OLIVER HOLT: The Glazers have milked Man United like a cash-cow and the club's history is absorbed by their greed... theirs and other billionaire owners' twisted legacy brings rivals united in disgust
At least Ed Woodward apologised. And at least he turned up to the fans’ forum on Friday to hear what Manchester United supporters had to say about him and the club’s craven involvement in the European Super League. None of it was complimentary but Woodward was there to listen to it. Which is more than can be said for Joel Glazer or any of the family that own England’s most famous club.
There will not be any fans inside Old Trafford on Sunday when United take on Liverpool in the Premier League but there will be plenty outside. It is to be hoped, of course, that the planned demonstration against the Glazer regime and everything it stands for passes off without violence or disorder but it is about time the club started to recognise the anger fans feel and to do something about it.
Experience tells us that won’t happen. The Glazers aren’t interested in the fans. They don’t care. So Sunday's demonstration is important but it needs to be backed up by real reform of a broken system that allowed our game to be hijacked by owners like the Glazers in the first place. English football needs an independent regulator and it needs more safeguards. It is time fans and the history of their clubs got some protection.
This is a big weekend for the club that dominated English football in the Nineties and 2000s. If United lose to Liverpool, then Manchester City, the team who once existed in their shadow, will be crowned champions again with four games of the season to spare and United will spend another summer toasting the ghosts of yesteryear.
On Thursday there is the second leg of a Europa League semi-final against Roma, which brings with it expectation of progress to the final and the possibility of a first trophy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has cleared up some of the mess bequeathed him by Jose Mourinho. But there is little he can do about the men who call the shots.
The demonstration outside Old Trafford on Sunday, which is expected to attract thousands of supporters, is not just a sign of renewed anger towards owners who have taken an estimated £200million from the club in dividends since they loaded £540m of borrowings on what had been a debt-free club when they launched their takeover in 2005.
It is not just a demonstration designed to focus minds once more on the fact that the Glazers’ takeover has cost the club more than £1.5bn in interest, fees, refinancing penalties and other dead money in the last 16 years. The Glazers have milked United like a cash-cow and watched on as the team have slid towards mediocrity on the pitch. If United win the Europa League, it will be a boost for Solskjaer and a sign of some progress but it may also serve to concentrate minds on the fact that United are still not competing for the biggest trophies in the game.
Most of all, the demonstration outside Old Trafford will be an acknowledgment that United’s struggles on the field are now secondary to the battle they face to rid themselves of their owners. The Glazers are tainting everything at Old Trafford. United’s rich history is being subsumed by the Glazers’ greed. The willingness of the billionaire owners of our leading clubs to join the ESL and destroy the rest of the English game crystallised a lot of things in the minds of football fans in this country.
It was a seminal moment that showed they were prepared to sacrifice not only the rest of the English game but also the history of their own clubs in the pursuit of more money. ‘We are disgusted, embarrassed and angry at the owner’s actions in relation to the planning, formation and announcement of the European Super League,’ the letter read out to Woodward by the Manchester United Fans’ Forum said.
‘It was an attack on fans and on clubs across the whole of football and we have simply had enough... We should not need to explain to anyone involved in the ownership or running of Manchester United why the European Cup is an integral part of our club’s history and how this proposal has betrayed it.’
Woodward has announced his intention to leave Old Trafford at the end of the season but supporters can see even more clearly now that United will never be whole and will never be healed until the Glazers have relinquished their hold on England’s biggest club. They have taken too much and given too little.
United fans have made their feelings plain many times before. Some were so disillusioned with the Glazers’ takeover that they formed their own breakaway club, FC United of Manchester, in response to it in 2005. The club now compete in the Northern Premier League, the seventh tier of the English football pyramid.
United fans also mobilised through the Green and Gold campaign, which reached its height in 2010, but then faded away. Through it all, the Glazers have remained sequestered in Florida, largely impervious to the criticism. Until 2013, they were shielded from some of the opposition by the continued achievements of the team under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The problem they face now is that the ugliness of ESL misadventure has mobilised the whole of the English game against them and their fellow billionaire owners. Demonstrations like Sunday's will not bring the Glazers down by themselves but they will serve as a reminder to the Government of all that is wrong with the English game.
The Glazers and the other billionaire owners who have hijacked our leading clubs crossed the Rubicon when they joined the ESL. Part of their twisted legacy towards our game is that Sunday's match between English football’s two greatest clubs and most bitter rivals has brought their fans together in a show of disgust. No wonder they are saying enough is enough.
Who'd go to Spurs?
It should hardly be a surprise that Brendan Rodgers is not leaping into his car and driving straight down the M1 in his eagerness to take the Spurs job.
The hard truth for Tottenham fans is that if Rodgers does decide to leave Leicester any time soon, he could do an awful lot better than Spurs. Spurs are skint for a start. They have a magnificent new stadium but paying for it is already bringing huge financial pressures.
Managers who work within the financial constraints caused by paying for a new stadium get scarce thanks for it: just ask Arsene Wenger.
Spurs, under Daniel Levy, have also become a byword for a club that lacks ambition on the field.
That’s why they got rid of Mauricio Pochettino when Pochettino told them they needed to rebuild the team. That’s why they made the disastrous vanity-project move to appoint Jose Mourinho. That’s why a host of managers ran straight into the arms of other suitors as soon as Spurs came calling. It looks as if their best player, Harry Kane, wants to leave in the summer. The squad still needs a rebuild. The fans are disillusioned with Levy and the owner, Joe Lewis.
The club made themselves a symbol of everything that was wrong with the Super League when they were allowed in even though they haven’t won the domestic league title for 50 years. It became a laughing stock when it was mocked by one of its own sponsors.
‘Spursy’ is gaining renewed currency as shorthand for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Mourinho has left behind a divided, unhappy group of players, as he so often does. And the odds are that Spurs are about to miss out on the Champions League. Apart from that, Brendan, it would be a great move.
Social media boycott shows power in the collective
I’ve been abiding by the boycott of social media mobilised by the sports industry over the Bank Holiday weekend. It’s not that I think I have much influence to wield but if there is power in something like this, it is in the power of the collective. And as a cause, it’s a no-brainer.
The abuse aimed at high-profile figures in sport on social media platforms, particularly people from ethnic minorities and women, is gratuitous and disgusting and cowardly and any gesture that even gives these companies pause for thought about how better to combat the level of hate abusers spew out can only be a good thing.
The social media boycott over this weekend underlines the power in the collective
Anyway, it’s not exactly a chore to be absent from Twitter for a few days. Like most people who venture even the mildest opinion about football, I’ve become something of a connoisseur of being abused myself.
I’ve been called a nonce so many times, I’ve become an expert in etymology. I even discovered it was an acronym (Not On Normal Courtyard Exercise, if you’re interested).