Barcelona’s visit to Old Trafford has tightened the rope within the club with the most fans in the United Kingdom. The owners, the American brothers Joel and Avram Glazer, pull the cable on one side, while the trainer, the Dutchman Erik ten Hag, pulls the other. The possibility of conflict beats strongly before a day marked with enthusiasm by the fans. Ten Hag craves the prestige that beating Barça confers. But the owners have asked him through his internal intermediaries to put the substitute team, rule out the Europa League, and concentrate his forces on the Premier and on winning the League Cup final next Sunday.
The Glazers’ reasoning is purely financial. According to United sources, the club lost 250 million euros for failing to qualify for the Champions League last season. He finished 6th in the Premier League, out of the top four with access to the highest European competition. The coup resulted in losses of about 100 million euros, exactly the amount that shareholders would have pocketed in profit if the club had qualified for the Champions League. The Glazers don’t want to lose money again. They aspire to win the League – in the club they quantify the chances of victory at 5% – or, at least, to enter the most important UEFA competition, the one that multiplies the income linked to image and sponsorship rights. For that they must concentrate all their efforts on the Premier.
They say in the English club that the companies that sponsor United introduce specific clauses in their contracts. In case of not qualifying for the Champions League, payments are reduced by an average of 30%. The presence of the club in the Europa League not only does not result in greater contributions from the sponsors, but money remains. Under the prism of the big brands that seek publicity in soccer, the Europa League is, for an expert from a US consultancy that advises United, “like a low-quality brand.” The guarantee that you enter a category in which to win the Champions League or the Premier is chimerical. Villarreal and Sevilla, recent champions of the Europa League, serve as an example to the advisers of the Glazers. The Europa League may boost other types of institutions, but not United, the richest team on Earth and the most powerful in the Premier until a decade ago.
All of this has been explained to Ten Hag by the Glazers through repeated messages sent along a chain of five to seven links, each a middle officer in the conduit from the Glazers’ offices in Florida and New York, to Ten Hag’s booth in Carrington. The coach has received the information undaunted, despite being alerted that the team —third in the Premier League standings with 49 points— has a tough fight ahead in defending its position. Tottenham (42), Newcastle (41) and Liverpool (35 points with two fewer games) can rise strongly with 14 games to go.
Wan-Bisaka and Malacia, graceful at the Camp Nou
United’s technical secretariat identifies as eleven starting De Gea; Shaw, Lindelof, Varane, Dalot; Casemiro, Sabitzer, Bruno Fernandes; Antony, Rashford and Garnacho. In the first leg at the Camp Nou, the owners repeated the slogan and the coaches closest to Ten Hag asked him to rotate, at least, until the semifinals. Ten Hag complied by lining up up to five substitutes: Sancho, Fred, Weghorst, Malacia and Wan-Bisaka.
The Glazers were especially grateful when they saw that against Barça he gave air to the wings. They have been trying to give Wan-Bisaka over for three years with all expenses paid and no one has wanted him; Malacia was signed by Feyenoord, on a rebound, in competition with Lyon.
The 2-2 against Barça in the first leg was much more than what Ten Hag expected. Now, on the threshold of the pass to the round of 16, the people who see him daily indicate that the coach is sharp. He doesn’t speak. But due to his competitive nature, they don’t see him for the job of returning to rotation. The Glazers fear the worst this Thursday. They envision a starting eleven that will weigh down the team ahead of the League Cup final —the first official title of the season will be played 66 hours later, next Sunday at Wembley against Newcastle, a historic rival— and they curse whoever can jeopardize 100 million euros of profits for shareholders.
You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits