Man Utd chief defends transfer policy, says academy still at heart of club
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Premier League leaders Leicester City have become a 'reference point' for their rivals but Manchester United are unlikely to copy their blueprint in the transfer market, United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said on Thursday.
Leicester have assembled a title-challenging side for around 22 million pounds ($32 million) -- a fraction of what United's under-performing squad cost to put together -- but Woodward dismissed suggestions United could follow their lead.
Fielding questions from financial analysts, Woodward was not grilled on the future of manager Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho, the man reported be favourite to succeed the Dutchman.
But he was asked to explain why United fail to unearth hidden gems in the transfer market such as the league's top scorer Jamie Vardy, signed by Leicester for one million pounds from minor league Fleetwood, and Algerian Riyad Mahrez, a bargain buy from France.
"Leicester are a fantastic reference point for everybody this year," Woodward said on a conference call.
"Some players are bought by other clubs with an eye to developing them into something special in a few years time whereas there is a bit more pressure on bigger clubs to bring in players that are going to hit the ground running.
"We are buying in a slightly different market."
The 20-times English champions, the world's third-richest soccer club by revenue according to Deloitte, spent around 115 million pounds on signings such as Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dutch winger Memphis Depay last summer, but are fifth in the table, 12 points behind Leicester.
They did not add to their squad in January though and Woodward suggested that United would seek to revive their academy which produced the core of former manager Alex Fergsuon's various title winning sides.
David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, together with Gary and Phil Neville, all rolled off the United production line. The flow has since slowed although Jesse Lingard and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have broken through recently.
They have still not replaced academy director Brian McClair who left last summer.
"The academy continues to be at the heart of the club," Woodward, who said an announcement on the academy was days away, said. "Giving youth a chance is part of our philosophy, part of the club's DNA.
Woodward also defended United's record on ticket prices when asked about rival Liverpool's decision to back down on plans to raise prices after fans protested.
"Our general admission prices have been frozen for the past five years and we've kept them frozen into next year as well," he said, adding that talks were ongoing with the Premier League regarding helping away fans buy cheaper tickets.
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(Editing by Keith Weir)