Updated: May 26, 2021 1:06:52 pm
As Manchester United prepare to take on Villarreal for the Europa League title, anti-Glazer protests from fans are never too far from the surface.
Irate supporters, marching outside Manchester United’s Carrington training ground to halt training and then eventually leading a charge to Old Trafford that culminated in fans entering the pitch and dressing rooms, managing to postpone the Premier League match against Liverpool, is a scene still fresh in many minds. United’s participation in the stillborn European Super League was the immediate provocation, but no other club that has backed out of the venture has had to face fan ire to such an extent.
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For clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, who have seen massive investment over the years, fan anger dissipated very shortly. Even Liverpool fans, with their American owners, have shown a reluctance to punish their owners too much for trying to establish a new centre of power in football through the Super League. But none of these clubs’ fan anger comes close to the one shown by Manchester United supporters. It is a feeling ingrained since 2005 that has routinely showcased itself into the occasional protest and a banner flown above the stadium during a game, but never with such intensity.
Who are the Glazers?
Manchester United are currently owned by the six Glazer siblings — Avram, Joel, Kevin, Bryan, Darcie and Edward. Their father Malcolm Glazer, a business tycoon who made his wealth from real estate and ownership of banks, television stations and healthcare facilities, had his first taste of sport team ownership when he bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers National Football League (NFL) team in 1995 for $192 million, a record sum at the time. Malcolm’s sons Joel, Bryan and Edward were the ones running the Florida team.
How did the Glazer reign at Manchester United begin?
After buying the ‘Bucs’, the Glazer family turned their eyes on Manchester United. At the start of 2003, Malcolm Glazer purchased 2.9% of shares in the club at a cost of $4.7 million, a percentage that burgeoned to 30% by the end of the year.
Then in 2004, John Magnier and J. P. McManus, who owned 28.7% shares in Manchester United, had a falling out with then manager Alex Ferguson, over a racehorse called the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’, which was jointly owned by the pair and Ferguson. The duo sold their shares to the Glazers and handed almost 57% of shares in the club to the Americans.
That 57% would soon rise to 75%. The threshold for Malcolm Glazer to bid for complete ownership of Manchester United had already been breached when he owned 30% of the club.
In a few days, the Glazers made moves to delist Manchester United from the stock exchange, increase their shares in the club to 98% and then proceed to force the remaining two per cent to sell to them. The takeover of Manchester United Football Club for a grand total of £790 million was complete.
Why did this deal immediately face fan anger and backlash?
In one word. Debt.
A debt-free club till 2005, Manchester United’s purchase was financed through loans by Malcolm Glazer – who needed one more share after owning 75% of them to leverage a buyout of the club through loans. The full extent of these loans was a staggering £525 million.
What brought about the fan anger and backlash was not the loans taken, but the fact that the Glazers did exactly what fans thought they would do — leverage the debt onto the brand of Manchester United. Little to no money of his own was paid by Malcolm Glazer to purchase United. Borrowing money to purchase a future asset cost £60 million per year simply in interest costs.
What’s the debt situation today?
A report in The Athletic states that at the end of the financial year of 2020, Manchester United was in a debt of £455.5 million, an increase of £64.2 million brought about by the pandemic. In 2018, The Guardian reported that the Glazer takeover had drained United off more than £1 billion in interests, costs, fees and dividends that the Glazer family took for themselves since 2005.
According to Swiss Ramble, a Twitter account that tracks the business of football, some of the finer details of the deal are staggering. “In the last 15 years #MUFC have generated an impressive £5.9 billion revenue, but had £5.4 billion expenses (including £2.9 billion wages and £1 billion player amortisation), leading to £467 million operating profit. This was boosted by £257 million profit on player sales, but £817 million interest meant £92 million loss,” it said. The Twitter account also stated that Manchester United had a net spend on players of £1.0 billion but also spent £704 million in the same period on just the interests on loans taken out by the Glazers. In this period, only £185 million had been spent on infrastructural changes like improving Old Trafford, a stadium built in 1910.
How does a debt-based takeover still rankle Manchester United fans today?
The manner of the takeover, the haphazard purchase and sale of players – especially post the Alex Ferguson era – and the commercialisation of the club, at the behest of results and the lack of a plan for the future, has irked longstanding fans for over a decade now. ‘Glazer out’ protests have become commonplace and the owners of the club have been very astute in releasing the lid on this pressure cooker of tension once in a while – until the backfiring of the European Super League plan.
What is happening at the club now?
The Red Knights consortium, a group of fans who at one point tried to buyout the Glazers, in an ill-advised attempt in 2010, wrote to the club with a list of demands.
Those demands stated that the Glazers needed to bring their current stake — which stands at 75% — down to 49.9%. The letter also stated that the Glazers create a new supervisory board, one that would allow fans voting control on issues such as joining a new league or competition or changes in ticket prices. The letter and a demand for voting rights are considered part of an attempt to push the Glazers out of Manchester United.
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