They say at Old Trafford it’s all about product placement, matchday scarves and ticket touts.  Outside on the night, the shadow of the Munich ’58 disaster pervades but in truth what is the most telling is the number of people heading out of the megastore with shopping bags.  Milling around beside the shop and nearby towering stands there are legions of visiting students from as far-flung as Taiwan, Nigeria and Japan queuing up to get their photo taken outside the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand – iPhone in hand.  Many of them most probably wondering where the statue of David Beckham stands.

That’s right, its UEFA Champions league night and Old Trafford is the land of the selfie – welcome to modern football.

This seasons Champions League has been like, well, just any other recent Champions League season. Apart from the arrival on the scene of Qarabag, Maribor and APOEL, Manchester United have played Benfica and FC Basel (again). Meanwhile, a host of the smaller qualifying clubs have taken almighty thumpings from the bigger sides.

The divide between the big boys and the smaller sides has never been more telling despite the riches on offer. Glasgow Celtic have conceded a massive 12 goals to PSG over just two games while the aforementioned Qarabag from Azerbaijan, Maribor and APOEL Nicosia from Cyprus have all been on the receiving end of 0-6 or 0-7 thumpings at home.

This the 2017–18 UEFA Champions League is the 63rd season of Europe’s premier club football tournament organised by UEFA.  It is the 26th season since it was renamed from the former Champion Clubs’ Cup and turned into the heavily sponsored and media laden UEFA Champions League.

A total of 79 teams from 54 of the 55 UEFA member associations participate in this seasons tournament with the only exception being the absence of any team from Lichtenstein which does not organise a domestic football league.  Since the minnows of Vikingur Gota of the Faroe Islands defeated Kosovans Trepca ’89 back in July a vast amount of football has been played with an even bigger money pot divided up amongst the competitors.

But with the participation cheques long since in the post for the early round exiting minnows, it is at this the ‘Group Stage’ of the Champions League that the serious income streams kick in.   An announcement was made at the draw event at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco that the earning potential for successful clubs will go on even after the competition has ended.  The winners of the 2017–18 UEFA Champions League will qualify as the UEFA representative at the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup to be held in the U.A.E and they will also earn the right to play against the Europa League winners in the 2018 Super Cup.

With the spectre of the Malcolm Glazer leveraged investment vehicle still hovering overhead (an ownership model that has spawned the growth of the alternative fan-focused FC United of Manchester) the finances at United look positive in this post-Sir Alex Ferguson era at least on paper.  Now with Jose Mourinho in charge of team affairs, the 2016-17 season saw the club win three trophies including the UEFA Europa League which secured a return to Champions League football.

Season (2016-17) was one that saw the club set record income revenue totals of over £581m for the Twelve months ended 30 June 2017.  Amongst that figure includes startingly mind-boggling figures of sponsorship revenue (£162.3 million).  Also Retail, Merchandising, Apparel & Product Licensing revenues (£104.0 million) that largely came thanks to a full year financial contribution from an Adidas match kit agreement.

Tellingly, broadcasting revenue income for the year ended June 2017 was totalled at £194.1 million, an increase of £53.7 million over the previous year. This primarily, it would seem, came due to the new improved Premier League broadcasting rights agreement plus progression to the UEFA Europa League final which was won against Ajax.

Curiously, despite a near on 80,000 seater stadium (that the club hopes to extend again with more seats) matchday revenue for the year came to only £111.6 million, an increase of £5.0 million, or 4.7%, over the prior year. This primarily only came thanks to playing two more home games in the year compared to the previous season.

So, bearing in mind the US-backed investment model that served to take on the club and the vast wage demands of the superstars who play for them (including Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is on a whopping £367,640 a week) what is going out money wise?

Again the latest financial documents show total operating expenses for the year at £511.3 million, with an increase of £74.7 million in expenses, or 17.1%, over the prior year.

Still in operating profit mind you.

What the fans make of the financial workings is all a bit unclear and many of the current fan-base will not care essentially as lots of them (whether they like it or not) are glory hunters seduced by success and the global brand.  Some of the more traditional United fans expressed feelings towards the current Manchester United business model via the formation of the newer FC United of Manchester club.  Moreover, a season or two ago the ‘green and yellow’ protest movement took root at Old Trafford. But in all truth, this protest movement (if it could be called that) seems to have faded into the background visually since Sir Alex Ferguson retired or as some would tell you – they have been forced out thanks to robust stewarding.

Amongst the media meanwhile questions have been raised about the state of Manchester United off the pitch.  Old Trafford has fallen behind other stadia in England never mind Europe.  Any efforts at further extending the seating capacity are made with revenue generation in mind rather than in the interests of long-term strategic planning.

Come match day Old Trafford is a stadium that can sell seats like cream cakes to fans.  Do you want a match programme for £3.50? You got one. Throw in another special magazine and make it £6!  Need a replica shirt – there are about 4 to choose from including Adidas originals retro shirts and training shirts.  From impressionable youngsters sucked in by trophy success to the visiting foreign students who want to get a selfie with Ibrahimovic off the team coach, the stadium serves as a cash cow for so many people making Old Trafford more the Theatre of Schemes than the Theatre of Dreams.

You only have to walk around the stadium on match night to see countless catering outlets and numerous scarf sellers making a fortune from products whether burgers or knocked off replica merchandise.  Ticket touts meanwhile linger outside the metro link and chip van owners are looking for another customer.


The city of Manchester had been grey for most the day and what is more, it was cold.  Even the hundreds of Moscovites who had travelled to Manchester in order to support CSKA were wrapped up in scarves, jackets and hats.  As it turned out Manchester United eventually got over the line and into the knockout stages with a slender 2-1 win.  While player form at the club is good and confidence is high, it would appear that this is not a United side as strong as the clear favourites for this year’s tournament; namely PSG, Real Bayern and Barcelona.

On the night United had to come from behind to secure their place in the last 16 of the competition – the first time they have progressed this far since the ill-fated reign of David Moyes in 2014.  The victory at Old Trafford also ensured Mourinho’s team finished above second-placed FC Basel in Group A with a haul of 15 points from six games.

The opening goal was somewhat controversial due to the offside rule.  The powerful Russian side had taken the lead with a goal on the stroke of half-time as the Brazilian Vitinho’s shot was diverted into the net by Russian international forward Alan Dzagoev.   Shaw had allowed Mario Fernandes burst into the box where he picked out Vitinho who then finished.  United’s defenders had called for an offside flag to be raised but replays suggested the officials made the right decision because Daley Blind was deemed to be active (he left the field of play injured without the referees’ permission) and thus had played CSKA onside.

However, United’s reply to that shock opener after the half-time whistle was formidable.  The Belgian Lukaku stretched out a long leg to poke home his 13th of the season from Pogba’s pass after 63 minutes.  Marcus Rashford then stroked in the winner just 2 minutes later.

Only a number of saves from Akinfeev prevented another United goal.

Impressive for United were Lukaku and Shaw. Off the field, while it is easy to poke fun at the circus that is Manchester United’s all-pervading merchandising wing most impressive was the matchday ‘United Review’ programme on sale at only £3.50.

Across in the away area, it was the fans of CSKA who made most of the noise in the opening period. Many bare-chested and led by a vocal capo its travelling fan base had mingled in the city before the game with some fans of Spartak Moscow also in England thanks to a Champions League tie against Liverpool the next day.

CSKA Moscow, thanks to this defeat, will now play in the Europa League knockout stages.  This is a competition they have previously won when a victorious team that included Vagner Love took the trophy back to Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.  Alongside the other recently departed teams from the Champions League tournament (which this season includes Atletico Madrid), the Russian side can rightly call themselves one of the favourites for UEFA’s secondary tournament thanks to a blend of experience and the best young Russian players.

And in the year of the 2018 Russian World Cup, who is to say that it won’t be CSKA who come May win the UEFA Europa League?

Images from the game in Manchester are here.


Manchester United: Romero, Smalling, Lindelof, Danny Blind, Valencia, Herrera, Pogba, Shaw, Mata, Lukaku, Rashford.

Subs: Pereira, Martial, Lingard, Young, Darmian, Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay

CSKA: Igor Akinfeev, Berezutski, Vasin, Iganshevich, Fernandes, Golovin, Kuchaev, Nababkin, Vitinho, Chalov Dzagoev.

Subs: Pomazun, Makarov, Gordyushenko, Zhamaletdinov, Khosonov, Olanare

Referee: G Rocchi (Italy)