Manchester United will put on their bravest face if the team goes a second consecutive season without reaching the Champions League , but qualification to football’s elite tournament is vital for next season. For prestige, for football, for huge games, for money. Would Bruno Fernandes have come at the start of the season if United had been in the Champions League rather than the Europa League ? The chance of that happening would have been far higher. United’s kit manufacturer Adidas holds a clause in its contract where it would pay 30 per cent less than its £75 million annual fee should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team fail to qualify for the Champions League two years in succession. No other sponsors have such a clause, though Chevrolet, the main shirt sponsor, does have one should United be relegated from the Premier League. United aren’t in poor financial shape and are far better positioned than Barcelona – the one club in the world with a higher wage bill – but Champions League qualification makes a significant difference. A draw at Leicester City on Sunday will be enough, Leicester being the club who’d likely lose out if it’s only a draw. Fans are nervous, but no United Premier League season has ended with such excitement since 2013. High drama in store on final day of longest Premier League campaign United have wobbled in the last two weeks with two draws, a cup defeat and a win, but Leicester have wobbled more – they were 15 points clear of United in February. Implausibly, since they have their lowest points total of any Premier League season so far (62 vs 63 under David Moyes), United are now third and in the top four for the first time since beating Leicester in September, with Chelsea fourth. United’s defensive stats are comparable with the two teams well above them, but it will all count for little with another fifth-place finish. There would be another chance: if Leicester win and United slip back out of the top four on Sunday, United can qualify via the Europa League, as they did in 2017 under Jose Mourinho. Sunday is the one, the biggest league match of Solskjaer’s time as United boss But Sunday is the one, the biggest league match of Solskjaer’s time as United boss. Like his players, his contract is heavily incentivised, with significant clauses for Champions League football. United’s wage bill was 9 per cent down for the first three months of this season with no participation among the European elite. Total staff costs were 18 per cent down with no Champions League football, with player salaries the biggest mitigation. That’s one saving nobody at the club wants to make on a £50 million cut in broadcasting revenue. Astana vs United doesn’t quite have the same global appeal as a Barcelona clash. The sky is the limit for Mason Greenwood as he silences Jadon Sancho chatter The impact would not just be on the screen. The club cut ticket prices for Europa games; Old Trafford struggles to sell out for them too. On the street, United against Juventus and PSG attracted the most money from ticket touts. There’s a vast demand for corporate hospitality too – no United home ticket has been as in demand as for the game vs Real Madrid in 2013 which saw Nani’s red card, elimination and Alex Ferguson moving on a few months later. It hasn’t been the same since. Before the coronavirus struck, United’s expected revenue for this season was between £560-580 million, a drop from £627 million in 2018-19 when there was Champions League football. That has been revised down, but broadcasting revenue for the quarter was £64.7 million, a decrease of £39 million, or 37.6 per cent, on the previous year, primarily due to the lack of Champions League football. United are trying to attract new players to strengthen and having Champions League football helps, though the club were still contacted by players – or their agents – from teams currently considered much stronger. One player made his intentions clear months ago – and he could win the Champions League this season. Of the current players, it was a given that the Red Devils played in football’s top competition as they had done for 18 consecutive seasons from 1996 to 2014. Yet since the last title win in 2013, United have failed to reach it three times. In 2014, United didn’t even reach the Europa League – it was the only season United have failed to play in Europe since English clubs were reintroduced in 1990. The Europa League has served the club well. The competition was well worth winning in 2017 and has been the right platform for youngsters like Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams this term. Trips to football’s left field cities like St Etienne, Vigo or Belgrade can be even more enjoyable than to an established giant but United are one of the three biggest clubs in the world: Champions League should be the norm. Reaching it for 2020-21 won’t be a panacea. It won’t bring fans straight back into the stadium and glorious European nights at Old Trafford will be hollow without fans. Reaching it shouldn’t be the target. United should be winning it, but just being in that mix will show that Solskjaer is getting it right.