Opinion: Are Manchester United finally learning how to sell players?

Manchester United are not good at selling players. The last player the reds sold for decent profit was Daniel James, who was purchased from Swansea City for just under €18 million and sold two years later to Leeds United for €29 million.

Before that, the last major sale United made was Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid for a record fee at the time of €94 million. This represented a huge profit on the €19 million United paid Sporting CP for a precocious 18-year-old winger who terrorised United’s defence in a pre-season friendly just seven years earlier.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, many of United’s high-profile signings have come and gone without any semblance of a profit and, in some cases, United actually sold these players for less than they paid. Memphis Depay, Angel Di Maria, and Romelu Lukaku are prime examples. Perhaps the most glaring–and damning–case of United’s complete ineptitude in the transfer market is Paul Pogba, who left United and moved to Juventus for free as a 19 year old, returned to United for an astronomical €105 million, and then returned to Juventus last summer…for free.

United’s failure to sell players has hamstrung the club over the years when it comes to signing new players, as well. Financial Fair Play regulations reveal that the club has spent way more on players than they’ve made selling them, limiting the transfer budget after the three-year FFP window.

It doesn’t help that United have also historically offered very high wages to new signings, which makes it that much more difficult to sell them while they’re under contract. This tends to lead to players running down their contracts and leaving as free agents, as was the case with Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Axel Tuanzebe, and, most recently, David de Gea. Not exactly great business, is it?

United might be turning a corner this summer, however, thanks to the many academy players that have seen first team minutes on loan with other clubs. What started with the sale of promising youth player, James Garner, to Everton for €10 million and Tahith Chong to Birmingham City for just under €2 million has continued this summer with the departures of Ethan Laird to Birmingham for €875,000 , Zidane Iqbal to FC Utrecht for €1 million , and potentially Anthony Elanga and Brandon Williams. At first glance, €2 million for Chong seems like a drop in the ocean, but United included a 25% sell-on clause in the Dutch attacker’s transfer, meaning they will make a further €1 million as Chong completed his move from Birmingham to newly promoted Luton Town. United also have sell-on clauses for Laird and Iqbal for 30% and 40%, respectively, potentially ensuring a bit more future profit on their academy products.

Anthony Elanga is the latest United academy graduate who looks set to leave, with Everton reportedly lodging a €17.5 – €23 million bid for the 21-year-old, which would mean a nice profit for United. Add to that Dean Henderson’s seemingly imminent move to Nottingham Forest and this could make all the difference in whether or not United sign one more player this summer–Sofyan Amrabat, for instance.

It’s nowhere near the days when United sold academy graduate David Beckham or Ronaldo for record fees, but the profit made on James, potential profit on Elanga and Henderson, and masterstroke sell-on clauses for Chong, Iqbal, and Laird could be the first steps towards United becoming more competent in the transfer market.

Sell-on clauses aren’t a guarantee of any skyrocketing profits, have more to do with the player’s performances, and are more of a long-term plan for a bit of passive income a few years down the road, but it’s a start. Football isn’t just about profits and losses, of course, but selling players for a profit protects clubs against FFP and means more money to strengthen the squad moving forward, which will only make United better on the pitch. At the end of the day, that’s what matters, right?

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