Jesse Chula is not alone in thinking that the Glazers are a blight on Manchester United’s proud history. It is almost conventional wisdom that the Glazers represent an uncomfortable trend – wealthy foreign interlopers with more money than passion buying English clubs and, through a combination of debt and unfamiliarity with the culture of English football, running those teams into the ground. While there are certainly instances of that occurring (i.e. Portsmouth), the Glazers’ experience with Manchester United represents just the opposite – a prudent management of the financial operations combined with a hands-off approach to the football operations that has yielded fantastic success.
First, the football operations. If there is one instance of the Glazers mandating, hinting, suggesting, prodding or encouraging Alex Ferguson in any football decision, it has completely escaped the attention of the press. Ferguson seems to have as free a hand as any manager in football, and he has played that hand to fabulous success since the Glazers have taken over. In the four years since the Glazers have been full owners of Manchester United, they have won the Premiership three times, the Champions League once, appeared in another Champions League finals along with a FA Cup final and won a League Cup final.
Moreover, Ferguson has had money to spend to improve his team over that period, and has spent it freely. Among his acquisitions since the Glazers have taken over are:
- Dimitar Berbatov – £30.75 million
- Michael Carrick – £18.6 million
- Owen Hargreaves – £17 million
- Ji-Sung Park – £4 million
- Nemanja Vidic – £7 million
- Patrice Evra – £5.5 million
The only major sale of a significant player during the Glazer period is Christiano Ronaldo, and not even the most ardent Glazer haters believe that sale was engineered by anybody but Ronaldo himself.
Moreover, to the extent that the Glazers have talked about the success on the field, it was only to credit Alex Ferguson and the rest of the team for achieving it. They have not in any way tried to reflect the glory for this stupendous run of success upon themselves.
While ManU may be having an “off” year (they currently sit second in the table after a crippling string of injuries), it is clear that Ferguson is in a modest rebuilding mode after the departure of Ronaldo and is using this year to give many of his younger players some valuable experience, much as he did during the two years when Chelsea was in ascendancy. It is really hard to make the case that from a footballing perspective, the team is in some sort of permanent slide.
From a financing perspective, I also think the Glazers have managed their affairs very well. For the Glazers, owning this storied team is a long-term play, and they have made a number of moves to further that investment. Their new shirt sponsorship (£80 million over four years with Aon) begins next year and is the largest in football history. They have managed to secure that kind of deal because they, more than any other team in world football, have done a splendid job marketing the brand in Asia and America. They have a world-wide following that now eclipses Real Madrid and Barcelona.
There is no doubt that the Glazers financed their takeover of the team with a lot of debt. Yet, despite the tsunami that battered the debt market over the past 18 months, the Glazer have emerged from that tumult fully intact. I am sure they would have liked to have refinanced their debt a year or two ago, but the market constraints prevented them from doing that. Instead, just this week, the Glazers announced that they are working with financial giant Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts to fashion a £500 million bond issue to replace their current debt structure with long-term, lower interest bonds sold to institutional investors. For a team to be able to refinance themselves with such a conservative investment vehicle as a corporate bond is a testament to the Glazers wise financial stewardship of the entire operation. The long-term nature of these bonds should relieve the Glazers of any short-term liquidity issues and allow Ferguson to plan healthy transfer budgets for many years to come.
The Glazers have confounded every expectation since they have taken over the club. They have let the football operation be run with a free hand to enormous success, and have quietly gone about the hard work of adding value and security to the balance sheet. In almost every way, they are the ideal owners. They may not sit in the stands wearing the shirt and drinking a pint, but I doubt many Newcastle fans would now say that is the path to success. Instead, that have given the supporters much to celebrate, and kept the team on a sound financial footing to ensure that there will be more celebrations to come.