Choose Wisely – A Look At Man United vs Brighton’s Decade of Spending
In this post we take a look at Man United and Brighton’s contrasting past decade of spending and football decisions.
Here at BoyleSports we are urging bettors to not just bet, but to choose wisely. Betting is all about choices and so is football too. And that is especially true when it comes to transfer market signings.
Man United and Brighton face off this Saturday in the Premier League, two teams that have had contrasting trajectories in recent years. We believe that is because one club has chosen wisely given the choices available to them while the other team has not chosen wisely.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Wise Spending
Love them or loathe them, Manchester United Football Club are inarguably one of the biggest institutions in world football. Sir Alex Ferguson led the club to their most successful period from 1986-2013. The Scotsman guided the club to 38 trophies, 894 wins, 2762 goals during his 26 seasons at the helm.
One Man United legend said it best when describing the impact Ferguson had on Man United, “We made the best decision we ever could in bringing Alex Ferguson to this club” – Sir Bobby Charlton.
What’s more impressive is the way that Ferguson brought about this success at Man United. Despite the narrative that the club bought that success by outspending their rivals, Manchester United simply chose wisely. They focused much of their efforts on bringing through youth talent at the club.
During the 90s the club were outspent by Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester City with a negative net spend from 1992-1998. From 1999-2003 they were top of the pile before the sale of the club to the Glazer Family in 2005.
From 2004-2013 Man United had the most success among Premier League teams despite only having the fourth highest net-spend behind Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.
To Ferguson’s credit, there was nobody better at making wise choices in the transfer market. The legendary United manager could spot gems and lesser-known names like no other. Many of which would go on to become global superstars. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and even cult heroes like Chicharito.
These sorts of signings meant success for the Stretford End faithful was constant. The task of replacing an iconic figure like Ferguson would always prove difficult. However, the decade of pain and mismanagement that has followed the club since his departure in 2013 is a testament to how important he was.
The Post-Ferguson Choices At Man United
Replacing Ferguson was an impossible task, but the club didn’t help themselves either by not sticking to a coherent plan following Ferguson’s departure. The club instead would make regular coaching changes with contrasting philosophies.
Ferguson on his departure said to the Old Trafford crowd “Your job now is to stand by your new manager”. David Moyes would be sacked ten months later.
Louis van Gaal followed and while the passing football was often dire, the decision makers curiously made the call to sack him just a couple of days after an FA Cup triumph.
The Dutchman would then be replaced by the more defensively-minded José Mourinho who would also only last a couple of seasons at the club. The Man United manager job has remained a revolving door since then.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that poor choices were not just limited to the club’s management hiring and firing process. It also extended to reckless spending as United have spent roughly £1.67bn on signings in the past decade. They have only brought in about £481m in player sales during that same period, according to the CIES Football Observatory.
The Moyes Era
David Moyes became Man United manager in the summer of 2013. In his first transfer window he brought in Marouane Fellaini (£27.5m) from Everton as the sole summer addition to a squad which won the league under Sir Alex Ferguson the previous season.
Fellaini appeared to be a panic buy on transfer deadline day rather than a shrewd acquisition. The Belgian was signed following failed summer pursuits for Thiago and Fàbregas. Juan Mata (£37.1m) joined the club the following January, but David Moyes would be gone in April.
The van Gaal Era
Louis Van Gaal was not afraid to splash the cash upon his arrival at Old Trafford in 2014. In his first transfer window the Dutchman brought in the likes of Ander Herrera (£29m), Luke Shaw (£30m), Daley Blind (£14m).
Although the most infamous signing of van Gaal’s reign was Ángel Di María (£59.7m) who joined from Real Madrid. Di Maria was expected to be the next superstar at Man United and was given the no.7 shirt. Despite a promising start the Argentine would be gone the following summer after a disastrous spell in Manchester.
A fourth place Premier League finish in van Gaal’s first season was not bad given his poor choices in the transfer market. Unfortunately for van Gaal and the club, things didn’t get any better next season.
In the 2015 summer transfer window signings Memphis Depay (£25m), Matteo Darmian (£12.7m) and Morgan Schneiderlin (£25m), proved out of their depth. German midfielder Sebastian Schweinsteiger (£14.4m) was made the highest paid Premier League player but turned out to be long past his best by the time he arrived at the club.
Anthony Martial (£36m) was another big name signing by van Gaal in 2015. I think it’s fair to say that turned out to be a bad deal as the French attacker has struggled to stay on the pitch since arriving at Old Trafford. The van Gaal era would end at the end of 2015/16 season after an FA cup title, a 5th place finish in the league and hundreds of millions in transfer fees.
The Mourinho Era
José Mourinho came in to pick up the pieces after van Gaal’s departure in 2016.
Mourinho’s first order of business in the transfer market was the signing of defender Eric Bailly (£30m) from Villareal. The Ivorian centre-back was clearly talented but struggled with injuries throughout his Man United career.
Mourinho also brought in Zlatan Ibrahimović (Free) who was good at times but also past his prime. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£26.3m) arrived from Borussia Dortmund but flattered to deceive. The big signing that summer was Paul Pogba (£89m) on a world record deal. The French midfielder promised so much but ultimately never delivered on his potential at the club.
Mourinho’s first season at Man United could be deemed as a success as he led the club to a League Cup and Europa League double.
The Portuguese manager continued to spend big in the 2017/18 season. Mourinho brought in the likes of Romelu Lukaku (£75m) who didn’t live up to expectations, Nemanja Matic (£40m) who was solid but slow and past his best.
The signing of Alexis Sánchez (£30m) was emblematic of the reckless spending by the club during this era. Sanchez broke the entire wage structure at the club. The last big signing with Mourinho at the helm was Fred (£52m). The Brazilian was yet another player who promised so much but yet delivered so little during his time at the club.
Recent Signings At Man United
Following Mourinho’s sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjær was drafted in to steady the ship. The Man United legend was also given licence to spend big but this didn’t bring the success that the club had hoped for.
The arrival of Harry Maguire (£80m) from Leicester broke the world record for a transfer fee for a defender. Maguire has really struggled over the past couple of seasons at Old Trafford and is probably in need of a move as he is not favoured by current United boss Erik ten Hag.
Solskjær brought in Donny van de Beek (£35m) from Ajax in another big money signing by the club. The Dutch midfielder couldn’t translate his strong form for Ajax to the Premier League.
There have been more big money signings since but it may be too soon to deliver damning verdicts on players signed in the last two/three seasons.
The point of the matter is that Man United have been incredibly wasteful in their financial decisions since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013. The signings of Paul Pogba for £89.5m in 2016, Romelu Lukaku for £75m in 2017 and Harry Maguire for £80m in 2019 are examples of this.
None of these transfers can be considered a success with Maguire being the only one that remains. Lukaku joined Inter Milan for £74m in 2019 and Pogba left for Free last summer after a contentious, complicated and underwhelming second spell at the club.
Despite over a billion being invested in players, poor recruitment and diverging yearly plans have compounded the misery for Man United over the past decade. That’s without mentioning the club’s insistence on offering contracts and overpaying for under-performing players with ridiculous wages.
I’ll hold off on judging some of their more recent recruits (for now) although aside from Bruno Fernandes (£46.5m + £21.1m in add-ons) the signs don’t look promising.
Verdict: Manchester United hasn’t ‘Chosen Wisely’ over the past decade.
Moneyball is my favourite movie. It revolves around the concept of making data-driven decisions in business, and by extension sports. The aim of course is to find your competitive edge when you may not have as big of a budget as your competitors.
How Brighton Became One of England’s Top Teams
A decade ago Brighton were a Championship club while Man United were champions of the Premier League. Since then they have found acclaim from football fans and media for their success having risen from the Championship and are now on the verge of establishing themselves as a top-six Premier League club. The Seagulls have achieved that despite having the lowest net spend of any club in the Premier League over the past five years.
Brighton Owner Tony Bloom realised if he tried to act and play like Manchester City that would prove expensive. So if they couldn’t outspend their opponents they needed to think differently. Bloom made his money entering the football world by doing much the same thing and exploiting markets as a sports bettor, poker player and entrepreneur.
Brighton’s Consistent Philosophy
The decision makers at Brighton recognised that most sides share a similar pressing philosophy so a competitive advantage could be gained by acting differently and they decided to play through the press.
Brighton has excelled at talent identification and development in the last decade but the most impressive aspect of that is a coherent plan evident throughout the organisation.
At Brighton, the first-team manager performs a role in the mould of the club’s designated style of play and identity. The style forms the bedrock of their recruitment of both playing and non-playing staff. The manager then implements his variation of said style.
That means that the club aren’t coach-dependent so when Graham Potter departed for Brighton new coach Roberto de Zerbi had to mould himself to Brighton and not vice versa. This is very different to Manchester United who have constantly chopped and changed coaches with opposing football philosophies this last decade.
Brighton’s Promotion And Rise Up The Premier League
Given how shrewdly Brighton are run it would always be a matter of when they would be promoted to the Premier League and not if. The club were finally promoted to England’s top flight in April 2017 under the guidance of former Republic of Ireland International Chris Hughton.
The club consolidated their status in the first two years in the Premier League before bringing in Graham Potter in 2019. While Brighton fluttered toward the bottom of the table in his first two seasons at the helm, the turning point came in Potter’s third season when they finished ninth in the Premier League.
This was achieved through smart investment in players like Leandro Trossard (£15m), and Marc Cucurella (£15m) alongside the emergence of academy product Ben White. In the proceeding two seasons these three players would be sold for more than £100 million having only been purchased at a fraction of that price.
These players became an example of the transfer rule at Brighton, and not the exception, of regularly buying low and selling high. Brighton followed the rule to “Know the value of every player” and when that price is met they should be sold.
The Post Potter Era
Potter left for Chelsea last season in September, and despite some critics predicting the club’s downfall, new manager Roberto De Zerbi entered the dugout and has arguably brought the team to greater heights. The Italian guided the Seagulls to a sixth place finish in the league and to the semi-final of the FA Cup.
During the most recent summer transfer window Brighton continued their policy of selling high with the departures of Moisés Caicedo (£115m), Alexis Mac Allister (£35m) and Robert Sánchez (£25m) bringing in £175 million.
The recent signing of Joao Pedro (£30m) from Watford along with Ansu Fati on loan from Barcelona appear to be more shrewd business from this club.
As it stands, Brighton has been borderline faultless with how they’ve chosen to operate their club, spending shrewdly with their player recruitment and development. As a result, they have climbed up the ladder from a Championship team to a top-four Premier League contender.
The club also have a young man by the name of Evan Ferguson in their ranks with speculation that he could fetch a transfer fee of £100m+.
Brighton, led by Tony Bloom has challenged the consensus that football is a game where buckets of money must be spent to achieve “success”. While Brighton hasn’t won trophies yet their rise as a club is admirable. The use of data-driven, smart decisions have taken them from Championship mediocrity to European Football with no signs of slowing down.
Verdict: Brighton has ‘Chosen Wisely.’
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