Today has been a lesson for Manchester United.
Pep Guardiola has agreed to move to Manchester City and, while no doubt encouraged by its financial implications, the Spaniard has made that decision because of the club’s overall health. Yes, City are fabulously wealthy and they have the financial resources to be an apex predator within the transfer-market, but even at secondary and tertiary levels the club is highly desirable. Guardiola will inherit a very talented first-team squad, but also be backed by the maturing youth setup and the enviable facilities which frame it.
He’s not going just for the money, because if that had been his sole motivation Manchester United would have had greater leverage in this process.
But this is what they’ve been allowed to become: they’re the rich old man of English football, the one who can only attract a particular type of woman. They didn’t evolve with their success and they didn’t capitalise on their two decades of dominance with the kind of infrastructural investment that should have been a priority. United, increasingly, are an organisation without a multi-layered appeal. Their wealth may guarantee them a certain level of success and allow them to recruit from a particular shelf, but there’s no evidence that those spending the money are best-placed to do so nor that it is being spent with anything other than appearances in mind.
Tomorrow morning, as sure as the sun rises, another tenuous transfer story will be dropped into a journalist’s lap: another round of that Bale! Neymar! Ronaldo! game that continues to parody one of the country’s iconic sporting institutions.
It’s all so short-term - all so jerky and reactionary. The perception seems to matter more than the reality, the page views more than the performances.
Managers of Guardiola’s pedigree will not put their reputations on the line when they smell institutional dysfunction. Jose Mourinho may still be a viable alternative once Louis van Gaal has been fired into the sun, but only because the Portuguese’s stock has never been lower. His reputation was badly charred in the smoking wreckage of Chelsea’s title defence and his habit of falling out with elite players has made him a risk proposition for big clubs.
Maybe he and United are destined for each other? Neither has anywhere else to turn.
There are two ways in which the club can respond to today’s news: either remain on their current path and continue to throw money at not-quite-good-enough players in the hope of attracting and satiating a Mourinho-type, or they could recognise that this moment has been a decade in the making and is, really, a product of their own self-neglect.
Fix the house before decorating it - translate that into Latin and stitch it into the boardroom leather.