Missing out on a Champions League place would hit David Moyes's ability to attract leading players to Old Trafford but transfer funds are still likely to be plentiful
As David Moyes contemplated Manchester United's exit from the FA Cup under the gaze of his predecessor and in the shadow of the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, his thoughts may have wandered across the Atlantic.
"The results over the past two years have not lived up to our standards and we believe the time has come to find a new direction," said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman – one Bryan Glazer – after the owners of the NFL club succumbed to fan pressure and relieved the coach of his duties during the Christmas holidays after three losing seasons in a row.
Back at Old Trafford and just six months into the huge task of succeeding Ferguson, Moyes can take some comfort from the fact that the Glazers are a long way from taking similar action.
Having handed Moyes a six-year contract and endlessly emphasised the importance of continuity in the club's DNA they, and a boardroom that includes not only Ferguson but former chief executive David Gill and Sir Bobby Charlton, as well as recently installed vice-chairman Ed Woodward, are not about to press the panic button yet.
Despite four home defeats in the past month, the watchword is calm. So keen are United to emphasise a lack of panic that club insiders are playing down expectations for the transfer window and instead focusing on major surgery next summer.
In truth, the rebuilding job should already be well under way. The shambolic events of August and September, in which the club missed out on a succession of targets and ended up paying over the odds for Marouane Fellaini, were shaped not only by Woodward and Moyes being new to their posts but because of a determination to maintain the Ferguson model.
Rather than going out and securing players before Moyes arrived in post on 1 July, United were determined to ensure that he had the final say on transfer targets. It left them facing a desperate race against time, particularly given Woodward's relative inexperience at the sharp end of the European market, which reached a nadir with the embarrassing deadline day failure to sign Ander Herrera.
Whereas some clubs budget to go out of the domestic cups at the first hurdle, United's annual revenue projections of £420m-430m are based on the team reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League and the domestic cups, while finishing third in the Premier League. In Moyes's first season, with squad deficiencies that were papered over in the latter years of Ferguson's reign cruelly exposed, that is starting to look like a substantial overestimate.
If there is a silver lining to the gathering clouds it is that the club are through the riskiest part of the Glazers great leveraged debt experiment (which the analyst Andy Green has estimated will have cost the club £1bn in fees and interest by 2016). At the point when risk was at its height, with the club at their most highly leveraged and facing eye-watering interest charges, a year out of the Champions League could have precipitated a mortal financial blow.
Ferguson's managerial genius on a net transfer outlay that averaged only £22m a year kept the trophies and the money rolling in.
Now, in revenue-generating terms at least, failure to qualify would be little more than a flesh wound – assuming normal service was resumed.
With their global money-making machine running at full tilt, they have £83.6m in the bank and are generating some £80m a year in free cashflow thanks to a long list of local partners – more than enough to provide for long overdue reinvestment in the squad and to weather any absence from the Champions League.
Those responsible for turning United into a global brand generating commercial revenues that leapt 40% for the 12 months to September 2013 alone and which, at £60m per quarter, are now three times larger than matchday income, say there are factors other than onfield success in play.
The rich heritage and resonance of the United name globally is, of course, a key factor behind their commercial success but with other big European clubs following their lead in touting themselves around the world, it would be dangerous to assume it will always be that way. Over time, underachievement on the pitch couldn't help but slowly affect commercial revenues off it.
The rubric included with every statement released to Wall Street states proudly "Manchester United is one of the most popular and successful sports team [sic] in the world, playing one of the most popular spectator sports on earth". The moment that ceases to be true, this most global of clubs would inevitably be impacted.
Yet more worrying than the financial cost of missing out on a competition that yielded £35.5m for the club last season, and guarantees even those who go out in the group stages around £20m, would be the impact on next summer's transfers. Woodward, having minted United's remarkable commercial model, will have to prove himself as good at spending money as making it.
Yet if, as the club say, they are targeting only the very best players - those pinpointed by an overhauled scouting system as potential Champions League winners - then how alluring would a move to a team not even participating in the competition appear? Moyes has 18 Premier League matches in which to make that question academic.