Greedy Glazers tearing at Manchester United's soul
SUNDERLAND v MAN UNITED
(Tonight, 11pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
The curtain closed on the Theatre of Dreams when Sir Alex Ferguson took his final bow.
But Old Trafford is becoming the stuff of nightmares.
Manchester United's owners are killing a great club softly, tearing at their soul from the inside out.
The Red Devils travel to Sunderland tonight with one of the game's finest mangers and yet no guarantee that they'll win.
After an opening-day loss to Swansea, a draw or better will now be viewed as a positive result.
That's how far the mighty men of Manchester have fallen; scrambling for scraps at Sunderland.
Earlier this week, Paul Scholes claimed that United were at risk of heading off into the wilderness, repeating Liverpool's drift towards mediocrity in the 1990s.
He's wrong. United are already in the wilderness, stranded by owners who are back at base camp and counting the cash.
Louis van Gaal is trying to carve a path to the clearing with a blunt parang. With only a week until the end of the transfer window, United are at least three players short of challenging the top four - and half a squad away from the Premier League summit.
Still, it's not all bad news. United have more global sponsors than ever before since the Glazers and vice-chairman Ed Woodward realigned the club's priorities.
When United toiled against Swansea, their followers would have been comforted to learn that their club have an official pharmaceuticals partner in South Korea and Vietnam to go with their official savoury-snack partner in South-east Asia.
Don't think about the top four. Think about the potato chips being sold in Malaysia.
United are being paid for peanuts, quite literally. But van Gaal is being made a monkey of in the transfer market.
Scholes pleaded with the club to make high-profile signings immediately.
He called for five players, with his preferences being Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Raphael Varane, Angel di Maria and Mats Hummels. It's a wonder he didn't also include Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
United have no chance of signing those boys either.
Red Devils loyalists remain hopeful of the owners signing a new constellation of stars in the coming days, but the financial data suggests otherwise.
Earlier this week, the Glazers went to market to raise another US$200 million ($250m) in shares by bragging to potential investors that they have happily increased ticket prices to squeeze the fans further.
United supporters might have swallowed the exorbitant match-day ticket increases (they've swallowed everything else in recent years, including the surreal £700 million ($1.5b) that has already been drawn from the club to pay debt interest and bank fees).
They might have tolerated the price hike if the Glazers had put the money back into the club. But, of course, they haven't.
Apart from the odd Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Marcos Rojo - all desperate buys from desperate managers - United's net player spending has been on a perceptible decline since the Champions League final defeat in 2009.
Ferguson held back the tide through sheer force of personality, but the dam was already bursting by the time David Moyes took charge.
Van Gaal needs to do more than stick his finger in the dike if he is to prevent United from going under.
The Dutchman must work with Woodward, who has failed to sign a household name to rival those reeled in by Chelsea and Arsenal. In the transfer market, he has displayed all the indecision of Mr Bean caught in a traffic jam.
But the vice-chairman has impressed his owners by increasing income in a bid to offset that huge debt, which raises the obvious question: what is United's overriding objective - to reduce debt or rebuild the squad?
The next seven days could provide an answer. United's reputation and perhaps even their legacy are at stake.
On the one hand, the Glazer debt stands at more than £340m, which the owners will continue to chip away at to improve personal profit margins and make the club an attractive proposition for potential buyers.
On the other hand, van Gaal takes his patched-up, threadbare squad to the Stadium of Light knowing that he is at least a couple of centre backs, a fullback, a central midfielder and perhaps a winger away from a tilt at the title.
United either focus on balancing the books or the team sheet.
If the owners choose not to make good on their promise and fail to cough up the cash, then their season is done.
The Glazers' insatiable appetite for profit will be United's loss.
Two weeks ago, i was the king of Manchester and now i am the devil of Manchester... i think the fans of Manchester are intelligent. i’ve already said that it shall be difficult in the first three months, for the players and also for the fans.
— Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal pouring scorn on critics, whom he says have made a “devil” of him after one defeat in his new job