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Friday, April 19, 2024

The two problems with Antony that hand Manchester United a new transfer headache

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Football

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They are an eclectic group at Manchester United. Omari Forson, the teenager who has played barely an hour of Premier League football. Facundo Pellistri, farmed out on loan to Granada. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a right-back whose attacking deficiencies are scarcely a secret. Jonny Evans, the 36-year-old centre-back who almost retired last summer. Lisandro Martinez, the centre-back who has been injured for almost all of the campaign.

They form part of the group of players at Old Trafford with one Premier League assist this season. Which, to put it another way, is one more than winger Antony, the diabolical £85m signing from Ajax. The Brazilian’s damning lack of goals has been noted more – on 16 April, he will bring up a year without scoring against any team in the top three divisions – but he hasn’t helped anyone else find the net either.

A sophomore season at Old Trafford has brought different forms of indignity for Antony. Against Fulham, Erik ten Hag used three players on the right wing – the rookie Forson, the No 10 Bruno Fernandes and Amad Diallo – and brought him on in the 99th minute and on the left wing. On Sunday, United were drawing the Manchester derby when Antony came on. They lost 3-1.

They may face different kind of losses where the second most expensive signing in their history is concerned. If Antony has been a footballing problem, he is also a Financial Fair Play problem, a player who could impede a new regime’s ability to reshape the squad.

Because if the recent signs are that even Ten Hag may have given up on Antony, long after everyone else did, it is still likelier that any new manager would not want him. But if it is a statement of the obvious that United will never recoup the £85m they paid Ajax in 2022, the reality is that getting anything under £51m this summer would harm their ability to buy. So, in a different way, would keeping him.

There is a logic to cutting their losses, to recouping whatever amount they can and putting it towards finding a replacement. And yet because transfers are amortised over the length of the contract in the accounts and Antony will be two years into a five-year deal, he will retain a book value of £51m. So if, in some respects, United would do very well to get £30m for such a limited, predictable, unproductive player, whose only goal and assist this season have both come against League Two Newport County, in others, they would do very badly. Sell him for £20m – and who would pay that? – and it is a book loss of £31m that would affect United’s purchasing power.

In part because of Antony, United have spent £400m in Ten Hag’s reign. It gave them very little wiggle room within FFP this season; a new financial year will bring some, but that would be greater with significant sales and lessened if there are losses in the wrong columns. Some of it is not a question of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s wealth or his willingness to buy but of how to get rid of players without writing off huge sums and their own ability to spend.

Because there are troubles with the Ineos billionaire’s inheritance; it limits the room for manoeuvre. He and his new brains trust – Sir Dave Brailsford, Jean-Claude Blanc, Omar Berrada, probably Dan Ashworth, perhaps Dougie Freedman or Jason Wilcox – may have to excel to both get players out and to do so without suffering a significant loss on the Profit and Sustainability Rules balance sheet.

Jim Ratcliffe faces a transfer headache this summer

(AFP/Getty)

If United have not been good enough sellers over the years, they face dual issues now: bringing in money to add to the kitty and ensuring they do not use up their allowance for the 2024-25 year by just disposing of players.

Antony is not the only issue. Casemiro’s £63m cost, and the fact he was signed at 30, means he retains a book value of £31.5m, two years into a four-year deal. He may get suitors, and losing his colossal wages would help United in another respect, but if Saudi Arabia could be the likeliest destination, their clubs have been reluctant to pay such fees. It is harder to imagine anyone else would for a 32-year-old. So if the Brazilian goes, the risk is another loss in the FFP accounts.

Then there is Jadon Sancho, a £73m signing, three years into a five-year deal, meaning United would need to bank £29.2m to break even in the FFP accounts; Ten Hag exiled him and presumably would not want him back. A different manager may take a different approach. Yet if not, Sancho’s loan spell at Borussia Dortmund has brought no goals and one assist so far; it is not enough to rebuild his transfer value.

Antony has been underwhelming since joining Manchester United

(Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Donny van de Beek is on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt; if the German side don’t take up their option to buy him, from an FFP perspective, United would be better off loaning the Dutchman out for the last year of his contract than letting him leave on a free transfer or for a very low fee. They would need to get £7m to break even on the midfielder.

Their easiest way of disposing of players without incurring FFP losses can entail recouping none of the transfer fee: releasing them when their contract expires. This summer, they will definitely lose Anthony Martial and perhaps Raphael Varane, two of the big earners, on free transfers. The £80m buy Harry Maguire’s deal is up in 2025, along with the £50m Wan-Bissaka. Yet none of that would help generate income. And in terms of amortisation, if another manager wanted to sell one of last year’s big signings, such as Andre Onana or Mason Mount, United would have to bring in 80 percent of their purchase price to prevent another loss.

Casemiro could also provide an FFP problem for United

(Getty)

So a club who have spent a fortune could find it counts against them when they try to invest further. A select few in their squad have big value – the homegrown, such as Kobbie Mainoo and Marcus Rashford, would bring more profit in the books than an expensive arrival like Rasmus Hojlund, though there is no prospect of the teenager or the Dane going – but some look trapped in the FFP version of negative equity. And Antony is the face of United’s accounting problem.

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