As a football fan, you quite often read nonsense that is written about your club, written by out of touch journalists who have long forgotten how it feels to support a club, if they ever supported one at all. Some journalists feel the need to judge football fans, to criticise them, to tell them how they should behave and what they should think.
Having read Jonathan Mahler’s article on the Glazers and our fans, called “Manchester United’s Yank-Hating Fans“, I am genuinely struggling to recall a time I’ve read a more misinformed piece of writing that fails to grasp any of the key issues.
Mahler suggests that we shouldn’t care that the money we invest in our club goes straight in to the Glazer’s back pocket because United win the league fairly regularly. Even if you ignore the fact United won the league regularly before the Glazers, the idea that a fan should be alright with spending hundreds of pounds every season that is then not invested in the team, but instead makes the Glazers richer, is bonkers.
Feel free to read the article in full or just enjoy some of the best bits below.
In the hypercompetitive world of European soccer, winning one title is huge. Winning two is almost unheard of.
United won the Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup in 1999. United won the Premier League and European Cup in 2008. United won the Premier League and FA Cup in 1994 and 1996, Arsenal in 1998 and Chelsea in 2010. Chelsea won the Premier League and the League Cup in 2005, United in 2009. Liverpool won the FA Cup and the League Cup in 2001, Chelsea did in 2007. So, ten times in the past nineteen seasons an English club has won at least two trophies. Hardly unheard of.
Simply by buying a majority stake in Man U in 2005, the Glazers took a big step toward securing the club’s uncertain future. At the time, United’s Irish owners were on the brink of firing its longtime manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, over a dispute about the ownership of a prizewinning horse.
Let’s start with the basics, John Magnier and JP McManus were never our “owners”. They were shareholders who built up a 28.89% stake in the club. In 2004, following a dispute with Ferguson over a racehorse, they requested that the club halt contract extension negotiations with Ferguson while the United directors carried out a probe into his business affairs, and especially his dealings with his football agent son Jason. They instead wanted Ferguson to agree to a one-year rolling contract, instead of signing a lengthier contract. However, a spokesperson for the club confirmed that Magnier and McManus’ request had been rejected and that contract negotiations would continue. “We value his [Ferguson's] services, and we are very keen to secure his services for a further period.”
Regardless, the two men were not in a position to “fire” Ferguson as they were merely shareholders, not owners. But let’s imagine that they had decided to force a takeover, a personal dispute would hardly lead them to sack Ferguson, the most successful manager in English football history, because the share price would plummit and they would be massively out of pocket. To claim that the Glazers saved Ferguson’s job is absolutely absurd.
What sort of thanks did the Glazers get for keeping Ferguson, not to mention loading the club with high-priced talent from around the world? They have been called financial parasites, vandals and strip-miners. More specifically, United’s supporters accuse the Glazers of taking on too much debt and pocketing too much of the team’s profits.
According to BBC, thanks to the Glazers, United have had £500m less to spend than they would have otherwise had. This figure is supported by The Guardian and Forbes. So, it’s not really just an accusation from the supporters, rather a fact, unless Mahler believes £500m over seven years is a reasonable amount to take from the club.
Since the Glazers bought Man U, it has earned four Premier League titles and reached the finals of the Champions League three times, winning it once. These are remarkable results, especially in a sport in which the better team often loses.
Does the best team in the Premier League often not win the title? Over 38 games it is fairly conclusive who the best team is and whilst you might get the odd grumble from fans and managers every now and again, a league campaign is the best way to prove who the best is. Cup competitions are slightly different, with progression and success dependant on just a handful for games. Still, in the Champions League finals United lost against Barcelona, there is no debate over which team was better, and it’s odd to imply there is any doubt. United got battered in 2009 and 2011 and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. “In a sport in which the better team often loses”? What on earth is he on about?
As for the Glazers, they’re doing pretty well, too, helping themselves to half of the $233 million that Man U raised in last summer’s IPO. (The rest was used to reduce the club’s debt.) Does this make them rapacious Yankees? Maybe. But wouldn’t a better question be: As long as the team keeps winning, why should fans care what its owners do with the club’s money?
Whilst United have enjoyed success during the Glazer ownership, it has not been the most successful period in the club’s history and has been achieved in spite of the Glazers, not because of them. Had United won the league every season whilst the Glazers had been here, then Mahler’s point about us sustaining success would be valid. In 2001 United had arguably the best midfield in Europe, with Roy Keane and Paul Scholes playing centrally, and Nicky Butt (who Pele named his player of the tournament in the 2002 World Cup) on the bench. But United had money to burn and added Juan Sebastian Veron to the mix and broke the English transfer record to do so.
Things are very different now. Between 2008-2013, United have had a net spend of £57m, which works out at around £11m a season. In that same time period, Liverpool have spent 5% more, City have spent 300% more and Chelsea have spent an incredible 600% more. Both City and Chelsea have taken the title off us since 2008, so to suggest we shouldn’t care that the Glazers have taken £500m of the club’s money is ridiculous.
Jonathan has welcomed feedback on his article. If you would like to tell him what you think of it, please contact him here: firstname.lastname@example.org or @jonathanmahler. Or contact the editor responsible for this article, Michael Newman: email@example.com