Back-to-back failures to qualify for the Champions League could cost Manchester United £150million.
Defeat to former pupil Ronald Koeman’s Southampton saw Louis van Gaal’s side drop to fourth and raised fears of another costly year outside Europe’s top competition.
With the Premier League title a two-horse race between Chelsea and Manchester City, Koeman confident his side can stay third and perennial qualifiers Arsenal just a point behind United, the chilly temperatures at Old Trafford on Sunday may not have been the only thing sending a shiver down the spine of club officials.
That figure will be at least the same amount next year and with £150m emptied from the club’s bank account on summer transfers, a series of new top earners on the wage bill and more expected to follow, qualification is essential.
‘United need to qualify and the Glazers will want them to qualify but if they don’t the long-term damage casued by underachievement could actually be more important.’
Prof Cashmore believes United have already lost some of their aura.
‘I’d compare it to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL,’ he said. ‘Throughout the late 80s and 90s they were huge in America but then they started to struggle and their brand was damaged by it.
‘I think we have already seen that with United and it will affect their commercial pulling power.’
Should United fail to qualify for the Champions League before the end of the 2016-17 season they will also face a 30 per cent reduction in their £75m-a-year record-breaking kit deal with adidas although their shirt sponsorship agreement with US car giants Chevrolet is not thought to be affected by on-field performance.