17 January ~ Some Manchester United fans are starting to look like those old Looney Tunes cartoon characters who were so prone to falling off cliffs. Cartoon physics, of course, dictate that when running in mid-air, gravity has no effect until the character notices and reacts. Beside the huge opposition to the Glazer takeover back in 2005, there were the more complacent supporters, who thought the Glazers were not a problem if the team kept performing well. Those fans are now hanging in the air, glancing down at their club's bank balance and teamsheet, as they realise that gravity is about to suck them under.
The Glazer era has been the most successful period in the club's history. Three League titles, two League Cups, a European Cup (and another final), and a World Club Championship all attest to that. But while judging the Glazers by the team's success makes intuitive sense, it only illustrates how healthy the club were before they arrived. The Glazers should be judged by what they have given the club and what they have taken away.
United currently stand one title away from overtaking Liverpool as the most successful club in League history. But the Glazers have contributed nothing to this. In fact, they haven't contributed anything to the club at all, other than spiraling debts that were neither wanted nor needed. The Glazers borrowed heavily to buy the club, encumbering it with debts of £700 million in the process. Last year the club paid £42m in interest to service these debts, taking the total interest paid in the Glazer era to £325m. But for the world record fee received for Cristiano Ronaldo, United would have turned a substantial loss in a championship-winning season.
Despite almost doubling ticket prices in the past four years, the club have gone from being the most profitable in the world to the most indebted. And for this service, the Glazer family have paid themselves a handsome £10.9m in "consultancy fees", to go with the £10m they borrowed from the club last year. Making former players pay for their own meals on matchdays and forcing training ground staff to buy their own toast in the morning may sound like small concerns, but they are indicative of the cultural shift at the club. With the interest payments required, employees and fans can expect more embarrassingly desperate pleas for their money.
At the time of the takeover, a lot of United fans didn't mind who owned the club as long as the team remained successful. For these fans, success has been a terrible distraction. The team have only disguised the state of the club. The League titles and European Cup were won by a manager and group of players assembled before the Glazer family had any influence at Old Trafford. With the team now suffering from a lack of form and finesse, the financial constraints are becoming increasingly noticeable. When in need of some inspiration last season, Alex Ferguson would call upon Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez, who cost their new clubs a total of £127m. Ferguson now looks to Mame Biram Diouf and Michael Owen, who cost United nothing.
With a strong youth system and an annual turnover of £279m, United should not struggle to recruit quality players. As Duncan Drasdo, the chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters' Trust, said this week: "Manchester United doesn't need a sugar daddy, we just need to get rid of the leeches." These "leeches" have presided over one of the club's golden eras, but unless they leave and take their debts with them, the glory days, like Wile E Coyote, could come crashing to an untimely end.