|One of Manchester United’s many banners protesting the Glazer family’s grasp over the club the love|
I think it is fair to say that every true Manchester United fan is opposed to the Glazers ownership of Manchester United but how much do we actually know about what they have done, what are the realistic expectations of removing the owners from the club and what can us fans do to solve this massive problem at the club we love? Here’s all you need to know:
What have the Glazers done to turn a whole fanbase against them?
First, a little history; the Glazers began their rapid and constricting takeover of Manchester United in 2003 in which they owned a small percentage of shares in the club totalling 3.17%. Over the next two years, they would coil around the other shareholders like a python and choke the shares out of them and leave them with 100% ownership by early 2005. This cost Malcolm Glazer and his family around £800m at the time which would be approximately £1.1b today. It was realised later that this money used was in the forms of loans that the Glazers would then pay back by taking some, if not most, of the revenue from Manchester United to do so. As a result, many fans were outraged at the fact that the club which had been debt free since 1931 would then be forced into this position by this takeover by Malcolm Glazer and attempted but failed to both repurchase the club and even set up a new one. Since this point, the Glazers have not paid off all their debt they have forced onto Manchester United and have instead been taking money out of the club which has totaled over £1b down the years and has plunged the club into a depressing state where it seems that they cannot afford to refurbish the stadium.
Why is the Glazers Out Movement louder than ever?
Until recent years, the Glazer Out Movement was very quiet but we have seen it grow and grow and shroud the club like a thunderstorm ready to unleash itself. But why has it only resurfaced recently?
The fact is that the Glazer Out movement was diminished because Sir Alex’s success with Manchester United and David Gill’s exceptional management of the club as CEO kept the team winning and performing to an exceptional level that kept the majority of fans happy and the club becoming the richest and biggest club in England and Europe too. However, following both legends’ departures from the club in 2013, things started to become more obvious to the fans and protests began to surge. Because the club was being run by Ed Woodward who, after being hired by the Glazers in 2005 as an accountant, became the commercial and media operator for Manchester United in 2007 and was named as executive vice-chairman in 2012, he ultimately was not a man like David Gill with the footballing knowledge and expertise that was vital in scouting and targeting potential transfers and getting these deals done efficiently. This was so clearly exposed in the first transfer window at Manchester United in which, despite many big-name players linked and certainly in talks with moves to United, only Marouane Fellaini was added to David Moyes’ roster in the summer and Juan Mata in January. As a result, the team sank from first in the league to seventh, trophyless (besides a Community Shield against Championship side Wigan), and managerless at the end of the season with Moyes sacked and Giggs not chosen for the permanent role.
Throughout the next three managers’ times at the club, Manchester United often spent big and tried to replicate the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City in signing big-money and big-name players brought in and ultimately failing bar the exception of Pogba and Ibrahimovic. Since Woodward’s appointment, over £900m has been spent to send United back to its best and has been hugely unsuccessful due to poor, inconsistent recruitment, an inability to maintain a philosophy of management for long periods of time and idiocy in transfer negotiations throughout the transfer windows seeing United take far too long for negotiations and sometimes lose the players they look set to sign. Woodward may be an excellent accountant and exceptional in commercialising the club and earning revenue, but his appointment demonstrated that generating money from Manchester United to the Glazers was far more important than the club succeeding and being efficiently run from a footballing perspective and everything can truly be blamed from the top.
Who needs to go and how can it be done?
Every fan wants the Glazers out of the club and probably wants Woodward to leave too and if not, then have no impact on the footballing side of Manchester United. Some fans have also questioned both the manager and whether he is good enough to lead Manchester United into the future and for some, it is because Solskjaer is not an experienced manager and not proven himself at the top division yet. Solskjaer has also come into criticism for not directly opposing the Glazers’ rule and Woodward’s handling of the club and in fact stating that “they have invested loads”. Here is the next part of the puzzle, who needs to go, and if so, how?
1. The Glazers
They absolutely need to leave. Undeniably so. The toxicity they have brought to the club has cast an evil shadow over the Theatre of Dreams and has left it both literally falling apart and figuratively throughout the 2018/19 season, as it looked like darker days were ahead for Manchester United. Many have tried to purchase the club from the Glazers and all have failed so far. An unnamed former United director believes that this is because the Glazers have some connection to the club, stating: “I’m sure there have been people in the past who have been prepared to wave some notes at them but it would take a lot to get them out. Not just because they’d want to maximise their return but also because being the owner of Manchester United means something” (Manchester Evening News).
Honestly, I am not sure whether the latter statement is true, I do agree that they definitely want to maximise their return though. If you do not believe just this statement, Ed Woodward himself put it bluntly in May 2018; “If I answer that just very simply and candidly, playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial size of the business.” (Goal.com). This statement has never exposed the truth about how Manchester United is run. United seem clear to be first and foremost, a commercial business and not a footballing club so as long as Manchester United are increasing revenue, the Glazers will not care about the footballing side of the club as it does not directly affect their commercial increase and haven’t done so for years.
How can they leave? We gave our opinions last September and the situation seemed very hypothetical then as it does now. From the statement above, it seems the Glazers will want to maximise their return and it would take a lot of money to do so. Despite fan protests that have been present since 2005 but not heard strongly until very recently, perhaps with the impact of social media nowadays, I do doubt whether this will genuinely impact the Glazers to sell. Mike Ashley has been openly protested for years and is only now set to sell the club for a massive profit but yet nothing clear cut has happened at the time of writing. West Ham United fans have openly and sometimes violently protested against David Sullivan and David Gold, who own the majority of shares in West Ham, and are adamant on keeping the club, so for United’s owners, it will take something monumental from the fans to compel them to sell. There are two real options; another billionaire could come in and decide they want to purchase Manchester United from the Glazers and would cost them a lot of money. Reports suggest anything from £5b to a whopping £10b may be required to purchase this great club and even though Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman made an offer, he was only able to receive a small percentage of shares in the club for his money.
It does seem that the most realistic option is for Manchester United to become as valuable as possible for the Glazers to sell the club and fans would be happy with the results; United would become a valuable asset if they can invest in a squad that can increase the trophy haul and consistently push for titles on all fronts and for the whole season, it could allow the Glazers to sell United and finally be scraped away from the club like a barnacle from a ship. This may mean Manchester United are still in the possession of these corrupt individuals for the time being but could be the only realistic solution fans have been begging for. While I do understand that this may seem like a plan likely to backfire, the fact that Woodward has said the footballing side has no effect on the commercialisation of the club means that winning trophies will only increase the club’s material value and not increase the revenue substantially. In fact, if Manchester United won a quadruple next season (excluding the Super Cup and Community Shield), they would in fact earn a total of around £230m. While this seems substantial on its own, the fact that United had a revenue total of £636m in the fiscal year of 2019 (which has been increasing every year) demonstrates that the footballing side genuinely does offer very little income from what has been described as a “commercial club” by Louis Van Gaal in 2019.
2. Ed Woodward
Many people debate whether Ed Woodward should leave the club or not. This should not really be a debate. It has been made abundantly clear that he does not have the footballing brain that is vital in co-ordinating a football club and being in charge of authorising, negotiating, and completing transfers. While he has been an excellent accountant by increasing United’s revenue substantially and expanded United commercially, the other factors outweigh these successes and honestly, there are thousands of people who could do the same job and not complain about hiring a Director of Football for which we have previously given potential candidates. He has already stepped away from any type of player selection to bring to the club as he has brought in the likes of Di Maria, Falcao, Alexis Sanchez and Fred that were probably not (or definitely not) the manager’s signings, be it Van Gaal or Jose with only one of these players, Fred, still playing at the club and has started to find form this season. He remains part of the transfer dealings including the price tags set for the players leaving and all contract negotiations for players coming in and current players too.
While these dealings are reportedly arranged between Woodward and the manager, you would probably expect that Woodward will soon step away from all transfer dealings if he struggles to get the deals over the line for another season under Solskjaer as all five signings made by United in the 2019/20 season took a long time to complete and were organised one by one and is a very sluggish and inefficient way to sign players that need pre-season. For example, the likes of Fellaini, Martial, Pogba, and Maguire were signed late and none of the players receiving a pre-season with their new clubs. Maguire’s first game for United was the opener against Chelsea just six days after he was signed. These inefficiencies cause problems as, while Maguire received a MOTM performance against Chelsea, he struggled at first to form a partnership with his defensive partner, Lindelof – causing defensive issues at the back, most notably against Crystal Palace and Southampton. It is very clear that Woodward does need to leave the footballing side of Manchester United but will probably be unwilling to do so.
So, how can he leave? While the Glazers are still in control of Manchester United, I honestly see no way of Woodward being asked to leave or relinquish more of his control over the footballing side of United. Woodward makes the Glazers buckets of money and so allowing this man to have less control over the club could affect the owners financially and so would be unwilling to allow this to happen. There could be circumstances in which Woodward gives over control to a Director of Football if he can finally realise that he is not efficient enough in and out of the transfer windows and would save the club more money by getting deals done more efficiently and more quickly, which he clearly cannot do. This is again idealistic but we have seen him relinquish control, if only slightly, but it is a possibility. The most clear-cut way is if someone purchases United and demotes/fires Woodward straight away but as said previously, there are a difficult series of circumstances to get to from there.
3. The Manager?
I think it is fair to say that most fans were behind Ole as soon as the final whistle blew after beating Cardiff City 5-1 and it kept getting better until the peak in Paris after an astounding comeback in the Champions League. However, his team’s form dropped off a cliff and United plummeted out of two competitions and into sixth and lost their final game which was, as fate would have it, a 0-2 loss at home to relegated Cardiff. Questions were raised over everyone at the club from the players to the owners rightfully as United ended the season so very poorly with only two wins in twelve.
Throughout the 2019 Pre-Season, there were disgruntled fans saying it would only be a matter of time before Ole was sacked and that United would finish mid-table with the squad he has. While United sank low during a two month period without key players and while they were far better from October onwards, the squad depth still had issues and hampered United’s consistency. Then Rashford’s injury cost United as their dynamism was depleted against Liverpool and Burnley as they suffered back-to-back losses. Bruno Fernandes came in on deadline day and revolutionised the club’s attacking play and Fred and Matic absorbed the pressure, allowing United’s attackers to flourish and go on a, now 16 game unbeaten run in all competitions with all but two first-team players fit after the lockdown.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not deserve to be in this conversation of who is to blame for United’s downfall. He came in when United were at an all-time low and while he didn’t truly improve things until the end of a torrid 2018/19 season where Ole began to truly settle. The issues at the club were before he joined and if he is sacked I am not sure they will go away either. He is changing the way the club thinks about players and is changing the way the current players think about the club. I could go into great detail as to how Solskjaer has had an overall positive impact on Manchester United and driving the team and club forwards but the argument most fans make is not about the club’s form or promise.
Why do fans blame Solskjaer?
Some fans deem Solskjaer a coward or weak to not directly oppose the way things have been done at the club due to the fact that Ole stated that the Glazers “have spent loads” for United but fans state the Glazers should be spending more money. While this is a fair argument, there are more layers to look at:
Firstly, Solskjaer was not happy with the way Manchester United was being dealt with by Malcom Glazer in 2005. He was named as the patron for the Shareholders United group who were opposed to the takeover and aimed to scupper the deal. At the time he stated that “I am honoured. I think it is important that the club remains in the right hands. I am absolutely on the supporters’ side and think the club is in very good hands as it is today. I am a United fan myself and only want what is best for the future.” (Manchester Evening News). This seems a clear statement and I don’t think he has backed down from this statement.
He is working for the Glazers but seems to be looking for a way to succeed in spite of their tight grip over United and cannot succeed if he openly criticises his employers while working for the club they own. Three permanent managers have managed the club under Woodward and the Glazers before Solskjaer and all have raised concerns over the running of the club but only one has done so while still the United manager:
Jose Mourinho, throughout the 2018/19 season and 2018 Pre-Season, commented on his lack of signings and the refusal to increase squad depth, referring to the way Juventus are run; “they had Higuain, Mandzukic, Dybala, they want more. They want Ronaldo. They had Barzagli, Chiellini, Rugani, they are not happy, they want more, they want Bonucci. And they go for the best players in the world,” he told reporters after Juventus beat United at Old Trafford. Earlier that season, before the results started to go wrong and the dressing room reportedly turned sour, Mourinho directly stated he wanted more players but believed it idealistic whether he would receive any more; “I would like to have two more players. I think I am not going to get two. I think that it’s possible I will have one. I gave a list to my club of five names a few months ago. And I wait to see if it’s possible to have one of these players.”
Mourinho openly criticised the way Woodward and the Glazers controlled and ran the footballing side of the club and did so in his third and final season at United and is a far more interesting parallel with Solskjaer. Mourinho is a smart man and an exceptional manager, it became clear that he needed players and was desperate for the CEO to sign them but to no avail and United’s defensive mess became so very exposed throughout the season including humbling losses to Brighton, Spurs, City and the final one against Liverpool before Jose was sacked. While things got better for a time before his dismissal due to the rise of Lindelof and Shaw at the back and Martial scoring regularly, United lost momentum and sank so low during that season. Jose was sacked in early December and I gave my opinion at the time and came to the conclusion that while things were not the best this season from a footballing side of things, it came from a deeper issue at the top of the club and the failure to back the manager when he needed it most. Mourinho warned the Glazers and Woodward to give him players to compete with the rising powers across the city, at Anfield, and even to compete with a boring Chelsea, an inconsistent Spurs, and a defensively shocking Arsenal side and yet United finished below them all.
So, should Solskjaer do the same or have done the same when the chips were down? Short answer, no. Mourinho had been successful at United and had won a treble of sorts in his first season and guaranteed European football in his two full seasons at the club, he had the backing of the fans and the players and was making the owners money so had their ear, it would seem. Solskjaer has not won anything at United yet which is constantly brought up by his critics but looks on track to compete for Champions League football and two trophies this season. If he is not backed in this summer’s transfer window, I think he has every right to complain but perhaps will do so more tactically as Jose may be direct and clear but it fractured his relationship with these toxic owners and incompetent chairman and made the challenge of firing this great manager far easier. United cannot be in a bad position when Ole starts asking for things because it will allow these awful and two-dimensional people to fire Solskjaer quickly and with “valid” reasons other than asking for more money for the footballing side like they did with Jose.
Things need to get better on a footballing side before they can become better higher up unfortunately. It seems oxymoronic but is simply a consequence of being owned by corrupt and single-minded owners and co-ordinated by a banker with no knowledge of football. Solskjaer is doing exceptionally well with what he has but will need support and money to continue in his attempt to rebuild Manchester United to the European powerhouse that players begged to play for and teams feared to play against. If Solskjaer can be successful at United and maximise their value, the Glazers seem more likely to sell as they will recieve more money for the club and can scuttle away back into the darkness. This may seem like a paradoxical situation but unfortunately it seems to be the best and most realistic option to be freed of these people. Until the Glazers and Woodward depart, enjoy the football that is being played even if it’s on TV and not at Old Trafford and back the manager and players who have changed their mentality and philosophy and reignite a flame that has been burning dimly for so long.