LONDON (AP) — After conceding Manchester United was enduring a "disappointing" season, vice chairman Ed Woodward indicated on Wednesday that a significant overhaul of the struggling squad will come in the summer.
Champions of the English Premier League last season, United is seventh in the standings, nine points from the crucial fourth Champions League place during a difficult first season since Alex Ferguson's retirement.
But Woodward said the club was already looking at offloading players in the summer transfer window and strengthening David Moyes' side. "We are not afraid of moving in the market in a way we haven't seen in recent years," Woodward said on the earnings call as the club released its latest set of positive financial results.
"Historically we have had three sales and three purchases each year and it is possible we will do more than that ... building a competitive squad that challenges for trophies." Despite wages leaping 17 percent to 51.6 million pounds ($85 million) in the quarter, the team is 16 points adrift of the Premier League leaders despite winning the title by 11 points in May.
By spending on new talent, Woodward wants to "make sure we are competing at the top level, which is what we should be doing." The cash balance on Dec. 31 was up to 72.1 million pounds ($119 million) before Spain midfielder Juan Mata joined from Chelsea for a club-record 37.1 million pounds (then $61 million) last month.
Woodward is expecting the cost of players will stop rising so rapidly as clubs are forced to abide by UEFA Financial Fair Play rules as a condition for playing in Europe. Neighbor Manchester City faces a tough task complying, having lost 149.5 million pounds ($248 million) from 2011 to 2013, but there is uncertainty if UEFA will sanction the big-spending Abu Dhabi-owned club.
After being asked by market analysts about City, Woodward said he expects "we'll see how FFP is going to bite" this year, while deliberately not naming United's fierce rivals. "There are a number of clubs being looked at more closely by UEFA," Woodward said. "How UEFA deals with those clubs that have breached the rules or are close to breaching the rules is going to be important here to see how FFP will impact on the industry."
United is well placed to comply with FFP, with the success achieved during Ferguson's 26 trophy-filled years ensuring the New York-listed club continues to rake in cash. In the last three months of 2013, commercial revenue soared 19 percent to 42.3 million pounds ($70 million) as six global sponsorship deals kicked in. Overall turnover rose by 19 percent to a record 221.4 million pounds ($364 million) during the last six months of 2013, but the bottom line showed that adjusted profit rose 20 percent to 22 million pounds ($36 million) over that period.
"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.
Failing to qualify for the lucrative Champions League next season would be a big blow to the club's prestige. However, Woodward is downplaying the consequences and made an apparent reference to Liverpool, which hasn't won the English title since 1990 or played in the Champions League since 2010.
"It takes a long time to build a huge fan base ... I think that will not go away for a long time," Woodward said. "Some of our competitors have not won the league for a long time and but still sell a huge number of shirts out there globally — some just down the road from us."
What continues to irritate some fans is the debt that didn't exist before the Glazer family bought the club in 2005. The debt dropped 3 percent in 2013 to reach 356.6 million pounds ($590 million) — far down from a high of 716.5 million pounds (then $1.1 billion) in 2008-09.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris