Who is the owner of Manchester United?
The answer to that question has caused pain in the hearts of many a Manchester United supporter for over a decade now.
True, the club hierarchy has helped bring success of the most magnificent order to the club in recent times, but all the blinding success hasn’t elevated their status amongst the United faithful. So, who are these maligned individuals?
The formation of a business empire
‘Glazer, Glazer, What’s The Score? Clear All The Debt In Singapore’
The above slogan - which was displayed outside Old Trafford by Manchester United fans to protest the floating of the club’s shares on the Singapore Stock Exchange, pretty much summarises the relationship the Manchester United faithful share with their despised owners – the Glazers! The owners are Avram, Bryan, Joel and Edward Glazer – sons of late billionaire Malcolm Glazer, although Edward sold his shares off shortly after the death of his father.
Malcolm Glazer, who originally purchased a stake in the club, was the son of Jewish immigrants who were acute businessmen. His father owned a jewellery and a watch repair business, which he inherited in 1943 and soon ventured into the real estate space, with a strong foothold in Florida.
His real estate business, although successful, left a bad taste in the mouth of many of his tenants and soon found himself and his company – First Allied Corporation as victims of a lawsuit filed by the tenants, who protested against his ridiculous fees.
Glazer’s ventures soon expanded and his holding company soon acquired stakes in various prestigious companies including: Zapata Corporation, Omega Protein, Formica and Harley Davidson, with the latter two companies being the subjects of a failed takeover by Malcolm and his group.
The United venture & takeover
Under the Glazers ownership, the Buccaneers won its first Superbowl, created history by recording 12 consecutive wins winning three NFC South Division titles in a span of six years.
However, owning the Buccaneers wasn’t enough and the Glazer family made their most famous venture in 2005, with the acquisition of legendary English football club – Manchester United.
The Glazers’ initial investment of £9 million, totalling to a 2.9% stake, was devoid of controversy.
In fact, it was seen as a welcome relief as the fans were concerned with the growing influence of the club’s previous stakeholders John Magnier and J.P McManus, with the latter famously falling out with former manager Sir Alex Ferguson over the ownership of the famed racehorse – Rock of Gibraltar, and even attempted to have the Scot evicted from his position.
The United board were disturbed by the activities of the Irishmen and launched a hunt for potential investors, which attracted Malcolm’s son, Avram, who convinced his father to invest in the club.
The Glazers’ investment in the club grew steadily, and in 2004, they increased their stake to 16.31%. By October 2004 that investment reached 30%, prompting them to launch a formal takeover of the club.
A price was agreed with McManus and Magnier, whose stakes were finally bought off by the Glazers, who now had a controlling stake of just about 57%. The stakes of the remaining shareholders were eventually purchased and in May 2005, Manchester United finally became a wholely owned entity of the Glazers at the cost of £790 million ($1.5 billion).
Uprising of the fans
However, things soon got sour between the Glazers and the Manchester United fans, after the club’s supporters realised the amount of debt taken on by the Glazers to finance the acquisition. The astronomical debt that the Glazers had been saddled with ranged from £265 million to £275 million, which was secured against the clubs assets, putting United into debt for the first time since 1931 and leaving their supporters seething.
Anger levels soared so much amongst the fans, that a group of them formed their own club – F.C United of Manchester, who currently compete in the National League North. The disgruntled supporters even went on to form a fan campaign titled – ‘Love United Hate Glazer’, which involved spreading of slogans around the city as well as the display of banners around Old Trafford.
Supporters of the campaign also flaunted distinctive green and gold scarves, which were the colours of United’s predecessor Newton Heath, and were famously displayed during the 4-0 drubbing of AC Milan, with even former player David Beckham spotted wearing the scarf, which he claimed was a gesture of support for the Manchester United fans and not a jibe against the Glazers.
The (Red) Knights in shining armour
A group consisting of wealthy Manchester United supporters, calling themselves the Red Knights, was formed in a bid to buy back the club from the Glazers. Reports emerged of a meeting taking place between the Manchester United Supporters Trust and the Knights, to discuss a potential takeover.
Keith Harris, the Chairman of investment institution Seymour Pierce and a lifelong United supporter was even called in to help make the deal happen.
The proposed deal involved a group of fans purchasing a £700 million stake in the club, with the remaining amount raised from the Manchester United fans. The deal was put on hold in 2010 after the investors believed that the value of the club was greatly inflated, and is now virtually dead in the water as the club in now valued at $3.05 billion, much more than the amount the investors wish to pay.
United goes to the Big Apple
Another highlight of the Glazer ownership is their listing of the club on the New York Stock Exchange, which debuted on 10 August, 2012. The shares closed at $14 each, which increased Manchester United’s value to $2.3 billion, making the club one of the most valuable sports teams in the world.
The IPO greatly reduced the clubs debts and placed it at a safer £307 million. Despite the concerns among fans, the listing of the club on the NYSE wasn’t all that bad and in a way benefitted the club.
The ‘Sir Alex’ factor
Despite the frosty vibes the Glazers have received from all corners of the Manchester United fans, the owners shared an excellent relationship with former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who praised them to the heavens in his 2013 autobiography. The Scot claimed that the owners never interfered in his managerial duties, which most modern owners have a habit of doing, and even went so far as to call them great.
The Glazers, in turn, reciprocated the positive support received from Sir Alex and stood with the Scot on certain matters like agreeing that no player should receive a salary higher than his, funding his expensive buys as well as not blinking an eyelid when it came to paying the Premier League’s fines due to Sir Alex’s seven-year boycott of the BBC, after the broadcaster published unflattering information about his son Jason.
On a positive note
The Glazers and the board have also backed subsequent managers David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal up to the hilt, keeping in tradition with the clubs philosophy. The family, along with chief executive Ed Woodward have also brought in lucrative sponsorship deals to the club, including the historic ten-year deal with Adidas worth £750 million, which has allowed the club to invest big on top talent.
Anyone who is the owner of Manchester United would want nothing but success for the club, and that’s something that has come in abundance. The trophies, including the Champions League, that the club have won under the ownership of the Glazers are another thing that simply cannot be ignored, which makes them somewhat of a good luck charm for Manchester United.
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All in all, there are two sides to every coin, and one must analyse both before coming to a judgement.