to know the details.

It would not be the first time ECB administrators were more worried about legal ramifications than the responsibilities and principles of team play — but it should be the last.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail

The fiasco of Alex Hales' second failed test for recreational drugs should shame the ECB

Quite incredible that some see it as a blessing that Everton have missed out to Wolves, were Europa League qualification to go to seventh place. If a club of Everton's size and potential cannot handle European football, what's the point?

Ajax home is no fortress

Ajax last won a home Champions League match on October 23 this season. They last won a home game in a Champions League knockout round on March 20, 1996 - and while history may be bunk, Ajax's results at home in Europe this season suggest they are a better counter-attacking unit away.  

They have the advantage on Wednesday night, of course — but Tottenham can very much travel in hope.

Razor-sharp off the pitch but on it Man United are a blunt force - Daily Mail