Football Media Review: David Beckham under fire

DAVID BECKHAM has become one of the faces of Qatar 2022 – the TV cameras home in on him, he’s been at the centre of a number of controversies and the reaction to his role with the Qataris has not been well received. As a man who courts publicity wherever he goes, Beckham must have expected that his presence would attract attention, that his lucrative arrangements would be the target of criticism in this most unwanted of World Cups.

Some newspapers, such as the Daily Mirror, have suggested Beckham may have damaged his reputation beyond repair. Certainly, with a charity CV that includes UNICEF, Aids relief and sports development for children, Beckham’s eagerness to received vast sums of money from Qatar is contradictory to say the least. Social media, inevitably, has had its say: “Money means more to you than women’s safety…. It’s called greed. How much money do you need?”.

The artist Cold War Steve has created a piece of work that includes Beckham, in Peaky Blinders livery, rolling a wheelbarrow full of money along with other possible beneficiaries of the World Cup. The figures being mentioned vary, topping out at £ 150 million in the form of £ 15 million per year for 10 years.

Beckham’s arrangements are in stark contrast to his wife’s former Spice Girls colleague, Mel C, who has turned down the offer to sing at the World Cup as she would not be comfortable taking the money. The Daily Record wondered if this might create a rift between the Beckhams and the most savvy member of the band.

The Independent asks if “it is finally curtains for football’s golden boy….the man who could hitherto do no wrong?” The paper describes Beckham’s general demeanour as “sugary sweet but also achingly bland”.

The Athletic points out that Beckham has said very little about the key issues around Qatar, but prefers to offer the hope that “the World Cup will be a platform for progress and tolerance.” Such a soundbite is typical of this age of anodyne statements and any belief that appropriate due diligence has been done by meeting the country’s leaders is pure naivety. Nicholas McGeehan of human rights group Fair Square said he would ask Beckham, “where are you getting your information from. It is from the Qataris, it is far from independent. Ask Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.”

Beckham’s past position as a gay icon has been all but destroyed given Qatar’s complete intolerance of homosexuality. Peter Tatchell, the campaigner for gay rights, has urged Beckham to think again about the company he keeps.

But it could get worse for the former England captain. The Financial Times reported that Beckham is happy to talk to anyone who might be interested in buying Manchester United, his old club, with the aim of “lending credibility” to a bid. The Guardian, noting Beckham’s very neat facial hair, commented: “Let’s hope our manscaped figurehead finds a ship to lash himself to in a very short order, allowing him to once again set sail on lucrative tides.”

Rio Ferdinand, speaking to the Manchester Evening News, said Beckham did not have the cash to take over United but, “he would come with a consortium. He comes with people who do have deep pockets who have the ability to and go and execute on a deal like that.”

Meanwhile, the editor of Attitude magazine, which featured Beckham on its cover, has spoken out about the stunt performed by comedian Joe Lycett in which he promised to shred £ 10,000 if Beckham didn’t withdraw from Qatar. “The fall of David Beckham’s star has been fast and heavy. It’s a reminder that being an advocate for not just LGBTQ+ rights, but women’s rights, immigrant worker’s rights and any human rights should not be lip service. It’s not a trend to boost a person’s profile. Human rights are not a fashion statement to be made to generate coverage in the style pages of tomorrow’s magazines. They are not a new haircut to stir up media attention. They are real issues that affect the livelihood of billions of vulnerable people around the country.”

Sources: Daily Mirror, Independent, Daily Record, Manchester Evening News, Financial Times, The Guardian, Daily Mail, The Athletic, Attitude.

Manchester United: Club for sale, come take a peep

MANCHESTER UNITED, once one of the prized assets in world football, is for sale, a move that will gladden the hearts of the club’s many followers, who have been calling for the Glazer family to leave Old Trafford. While some will be rejoicing, others may temper their glee as nobody really knows who has the resources to take United off the hands of hard-nosed business people from the US. United will not be sold cheap, they will not be unloaded at a bargain price.

According to some reports, the Glazers will be looking to receive a figure north of £ 7 billion, although estimates from around the industry suggest the price may be anywhere between £ 4 billion and £ 6 billion. In a crisis-torn world, this limits the possible buyers and may even land United fans with another owner they struggle to love.

Regardless of any figure plucking exercises, it has to be remembered that this is one of the world’s top clubs, one of the most cash generative in the history of the game. Although United have fallen from their 1990s/2000s highs on the field, they remain an institution that will, sooner or later, return to profit on the pitch. They have most of the ingredients in place to reclaim their position as the most valuable club and with 75,000 spectators at every game, they have vast support to call upon. Old Trafford is an iconic stadium, but it is in dire need of modernisation to make it a statement home for Britain’s biggest club once more.

The Glazers may have recognised football may have reached something of a tipping point. It could be the days of milk and honey are not quite coming to an end, but maybe stagnating. A combination of peaked broadcasting fees, the pandemic and its post-crisis economic reality, along with growing pressure around energy, food, the climate and geo-politics, has created a perfect storm that creates a degree of uncertainty about the future. Football may have a period of adjustment that means greater challenges around its economic model. In other words, the price of football clubs may be at its peak, therefore the time to offload an asset might just be now. Chelsea changed hands for £ 4.25 billion, Liverpool are on the market and now United are seeking fresh investment (translated – we want to sell). Three of the Premier League’s big six may have new owners pretty soon.

The attraction of United should not be underestimated, but we are in an age when some sports teams may be “too big to buy”. Chelsea attracted a couple of hundred interested parties, but how many were realistic? It may be a case of lowering expectations on the part of the seller, or be prepared for a waiting game. US investors have shown they have an appetite in Premier League football and no less than nine of the 20 clubs have some form of US investment/ownership. United fans may be hoping that Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of INEOS, rekindles his interest in acquiring a football club or perhaps a vehicle like the failed Red Knights group that included former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neil, comes forward.

The size of the deal makes another middle eastern transaction look more likely, which might not please some of the United hordes. Indeed, Dubai has already been mentioned in early dispatches, but they have one of a number of sovereign wealth funds with the resources to meet the Glazer’s demands. However, as we have seen in the past two years, with the Qatar World Cup and the Saudi Arabian takeover of Newcastle United, middle eastern connections are often accompanied by public disapproval.

Manchester United key financial figures 2012-22

£mRevenuesP&L (pre-tax)WagesNet Debt
2021-22583(150)384515
2020-21494(24)322419
2019-20509(21)284474
2018-1962727332204
2017-1859026296254
2016-1758157264213
2015-1651549232261
2014-15395(4)203255
2013-1443341215275
2012-13363(9)181295

The Glazers didn’t get off to a good start when they arrived, loading debt onto the club after a leveraged buyout-type deal. The club has, apparently, consumed £ 1 billion of cash in servicing that debt while the owners have benefitted from regular dividends. So unhappy was a section of the support that a new club sprung-up in 2005 out of the discontent, FC United of Manchester, a fan-owned club that, at its peak, were attracting 3,500 people per game.

Manchester United have spent heavily in the transfer market, some € 2 billion since 2004-05, but they have made some very poor purchases in that time and their recruitment policy, generally, has left a lot to be desired. Furthermore, their wage bill has been astronomical, £ 384 million in 2021-22, more than double the amount paid in 2012-13.

They also repeated huge mistakes around the succession of Sir Alex Ferguson, and since he retired in 2013, United have won just three trophies. They have been missing from the Champions League four times and their last Premier League title win was in 2013. Neighbours City have won 12 prizes in that timeframe and Chelsea six. The most successful manager since Ferguson has been José Mourinho, who won the UEFA Europa League and EFL Cup in 2017 and had a win rate of 58.33%.

The recent debacle around Cristiano Ronaldo really sums up where United are at the moment, a club of their size and stature should not have been courting veterans in the first place but wasting so much money in the process was both foolhardy and directionless. It is no coincidence they announced it was exploring strategic alternatives to enhance the club’s growth immediately after reaching an agreement to allow Ronaldo to leave with immediate effect. United have to ensure they don’t allow the current malaise to continue because it is all too easy for big names to wander into the wilderness. This is absolutely the wrong time to be cast adrift.