It’s fair to say that the ownership at Manchester United has always been a sensitive issue with supporters. Since being plunged into debt from a leveraged takeover from Malcolm Glazer and his family, fans have been hoping for a sale to someone who can make the club compete against the clubs backed by billionaire money. But after the death of Malcolm Glazer, that could be sooner rather than later.
At the beginning, what Glazer did was cold, dark and devious. To buy United via hedge funds, bank loans and heavy interest payments against the football club, was morally wrong. However, in the modern world of business, it was not illegal. If we go back a few years before, when BSkyB were linked with a £600m takeover, the ‘Monopolies and Mergers Committee’ jumped in and vetoed any such move. They stepped in because of the morality of the move and what it would mean for English football. However, where were the morals when Glazer made a hostile takeover bid?
After obtaining his shares and taking control, the club went from being in the black to being plunged nearly £660m into debt overnight. Since that moment, the club has had its hands tied in the transfer market. Extending Old Trafford, and further improving the training ground were done only in the interest of making money. Extending Old Trafford was to bring in extra match day revenues, whereas improving the training ground was a cheaper option than spending £50m a year on transfers.
The club has always had a great history of producing young players but that became the necessity under the new ownership. The Glazers only invested in the transfer market for players who could be made into stars and then sold on to make profits. Now, that does not mean the club did not have money to spend every summer. They did. But when it came to negotiations, a low ceiling was placed which meant haggling or being blown out of the water by clubs with bigger budgets. Only the genius management and coaching of Sir Alex has the club, ironically, had one of its successful phases between 2006-2009.
A blessing in disguise though has made the Glazer family realise that you cannot rest on laurels in football. David Moyes joined the club in July 2013 and the idea was he would be a replica-Sir Alex and would carry on his great work. Wrong. For successful businessmen, to not take an active role in appointing a successor showed how much they did not know about football, even though they had been involved since 2005. With share-value declining and the club missing out on European football, and the money it brings, the Glazer family realised investment was needed.
The club has a large budget this summer. £100-150m is there. Whether we spend that much is another matter. The only way fans would be appeased and that be proven is if we did spend that much. However, the squad left behind, and the continual rise of cross-city rivals Manchester City, has shot the Glazer family in the arm.
They know that this is the most challenging and most important period of their ownership. They rode the wave of hatred and anger in 2005 but this is different to them, because it is more personal and could harm their own bank accounts. If the club does not return to where the club belongs, we could see a swift and hurried change of ownership once again.
The importance of the next 18 months, on and off the pitch, cannot be put into words. Word from within the club says members of the Glazer family want to sell whereas Joel and Avi, who have the responsibility, do not want to sell just yet. However, the death of their father may change things.
Malcolm Glazer did not have a front-line input into the clubs running but that does not mean his passing wont effect the club in the near future. Without him there, the Glazer siblings can now argue without one of them running to him for support. In reality, the club is ripe for a sale. From buying the club and using around just £200m of their own money to selling the club and potentially gaining five times that in profit, seems very appealing.
One event that proves and disproves that at the same time is the IPO issued last year. The club put on 10% of the club onto the stock market. Was that to gain extra funds? Pay off debts? Or to gain a realistic value for their most coveted business? It could be argued the extra money made was to reinvest into a squad that needed an overhaul. On the other hand, it can also be argued that it was the first steps of the family looking at how attractive the club was to people around the world. The IPO itself was oversubscribed, what does that tell you?
The tenure of being under the control of the Glazers has been a horrible one for the fans Fergie kept things stable on the pitch. Within all of this, it is easy to forget it is firstly a football club. Regardless of what goes on off the pitch, what is most important is what happens on it. However, the leadership and investment in the modern day has taken greater importance. The club is a global moneymaking machine, and will be for the near future. But can the club afford to coast through this phase whilst others improve and overtake us?
If Joel & Avi think the answer is no, they will begin to actively look for a buyer. However, if Louis van Gaal returns the club to the top, they may rethink and stay longer. Many believe they will stay until the debt is cleared so they can maximise the money they get. However, can they really afford to take such a risk? Billionaires from China and Qatar have been linked with moves for the club, and the club has always swiftly denied it is not for sale.
If any of those make another tentative move, we may find that the ‘not for sale’ stance may just change.