Elanga The Anomaly: Why Don't Manchester United Make Profit On More Players?

United have sold Anthony Elanga to Nottingham Forest for £15m
10:00, 26 Jul 2023

Across the last decade, Manchester United have only bought four senior first-team players and then sold them on for a profit. Dan James’ move to Leeds United netted them a cool £10m profit, while the narrow margins on Daley Blind, Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling also put them in the black. 

That’s perhaps why eyebrows were raised when United sold former academy player Anthony Elanga to Nottingham Forest for £15m. It’s a transfer that not only marks a new era for United in terms of selling players, but it's the most profit they’ve made on a single player in the last decade. The Swedish youngster joined United’s academy when he was just 12 years old, has been nurtured for almost a decade, and has now returned them a hefty profit.

There have been other academy stars who have moved on in permanent deals recently, such as Tahith Chong and Zidane Iqbal, but neither of them have delivered the same return on investment as Elanga has. The best comparison may be the sale of Andreas Pereira to Fulham for £10m last summer, a deal that has worked out wonderfully for the Cottagers as they retained their Premier League status.


These are the sort of deals United need to be doing. Despite their varied success, neither Pereira nor Elanga are good enough to take the Red Devils forward under Erik ten Hag. Just as Sam Johnstone, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett weren’t good enough for the first team, if a strong offer comes in, you have to take it. Their rivals across Manchester have become masters of selling academy products for inflated prices in recent years, and now it seems United are finally joining the profitable party in the north-west. 

Selling academy gems with first-team experience is a surefire way to make sustained profit, but Chelsea have been burnt on more than one occasion by that same strategy. Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mo Salah are all examples of the seller's remorse a football club can feel later down the line. 


In terms of making profit on first-team players, it really isn’t something United need to concern themselves with. As long as they avoid embarrassing situations like the Paul Pogba debacle, they aren’t a small club and they don’t need to sell players for a profit. United are part of a select group of clubs who can afford to take this strategy, and what is far more important to them is having elite first-team players at their peak. 

Having Bruno Fernandes, Casemiro and Raphael Varane at this stage of their careers isn’t done with a view to making a profit on them. It’s done to give United the very best chance of winning trophies over the next two seasons. The same theory was given to the failed return of Cristiano Ronaldo. If Jadon Sancho turns into the world’s best winger, United aren’t going to look to make profit on the £72m they paid for him - they are just going to revel in having the world’s best winger. 

Other clubs may mock United’s transfer policy at times, and trust us, there has been a lot to laugh at over the last decade, but in truth it isn’t even that important. United can afford to spend £200m each transfer window on elite talent that doesn’t ever return a profit. With potential new owners, that number could skyrocket further. They are a gargantuan behemoth that won’t be held back for much longer. 

Small clubs have to make profit to survive. Manchester United don’t. It’s that simple. 

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