Tuesday 21 August 2018

'If Manchester United can afford to pay Alexis Sanchez £600,000-a-week, why shouldn't they?'

Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez acknowledges the fans
Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez acknowledges the fans
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

The Premier League is the best league in the world, so it comes as no great surprise that it makes the most money by a few million country miles. And as long as we never lose the high-tempo game, which attracts the stars and fills the stadiums, it will remain the most attractive to the global audience.

I am more concerned about keeping that unique hustle-and-bustle style of the football, which is why everyone in the world loves watching it, than I am about how much money the clubs are raking in.

Forget the coaching badges and technical complexities, nothing gets us going more than an aggressive, full-on 50-50 tackle. And audiences around the world appreciate it too. They know nothing beats the competitive edge of the Premier League.

Manchester United are the richest club in the world, through advertising, sponsorship, sales, marketing. They are a business, a multi-billion-pound global empire and if they can afford to pay Alexis Sanchez as much as a reported £600,000-a-week, why shouldn't they?

Jose Mourinho has signed Sanchez because he knows he is signing a player who can make a difference in the Champions League. I cannot see Sanchez shitting himself on the big stage. When it comes to the big games, the chance to be centre of attention, you know he's up for it.

If Manchester United have a good Champions League run, and Sanchez produces one moment of magic, they don't lose a penny on him. They are paying him a lot of money, but that is the market and they have signed a world-class player.

The bigger problem for football over the last decade has been the clubs who have paid over the odds for players who are not worth the money, and splashed out on wages they could not sustain.

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The story that comes to mind is Seth Johnson, who was offered more money by Leeds United in his negotiations than he had asked for, and then barely played for the club because he was injured. Look where Leeds United are now.

They were the last team to win the old first division before the Premier League started. They reached the Champions League with David O'Leary's 'young boys' and were relegated to the Championship 14 years ago. Since then, thanks to a points deduction due to the financial implosion from the Premier League years, they have had three years in League One and are unlikely to make the play-offs this season, although they have been in the chasing pack.

There are so many teams in the Championship with similar stories. Ipswich have been there the longest and Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday are not far behind them. It's like they are cursed. The English league is rife with teams who have suffered the consequences of spending beyond their status but who were once established top-division teams, built with British players and local lads, with British managers in charge. And you earned your league position through ability, not how much money you have in the bank.

That's why I can't see Burnley going down the route of Coventry City, who are currently fighting to get out of the fourth division. They have been managed by Sean Dyche within their financial means, and they have not gone mad with their players' wages so as not to endanger the club's future.

They even took the hit of relegation to come back stronger and be a more competitive team in the Premier League this season. You need a structure and Burnley have stuck to it.

We will probably never see a team like Leicester City winning the Premier League again - not in my lifetime anyway. But we will always have teams like Burnley. And Reading.

The Reading team which I was part of took the division by storm and I still think teams can find a way to surprise a division which, let's be honest, is really all about survival for the majority of teams.

At the moment, the Reading fans are frustrated that the team can't go back to those days, including that style of football. Yet it's that direct approach which eventually gets so much criticism. It is difficult to get the balance right but the structure is in place if they do.

The Premier League is very strong so the likes of Stoke City are now among the richest clubs in the world. Their recruitment of players has been very good, and largely from these islands, with a spine that was made up of Butland, Shawcross, Whelan, Allen and Crouch. Last summer, Mark Hughes' investment was largely in the foreign market. He gambled, as so many managers do, and paid the price.

One issue football has to live with is the image one of its greatest ever players portrayed last week. And Cristiano Ronaldo demanding a phone to look at the blood on his face was embarrassing.

It reminded me of the rugby player on the Lions tour who looked up to the big screen in the stadium and saw he had blood around his eye, and then spread it across his forehead and face for more effect.

Boys and girls across the world look up to Ronaldo, this footballing icon. And even though he is an absolute animal in the gym, and a phenomenal footballer, I am more worried about the values he portrays in moments like this, than how much money he earns.

Sunday Indo Sport

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