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The Glazer Family, Manchester United & Football Versus the Fans

In the wake of the Glazers announcing ‘strategic alternatives for the club,’ will fans ever be treated to the United we once knew and loved?

In the midst of several different types of FIFA World Cup chaos, one of the most successful European clubs managed to grab headlines for a few hours. On Tuesday, Manchester United announced that veteran striker Cristiano Ronaldo would be leaving the club with “immediate effect.” The Portuguese international had previously scathing comments about not only current manager Erik ten Hag, but also the club and its ownership in general in a primetime gossip session with Piers Morgan earlier this month.

Hours after the separation was made public, the club then revealed that the controlling Glazer family (which also owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers) is “commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives for the club.”

Basically, United’s often-toxic American owners of 17 years are finally open to relinquishing some amount of control of the storied club. After years of displeasure and embarrassment, supporters young and old can look forward to brighter days ahead.

Well, maybe.

The winning campaigns United have had during the Glazers’ reign do not negate the fact they had no real sporting reason to go near the club nearly two decades ago. In fact, their rather hostile acquisition of the Red Devils was a surefire sign things were headed in a downward trajectory.

Malcolm Glazer assumed complete control of the club in June 2005. It was all much to the chagrin of the fanbase, as it was supported primarily through loans secured against the club’s existing assets. One year following the leveraged buyout, Glazer suffered two strokes, after which his six children — Avram, Joel, Bryan, Kevin, Darcie, and Edward — subsequently took over United’s operations. Each one secured a position on the club’s Board of Directors.

To add insult to injury, United were debt-free before the purchase, and the £790 million ($950.8 million) takeover by the Glazer family didn’t just put the club into the red temporarily — all these years later, they’re still carrying a reported debt load of approximately £500 million ($602.15 million).

The effects of a lack of sustainable liquidity have also trickled down to United’s infrastructure and facilities. Old Trafford, affectionately known as the Theatre of Dreams, no longer boasts the same charming appeal fans love or the intimidating reputation opponents fear. Attending a football match at a historic venue should feel like a luxury experience, but the thought of sitting at home is now perhaps more attractive than cramming yourself in too-small seats under a roof that leaks during as little as a light pregame mist.

Sure, the silverware room is filled with a mountain of Premier League trophies, 12 FA Cups, UEFA Champions League hardware, a Europa League triumph, and much more, but the club has failed to collect any major hardware since 2017, a drought even the biggest United hater can’t fathom. Meanwhile, crosstown rivals Manchester City have built one of the most attractive-looking stadiums for their world-class players and have won four of the last five Premier League titles.

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Particularly with regard to the difference in on-field quality compared to their Manchester rivals or age-old foes Liverpool, personnel difficulties may be the single most glaring aspect of all this Glazer family mismanagement. Despite the likes of Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Robin van Persie, Paul Pogba, and more donning the iconic red and white kit under current ownership, United have increasingly missed out on must-have talent on the transfer market in recent years.

Even when they splashed €105 million ($108.86 million) to buy Pogba back from Juventus in 2016 — a move that made history as the biggest transfer fee in football history — they failed to surround the midfielder with complementary talent to challenge their Big Six peers for trophies. Instead, United have unsuccessfully played the nostalgia card, offering a few too many past-their-prime players a starring role in hopes of recapturing old magic.

Sure, nobody is aching to man-mark Zlatan Ibrahimović on a corner kick, but a 35-year-old Zlatan won’t win you a title like an ascendant Mohamed Salah or Kevin De Bruyne will.

Addressing managerial troubles, meanwhile, would require an entirely separate article. In the decade since legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United have cycled through eight bosses when both caretakers and full-timers are included. The Glazers have made it difficult for any gaffer to succeed post-Fergie, as each is forced to remedy too many of the mistakes of his predecessor before addressing the actual agenda items that landed them the role in the first place. From David Moyes to (perhaps) incumbent manager Erik ten Hag, United have a nasty way of dumping their leader at the slightest inconvenience without any consideration of who takes the wheel next, and how.

No wonder the calls for #GlazersOut have only gotten louder and louder.

Andy Barton/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Despite sitting a not-so-unreasonable fifth on the Premier League table during the 2022 World Cup break, United are nonetheless one of the laughingstocks of European football due to such an omnibus of unforced errors.

Prospects may very well look at Paul Pogba’s descent over the course of his second stint with the club and decide they don’t want to run the risk of experiencing the same. Supporters (myself included) are left wondering if we’ll ever taste championship success even one more time. Hundreds of millions have been wasted on disjointed squads, yet a brand new one has got to be considered necessary if Champions League success is to be realized up against titans like Real Madrid. Shocking losses against bottom-table clubs only strengthen arguments against the Glazer family continuing on as any sort of equity stakeholder in the organization, to say nothing of a superficial transfer strategy that feels straight out of EA Sports’ FIFA career mode.

The list of grievances is longer than United’s trophy drought. Naturally, it’s tempting for supporters to seize upon even the smallest chance that a new day could be coming.

The Glazers might very well be on their way out soon, as reports suggest they could fetch upwards of $4.5 billion in a sale — but United’s problems are far from over. At a time when owners across multiple leagues are being exposed for putting profit over performance, these owners have entirely earned the backlash.

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