Around and around Manchester United go – caught in a time-warp, splashing out on ageing players on deadline day and encouraging them to say Old Trafford is their life’s ambition when they’ve actually been lured with wages of £200,000-a-week, give or take.
For Radamel Falcao, aged 28, deadline day 2014 (‘this is a lifetime opportunity, you can’t turn that down’) read Edinson Cavani, aged 33, deadline day 2020 (‘one of the greatest clubs in the world, a real honour to be here.’)
Noise is what United, with their weirdly skewed priorities, crave most these days. A feeling of self-importance and relevance.
Manchester United have been shambolic at times during a dreadful opening to their season
A last-minute dash for signings on deadline day saw United sign veteran striker Edinson Cavani
European champions Bayern Munich have left United trailing while spending much less
Ed Woodward, the man who writes the cheques, quoted the number of Google searches a Falcao transfer attracts when justifying that move to United’s institutional shareholders. It was another £20m down the drain.
So let’s consider a club who have just moved quietly through another deadline day without the need to tell anyone how important they are, signing players you almost certainly won’t have heard about.
Bayern Munich paid Marseille £9m for Bouna Sarr, a right back and Espanyol £8.1m for Marc Roca, a central midfielder.
These players rank as borderline invisible on football’s Twitter scale – 94k and 16.7k respectively, compared with Eric Bailly, beyond incompetent for United yet commanding 1.2m.
The transfer strategy of United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward (foreground) and transfer negotiator Matt Judge (background) remains as confused as ever
Bayern’s new signings Bouna Sarr (left) and Marc Roca (right) prepare for a training session
These acquisitions epitomise the way that Bayern have turned United into a speck in their rear view mirror, while spending vastly less than them in the transfer market.
The humbling truth for United is this. The Bayern Munich starting XI which beat PSG in last month’s Champions League final cost £200m.
The Man United starting XI defeated 6-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday cost £456m. The outlay on Paul Pogba and Harry Maguire would have bought virtually the entire Bayern team.
The view from Germany is that the monstrous economics of the Premier League, with its £5.1bn TV deal, breeds a kind of madness.
‘You’ve got that money, so you spend it,’ says Jorg Jakob of Kicker, Germany’s top sports magazine. ‘The German fan says the Premier League is mad. The spending is mad.’
United’s spending on Pogba (left) and Maguire alone would buy most of Bayern’s team
Bayern remain dominant in Germany and finally conquered Europe again last season
There is an old-school approach to running football in Germany, running right back to the great club sides of the 1970s, which views the conspicuous wealth of some British football executives as embarrassing. Clubs do not generally spend more than they earn on players.
But perhaps the greatest point of divergence between Bayern and United is the deep-rooted philosophy that those who have played the game have a huge part to play when it comes to investing the club’s cherished resources in the transfer market.
Bayern have Hasan Salihamidžić, Uli Hoeness and Oliver Kahn, who will succeed Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
The same applies to any other Bundesliga club you care to mention. Borussia Dortmund (Michael Zorc), Borussia Monchengladbach (Max Eberl), Hoffenheim Alexander Rosen, Wolfsburg (Jörg Schmadtke).
Former Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn is among a number of ex-players running the club
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on the field after Bayern’s Champions League win
The executive responsibility for buying rests with the people who’ve been out there on the turf.
It helps that German football has not been plagued by the mockery of intellectual thought which for years left British players reluctant to read a book or broadsheet newspaper in front of team-mates. This means that players can accede to executive roles.
But the idea of buying decisions resting with Woodward – a physics graduate with a Pricewaterhouse Cooper and JP Morgan on his CV – or his sidekick Matt Judge – an economics and management graduate who lists ‘managing Manchester United’s equity and debt capital structure’ – as his top CV item, would be laughed out of Bayern’s boardroom.
And that is how a Bayern squad that United cannot touch has been built. They’re not universally popular in Germany, poaching the best talents from other Bundesliga clubs.
United will pin their hopes on Cavani, 33, turning around their poor start to the campaign
But the sums paid out £4.5m to Austria Wien for David Alba, £7.65m to VfB Stuttgart for Joshua Kimmich and even the £18.9m to Juventus for Kingsley Coman all revealed a club not in it to make a splash.
It also amuses many in Germany that their own clubs are shrewdly acquiring the excellent talents displaced by the brash Premier League spenders. Hoffenheim picked up Ryan Sessegnon from Tottenham on Monday.
As a manager, Sir Alex Ferguson was not always fond of Bayern. His description of them as ‘typical Germans’ after they eliminated United from the Champions League in 2010 was one of his more excruciating barbs.
But he made it clear out on United’s own in-house TV station last year that theirs was the way to go.
‘They are a club run with a proper foundation,’ he said. ‘Former players run it, really. They run the club in the right way.’
This seemed like a subtle commentary on the way his own club was being run into oblivion, though it didn’t attract very much attention at the time. The transfer market was about to open. There were superstars to buy.