Alex Ferguson faces a trip to the team he supported as a boy after the Champions League soccer draw paired Manchester United with Rangers. For the Scottish champion, the financial boost is more important than sentiment.
Glasgow-based Rangers have debts of 31 million pounds ($48 million) and owner David Murray shelved plans to sell the club after proposed bidders failed to show they could cut losses. A matchup with former season-ticket holder and player Ferguson may help, according to Rangers Chief Executive Officer Martin Bain.
“You can see the smile on my face,” Bain told reporters last night in Monte Carlo. “Commercially it’s lucrative to play Manchester United at this stage. You want to have a tie which captures supporters’ imagination.”
The clubs, whose only competitive meeting was in the Champions League group stage seven years ago, are joined by Spain’s Valencia and Bursaspor of Turkey in Group C. Their 2003-04 games, billed as the “Battle of Britain,” attracted a combined attendance of more than 115,000.
Rangers, the record 53-time Scottish champions, employed a transfer embargo for three trade periods and slashed salaries to reduce outgoings after Lloyds Banking Group Plc asked the team to pay back its loan. While the club has started recruiting again, it isn’t spending the sums that once brought players including England midfielder Paul Gascoigne and Denmark’s Brian Laudrup to Ibrox.
“The club has a business plan,” Bain said. “We still have some parameters we need to work in. We do need to trim the wage bill, it’s going to be tough.”
The 32 teams in last season’s group stage received a minimum of 7.1 million euros ($9 million) in sponsorship and television revenue for participating in six pool games. United made 45.8 million euros from its run to the quarterfinals, according to tournament organizer UEFA, which doesn’t include match-day merchandise revenue or ticket sales in its figures.
Rangers will earn 14 million pounds from this season’s group stage including ticket sales and match-day revenue, Bain said. That’s nearly double the television revenue it gets from an entire domestic campaign and more than three times the 5 million euros it earned for finishing runner-up in Europe’s second-tier UEFA Cup in 2008.
Almost 150,000 fans travelled to Manchester for the final against Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg, which resulted in a police enquiry after some supporters rioted following a 2-0 loss.
Bain said a repeat of scenes in which riot police clashed with supporters late into the night is unlikely.
‘Prove a Point’
“It was one of the biggest movements of people in Europe with 150,000 people descending on the city,” Bain said. “The true Rangers supporters did not like those scenes and I am absolutely convinced that they will go down to Manchester to prove a point that they are a great set of supporters.”
United hosts Rangers on Sept. 14 in the opening round of group matches. The teams meet again Nov. 24 in Glasgow.
For Ferguson, staying in the U.K. for two of the six group games has its advantages.
“It’s a good draw for us,” Ferguson told United’s website. “You always look at the travelling side of it and the only one that’s of any great distance is the trip to Turkey.”
Ferguson’s connections to Rangers don’t end with his childhood and playing stint in the late 1960s. He’s also worked with Rangers manager Walter Smith at United and the Scottish national team and relations between the two are cordial.
“Sir Alex and Walter Smith go back a long, long way,” United Chief Executive Officer David Gill told manutd.com. “I know the fans will get behind it and both games will be great occasions. I’ve already spoken to Sir Alex and he’s looking forward to the Rangers matches immensely.”