Wage clause adding to Old Trafford woes
Top-four finish a must to keep players interested in United, says Richard Sadlier
Reports last week suggested several senior Manchester United players are beginning to question David Moyes' credentials after United lost three games in a row for the first time in 13 years. You might ask why they took this long to raise their concerns but it seems they're in line to suffer even more than they already have.
Details have also emerged of a recent change in the club's wage policy which will see many of United's players losing 25 per cent of their salary if they fail to finish the season inside the top four. It was introduced three years ago, and though it does not apply to all players yet, new signings and players renewing contracts have had to accept it.
It's a principle which is in place at many other clubs -- reward success while protecting the club against the cost of failure -- but it's a consequence of their alarming decline that the clause is in danger of being activated. United are on course to end the season outside the top four for the first time since 1991.
It's a sensible policy but one that could upset the dressing room if it's not implemented across the board. Despite, presumably, each player being told that everyone must adhere to it when they signed, reports suggest Wayne Rooney is unlikely to be held to the same terms in talks over an extension to his current deal. This may test morale among the rest of the squad, particularly if the clause is activated in May.
When Millwall won promotion to the Championship in 2000, the chairman insisted all new contracts had a similar clause -- a wage reduction if we went back down. It makes sense if everyone signs it, but no one knew for sure whether others were agreeing to it or not.
I remember it sparked some interesting conversations among some of us at the time. Why should collective failure override individual contributions? We were either deserving of our wage or we weren't. And why should we be penalised for something which could be avoided if the club spent money on new players? It was one of those times which tested the idea that teams win or lose as one. While the clause was never activated because we did so well the following season, the issue of individual bonus deals was still a source of resentment.
I particularly remember how bothered some players were that the sub goalkeeper was in line for a windfall if we got promoted again, something we nearly achieved, despite arguably contributing the least in the whole squad. There are times when football is very much a team game, but there are times too when it's hard to look beyond your own interests.
And I would assume self-interest is beginning to play a greater role in the thinking of United's players since the departure of Alex Ferguson. Robin van Persie, for example, is now at a club that is aiming to finish in the top four. He left Arsenal because they were at that level at the time. Even if Wayne Rooney is interested in opening discussions on a contract extension, the fact that finishing outside the top four would even be mentioned in the negotiations is a clear signal of the club's current standing. And last week Nemanja Vidic's agent ruled out the possibility he would be looking to renew his deal at the end of this season.
Obviously this may be a negotiating ploy but Manchester United under David Moyes is a very different prospect than the vision sold to each of them by Ferguson when they signed. Managing all of this is just part of Moyes' job now but attracting new arrivals will be key to his success. As things stand, United won't be lifting any trophies this year and face the possibility of Europa League football next season. The squad is made up of serial winners, but how many of them would be interested in staying for that? More importantly, how attractive would that make the club for potential new signings?
This may not be entirely Moyes' fault, but he is the man with the job of sorting it out. He'll need support from the players, investment from the owners and patience from the fans. But if that clause comes into play at the end of this season, the experience of being a Manchester United player will change significantly for many.
Moyes' chances of lasting will depend greatly on who he can sign, but keeping the ones he has may be more difficult than anyone expected.