Hopes that Manchester United’s Glazer family could be forced to adopt the Bundesliga’s 50+1 ownership ruling could be affected by a legal challenge taking place in Germany.
Years of unrest surrounding the unpopular owners was reignited in April, sparked by the club’s decision to join the European Super League.
The widely-reviled proposals quickly proved to be little more than a billionaire’s fever dream, with fan revolts ensuring that all six English clubs had withdrawn from the project within just two days.
Although protests were widespread, the scenes before United’s home game with fellow ESL outcasts Liverpool were the most notable.
Thousands turned up to re-affirm their opposition to the Glazer regime. One group of furious United fans stopped team buses from travelling to Old Trafford, while hundreds more broke into the ground and directed their anger towards watching Sky TV cameras.
The scale of the protests had the unprecedented effect of getting the match abandoned, a consequence of which being a renewed focus on football ownership in England.
Many of those present held placards demanding government intervention, with “50+1” one of the most common sights. The slogan even found itself used in a separate protest at United’s Carrington training complex.
The ruling, established in 1998, was introduced to ensure that German fans hold a majority stake in the running of their clubs. It was also seen as a means of maintaining a fair and competitive league, by limiting the influence of external investors. Only three clubs are exempt from the ruling: Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim.
However, the ruling is currently being challenged by the Bundeskartellamt – the German markets authority – with lawyers arguing that it actually restricts competition. The crux of the challenge appears to be that the playing field in Germany is already unequal, due to the three clubs allowed exemption.
With club ownership very much in the spotlight, and United fans eagerly hoping for signs of encouragement from the ongoing fan-led review being chaired by Tracey Crouch MP, the timing of the news isn’t ideal.
Germany has long been regarded as a model example of how to run football, with fans being embedded in the decision-making process and central to the governance of their beloved clubs.
The Premier League has always seemed like a hyper-capitalist, modern day wild-west by comparison, with investment coming ahead of sporting merit and anyone with a few quid welcome to chance their arm.
Although the latest developments from Germany are only murmurs from the beginning of a long process, they do cast some doubt on the impregnability of this German ideal. Although the model has been upheld for now, it does suggest that further challenges are inevitable. Not that this will stem feelings of optimism about the future of United.
United fans will be keen to maintain the current momentum and will surely press on with their campaign, independent of events abroad. Having already realised an ‘impossible’ dream by dragging Joel Glazer out of (self-imposed) exile to the upcoming Fans’ Forum, they’ll surely see this as a golden opportunity to keep up the pressure on all fronts.