At this point last season, many neutral observers of Manchester United at Old Trafford could be forgiven for believing they were watching matches televised from Norwich City’s Carrow Road. This is not a criticism of the quality of football on display – clearly these were Premier League footballers. Instead it was the legions of Man United supporters wearing the green and gold colors to protest against the Glazers, the owners of Manchester United. The similarity of the colors to Norwich City was just a coincidence.
If you remember last season, Old Trafford was filled with banners urging all supporters to not renew their season tickets, a sea of Green and Gold scarves throughout the stadium and hostile chanting aimed exclusively at the club’s American owners. The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) made it very clear that they feel the club should be owned (at least partially) by the club’s supporters and refuse to endorse the club whilst it continues to operate under the burden of over £500 million in debt incurred by the Glazer family. It is a movement that has accumulated great support and has led to the club suffering a drastic fall in season ticket renewals.
I am not an economist, but I am a supporter of Manchester United and passionately care for the future of the club. However, I for one cannot bring myself to support this movement. Duncan Dresdo and the executive committee of MUST have, in my view, operated an ingenious strategic plan to attempt to usurp the Glazer family and ensure that supporters of the club have the ability to vote on the future running of Old Trafford.
Many will wonder why I cannot support this proposal, and there is no simple answer for this. Although the green and gold colors were prevalent at every United fixture from January to May 2010, the campaign has clearly waned throughout the 2010-2011 season. Some supporters still insist on wearing the colours of Newton Heath, although they still put money into the Glazer’s pockets by purchasing a match-ticket, food and drink from stadium kiosks and are often seen sporting an official club jersey. I cannot help feeling that these supporters that still attend matches wearing the ancient colours of Manchester United are merely following a fashion trend, and are not pursuing a campaign against the owners.
Manchester United claim to have over 333 million supporters worldwide and currently has over 11 million “fans” on the clubs official Facebook site. My ultimate problem with the proposed takeover, be it by a group of over 20 wealthy investors or by the club’s entire fan base, is that the club would lack in having any clear leader. For the time being, support of Sir Alex Ferguson is almost unanimously shared by most supporters of the United and his judgment is trusted due to his track record of success. The real problem would be 1) deciding who should succeed Ferguson and 2) allowing the new incumbent time and resources to succeed. With such a vast fan base, there will undoubtedly be many supporters who will not be content with whoever is ultimately chosen to take the Old Trafford hot seat.
Under the current model, United have silent owners who Ferguson claims to have received “100 percent” support from. The new manager will also require such support and no interference in team affairs from the chairman. Many supporters will unfairly demand instant and sustained success from Ferguson’s replacement. It is, in many ways, an impossible job. However, this job would be made all the more difficult if the supporters had the power to interfere with the managers job as an inevitable power-struggle between the supporters, 20 plus billionaire owners and the manager continue. Bob Paisley famously banished Bill Shankly from Anfield upon taking the job at Liverpool, stating that in football there must be “one dog, one master” and continued to build on Shankly’s success. Under Mr Dresdo’s proposal, Manchester United would have millions of individuals with the power to vote on all club matters over the managers head.
Many will argue that this model works perfectly well at Barcelona. It is also fashionable for many football experts to portray the Catalan club as the perfect model for all others to follow, a view shared by many who support the Green and Gold protests. I would ask these supporters to consider Barcelona’s track record over the last 15 years in comparison to Manchester United. Since 1995, Barcelona have won 6 La Liga titles and 2 European Cups. Manchester United has also won 2 Champions League trophies, and 9 Premier League titles. Barcelona undoubtedly have the strongest squad in La Liga and one of the most talented in Europe, but it is a fallacy to suggest that they have successfully operated any more effectively than United over the past 15 years.
I have my own opinions on where United could strengthen the squad and I would not claim that the Glazers debt has in any way helped Manchester United. Many agree that the squad will require investment this summer and believe the manager should have bought extra quality players in the summer of 2010. Yet there are 19 other clubs in the Premier League that would gladly trade United’s position in the Premier League table with only 8 games remaining.
The club has continued to grow commercially by signing significant telecommunication and other sponsorship agreements with blue-chip companies from all over the world. The debt continues to be gradually paid and the Glazers £220 million complete pay-back of the PIK hedgefund loan should not be underestimated.
The Glazers arouse suspicion by their silence; but from past experience silence is golden (not green) when it comes to football club owners.