Shortsighted United Will Struggle For Top Four Finish

20 years since its inception and there are three definitive constants in the Premier League. 

England international players are always comically overpriced in the transfer market, referees are always unashamedly biased against only your club, and Manchester United will always contest the Premier League title. This coming season though, one of these may be about to change. (I'll give you a clue which one it is, officials still meet in darkened rooms and Andy Carroll is still valued at £20 million)

After 25 years in the job at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson might have added the very last accolade to his list of achievements; the highest award in managerial cliches, the ultimately inevitable “I've taken this club as far as I can” certificate.

Stay your wrath though, Manchester United fans. This isn't the ‘Fergie Is Past It‘ article you've all been waking up in cold sweats about for the last 5 seasons, in fact of all the key figures who might contribute to any forthcoming decline, old Whiskey Nose there isn't really one of them. Arguably, it's his marginalisation in proceedings that best highlights the problems that await.

I shan't retread the squeaky boards of life under the Glaziers, but the main statistic to bear in mind is that they have taken around £500million out of the club in their seven-year stint. Meanwhile, a title's-throw-away away, Manchester City have been lavished to the tune of nearly a £1billion investment from their owners.

In 1995, Manchester United broke a transfer record to bring in Andy Cole. They broke it again for Ruud Van Nistelrooy, then again for Juan Veron in 2001, and then again for Rio Ferdinand merely a year later. We're it not for a dodgy exchange rate adding a few hundred thousand to Andriy Shevchenko's asking price, they'd have done it again for Dimitar Berbatov.

Since then though, their purse strings have tightened like old lungs in a jazz bar, even the relative excesses of David De Gea, Ashley Young and Phil Jones were offset by a squad clearout last summer and thus cost less than their local rivals paid for Sergio Aguero alone.

If we use the summer when Cristiano Ronaldo finally decided that the North-West wasn't good for his tan as a starting point, merely three seasons ago, Manchester United haven't actually spent a penny.

Now, I'm not advocating that you need to spend obscene sums of money to win major domestic and international honours in football, but... actually no, that's exactly what you need to do. From having enough whiteboards in your state-of-the-art academy, to marquee signings of players who'll look good on trading cards, sustained success requires eye-watering investment. Manchester United have turned off the money tap, and there's only so many fires their manager can put out with what charitably drips out of the hose.

This summer, they've brought in a promising but entirely unproven young lad from a few divisions down, an exciting ball-player who's style, form and physique are as yet untried in this country, and been publicly snubbed by the likes of Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura.

Meanwhile, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are still being pressed into action despite having the combined age of most Incan temples and the former didn't even getting a proper rest this summer. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have all passed 30 and looked a shadow of a hint of a thought of a memory of a fart of their former selves last season. Ferguson famously dispelled the myth about not winning anything with kids, but last season showed you can't quite get there with the seniors alone.

Rumours continue to circulate about Nani's future, Darren Fletcher's health issues put him some distance away from a return, and judging by his form at Euro 2012 and in pre season, Wayne Rooney looks like he could be in for yet another spell of inexplicable mediocrity.

City haven't spent yet, but certainly don't need any major injections; Chelsea have apparently remembered their PIN code and gone out and got three of the most exciting attacking players in the world; and even Arsenal, for all their in-house problems, development philosophies, and likely departures, have gone out and bought Lucas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, and Oliver Giroud this summer. They're probably not three players who'll win you the league, but they'll at least have a go.

Alex Ferguson took charge of Manchester United football club before I was even born. He was telling Viv Anderson to believe in himself before I could digest solid food, he'd won the Champions League before I could unhook a bra, and he's overcome more managerial problems than I've laboured analogies, so it's with no sharpened knifes or rye smiles do I say this. But, for the first time in my football watching life, I can envisage a top four without him, and without the most successful club of the Premier League era.

Buying Robin Van Persie might help of course, but at 29 years of age and with a less than spotless injury record he'd be the equivalent of coming back from the shops with a bottle of Don Perion when your list just said “milk, bread, Modric”.

Read more columns from Adam Clery HERE.