Will Manchester United's £1bn Nike deal be a game-changer for the club?

Alex Livesey

Manchester United are reported to be negotiating a £1 billion deal with Nike in the wake of the club's disastrous summer. But could it see the plans of the fans and the Glazers in alignment for once?

After all the disasters of Manchester United's transfer window, the next logical step was to find something else to salt the wounds - most predicted some additional comedy business partner being lined up, but it appears in fact that the club are in negotiations for a mindblowing £1 billion deal with Nike, enough to buy a whole team of Cristiano Ronaldos without even slightly upsetting the Spanish taxman.

More from our team blogs: Manchester United blog The Busby Babe

Of course, the deal is spread out over a few years, and Arsenal could certainly warn United of the dangers of arranging commercial sponsorship deals over a very long period of time (although of course, this risk equally applies to Nike. There are probably some precedents of assuming an economic boom is going to continue to flourish forever and ever coming back to cause ruin, but none spring to mind right now.)

This puts the prevailing narrative of United in a difficult position, which is probably partly to blame for the conspiracy theories that suggest that the club never intended any of the large bids they made to be accepted: Ed Woodward, Richard Arnold and Michael Bolingbroke can pull off master negotiations to extract vast amounts of money from mega-corporations like Nike and Chevrolet, yet get outmaneouvred by Bill Kenwright. It doesn't add up. But football is not like other businesses - it almost works in reverse. Karl Marx may have been right about a lot of things, but for United, his old maxim works in reverse - United's summer has happened first as farce, and then as tragedy.

Previously, United didn't spent partly because the Glazer family, as Yorkshiremen politely describe themselves, don't waste money, but it was also because the club was in a precarious financial position with vast debts that required astronomical amounts of money to service. That's not so much the case anymore - the club's income has increased, and the liabilities to interest and repayment are significantly smaller.

In addition, while continuing to plod along in the top four without challenging for titles may have kept the Champions League money rolling in, there was the question that it could have affected the club's prestige, and thus marketing potential. That would have taken years, perhaps decades to take effect, however. Now, thanks to the club's flotation on the stock market, the knock-on effects of public perception are far more instantaneous, and require far greater consideration.

Because of that, it's very unlikely that even the Glazer family were happy to see United spend so little this summer. The hierarchy will have no interest in selling their own manager, whose appointment was greeted with several nervy palpitations on the stock market, down the river. And for all they may be willing to spend money, their business model still revolves around extracting money from every available source. Taking the excellent summation of the club's situation from financial blogger AndersRed - "almost every other major club in the world reinvests profits. Only United seek to maximise profits", one would assume the reverse is also true - they don't throw money away for no reason. They don't, for instance, spend a completely unnecessary extra £4m on a player.

This may all add up to the fact that Woodward's days at the club will indeed be under extreme scrutiny, with the Glazers taking the same position as the United fans, for once. It's a rare alignment, so it ought to be savoured - it's just a shame that the position they've found themselves meeting at is one of frustration at the club's suits. Who could've seen that one coming?

*    *    *

On Friday, Karim Benzema reached the remarkable milestone of 15 consecutive games without scoring for France. A poll on Le Parisien currently wonders whether he ought to be dropped for the impending clash with Belarus, to which 92.5% of voters responded in the affirmative.

There's something bizarre about this French side. The hangover of 1998 now appears to be lasting well over a decade - the talent of the team is not in question, but there is something about the mentality which seems to have completely doomed them to mediocrity at best, embarrassment at worst. An attempt to solve this problem has now undergone the new-age laissez-faire approach of Raymond Domenech, the near-Petainist authoritarianism of Laurent Blanc, and now the moderate approach of Didier Deschamps. None appear to have done the trick.

Domenech may be hated for a number of reasons, most of which are obvious (although the most amusing is surely that he took advantage of the French unemployment benefit system, where one receives money proportionate to their last salary, thus enabling him to pocket a dole cheque of some €5600 a month.) Yet like so many managers, the failures of his successors have made his tenure look... well, certainly not good, but more forgivable, at least.

One big difference, however, is that this France side seem to up their game considerably against better opposition. It wouldn't be a surprise were they to go far at the World Cup, potential mutinies notwithstanding. They also have, potentially, the largest player pool in Europe to work with, although fewer exceptional talents than the likes of Spain or Germany. But until someone solves the problem of the deep, cancerous malaise in the squad, they'll always appear to be at the risk of total implosion.

*    *    *

Finally, since it's the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, a word on Scotland. Against Belgium, although vastly outmatched, something unfamiliar happened in Glasgow. A striker started the game, Scotland left their half and looked like when they were doing so it had happened on purpose. When they attacked, they actually attempted to pass to their other teammates - when they picked it up, they actually looked to drive into space and score goals.

It's quite shameful that this should be looked upon as an improvement, but Scotland looked like an average side. A Denmark or a Sweden or something - a decent team that knew how to pass, and tackle, and shoot. They were slightly closer than the result would suggest to getting something from the game. That alone may not be enough to get them to a tournament in the next two attempts - and the list of people who have never witnessed the team at an international tournament is growing - but it's certainly a marked improvement, and a bit of luck and a favourable draw will give them a far better chance for the next qualifying campaign.

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