Manchester United have agreed a kit sponsorship deal with adidas worth 750 million pounds, a sum of money so colossal that it needs comparison in order to be understood. It is almost the amount that the Glazers used to finance the purchase of the club in 2005, the current owners making their acquisition with 790 million of debt. It is more than twice the amount of the previous world record for such a deal, paid to Chelsea by adidas just last year.
Beginning in the 2015-16 season, the deal will bring the club 75 million pounds per year, whilst the next highest amount any club will earn per year from kit sponsorship is Real Madrid (31 million). It is more than three times what Nike, the previous sponsors at 23.5 million a year, had been paying and it is a sum that will help to alleviate significantly the burden of debt that the Glazers placed upon the club in 2005, given that these liabilities are now at a much more manageable level. As noted by Andy Green, the financial analyst, Manchester United's "interest bill used to soak up 70 percent of profits each year, [but that number is] now down to circa 15". As Johnny Nash once almost sang, "I can see clearly now the debt has gone".
Well, not quite, as the current debt still runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. But what is clear is that the club is emerging from a period where, in financial terms, it had received a gut punch that had winded it for several years. When taken together with the shirt sponsorship from Chevrolet, which it is estimated will bring the club 53 million per year, the next few years should see the club's accounts in increasingly rousing health.
The implications for UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations are also striking. With this income, Manchester United are highly unlikely to fall foul of UEFA's rules, which state that each club should not spend more than it earns. However, despite this windfall, it seems unlikely that the club will be making its season tickets any cheaper. Demand, in fact, remains robust, with the appointment of Louis van Gaal -- who coached the Netherlands superbly to third place in this summer's World Cup -- leading to their sale in record time.
The club is currently pressing ahead with plans to sign further reinforcements to the squad, having supplemented the club record signing of Juan Mata (for 37.1 million pounds) with Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera and Southampton's Luke Shaw for a combined fee of almost 60 million. The rumoured addition of further players in midfield and defence could leave little change from 150 million by the time the off-season spending is done.
The club has been persistently linked with players whose transfer value is only set to rise sharply following their exceptional performances at the World Cup. Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos are now world champions, and any moves that they make will now come with a hefty extra premium. The only consolation to United, should they be unwilling to dig too deep into their recently deepened pockets, is that neither of these reported targets possess quite enough pace for the Premier League, which is ruthless in its exposure of those who lack speed off the mark. The possession-based culture in which Kroos has thrived for both Bayern Munich and Germany is one that he is far more likely to enjoy at Real Madrid, which is where he seems set to end up.
Hummels may also prove out of reach but Thomas Vermaelen, though previously prone to injury and lapses in concentration, remains a fine alternative. Though the centre-back's link with United has raised several eyebrows, many will note the fine job that Van Gaal did with Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar at the World Cup and anticipate keenly what the Dutch manager can do with a player of Vermaelen's talent. He seems ideal for a game where the ball makes a swift transition from defence to attack, which is the hallmark of both Sir Alex Ferguson and Van Gaal's finest teams.
However, the name that continues to generate most interest is that of Arturo Vidal. The Juventus and Chile midfielder is, at the age of 27, in a very small and elite group of central midfielders who can both score and screen, create and destroy; in terms of quality, he can be placed alongside Bayern Munich and Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger. Reports vary on what his price would be but a fee of some 45 million pounds, at which United have reportedly balked, is the going rate for a footballer of his quality.
It is worth recalling, at this juncture, that Fernandinho went to Manchester City for 30 million pounds at the age of 28, and his value to the current Premier League champions is no longer in question. Vidal offers the ideal blend of skills to complement Ander Herrera, a somewhat more contemplative playmaker, and the two would instantly provide a midfield axis as strong as almost any in Europe. Were Roma's Kevin Strootman, a long-term favourite of Van Gaal, to join Vidal and Herrera in the next few months, that would be a formidable trio, and the type of which championship-winning teams are made.
The numbers being discussed are eye-watering and make a mockery of the days when Alan Shearer held the title of the world's most expensive player, when he moved from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United for 15 million in 1996. What's more, this deal -- and the accompanying largesse -- represents a summer of redemption for executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who was widely mocked last year for his failure to secure the transfer deals that would have aided Manchester United's ailing squad.
This time around, in fact, he seems to be conducting the club's business with an almost vengeful intensity. He has successfully leveraged Manchester United's worldwide appeal, which is so strong from a sponsor's perspective, that it seems to have survived this season's absence from the UEFA Champions League.