AP News

Manchester United planning major squad upheaval


LONDON (AP) — Manchester United vice chairman Ed Woodward acknowledged Wednesday that the soccer club is enduring a "disappointing" season under its new manager, but that the commercial side continues to thrive.

But Woodward said the club was already looking at offloading players in the summer transfer window and strengthening the side that is now being managed by David Moyes.

United plans to "move in the market in a way we haven't seen in recent years," Woodward said on an earnings call as the club released its latest set of financial results.

"We will focus on building a competitive squad that challenge for trophies," Woodward said.

Though United won the English Premier League last season easily, it is languishing in seventh place this, nine points from the crucial fourth spot that would allow the club passage into the lucrative European Champions League tournament.

Off the pitch, though, the New York-listed club continues to benefit from an unprecedented run of success. In the 26 years that Alex Ferguson was manager, United won trophy after trophy. Ferguson retired in May last year.

In the last six months of 2013, Manchester United's commercial revenue soared 30 percent to 102.2 million pounds ($168 million) as six global sponsorship deals kicked in. Though overall turnover rose by 19 percent to a record 221.4 million pounds during the period, the bottom line showed net profit plummeted 49 percent to 18.7 million pounds because of tax credit issues.

"We once again achieved a record revenue quarter with strong contributions from our commercial and broadcasting businesses despite the current league position, which everyone from the team manager down has acknowledged is disappointing," Woodward said.

"We continue to see meaningful opportunities to grow our commercial business and the popularity of football on TV is leading to continued broadcasting revenue growth — all of which bodes well for the long-term stability and financial strength of our business."

But failure to qualify for the lucrative Champions League next season would be a big blow to the club's prestige, and revenue stream.

What continues to irritate some fans is the debt that didn't exist before the Glazer family, the owners of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bought the club in 2005. But the debt has dropped 3 percent year-on-year to 356.6 million pounds, way down from a high of 716.5 million pounds (then $1.1 billion) in 2008-09.

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Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris


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