Manchester United are one of the richest football clubs around with one of the highest incomes of any in the world, raking in £627m in the last season unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. But they are not free to reinvest all of that money back into the club because of the Glazer family.
Those who have criticised United fans for protesting against the Glazers’ ownership of the club don’t understand the major reasons behind it. On the surface, the detractors see that there has been a £1bn net spend in the transfer market and suggest United supporters should be happy.
But that completely misses the point of what is going on here. In short, the club is actually hamstrung by the American family and has to pay to have them as owners.
It is estimated that United are cumulatively £1.1bn worse off because of the Glazer ownership.
The most vocal ignorance so far has come from Graeme Souness, who claimed on Sky Sports’ coverage of the game against Liverpool postponed because of the protests that United fans were only angry because of the club’s recent trophy drought and any club should be delighted with the level of spending. He also made false claims about the original takeover in 2005.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jamie Carragher has emerged as an unlikely ally in trying to set the record straight in that respect, hitting out at the ‘lazy punditry’ Souness is guilty of and demanding that anyone expressing an opinion understands the facts.
The recent European Super League scandal was the catalyst for the latest rounds of protests, but the anger towards the Glazer family has existed since day one and most visibly resurfaced in 2010 prior to Sunday’s events. At the time of the 2010 ‘green and gold’ movement, United were reigning back-to-back-to-back Premier League champions, had played in the previous two Champions League finals, winning in 2008, and would win another domestic title and reach another final in 2011.
The very nature of the 2005 takeover was controversial and has been extremely costly to the club over the years since. The majority of the funds the late Malcolm Glazer needed came from loans that were secured using the club’s own assets as collateral. Once the takeover was complete, United, who had been debt free since 1936, were immediately plunged into hundreds of millions of debt.
Paying interest on that debt has been the most significant burden. Highlighting the figures, football finance blogger Swiss Ramble puts the cost of interest to United at £704m. Around £244m of the debt has been paid off, while the club has also paid £125m to Glazer family members in dividends.
The total cost (so far) of having the Glazers own United: £1.1bn.
Those costs are equivalent to 16% of the club’s total income since the takeover. Every year, it comes out of the club’s revenue that stops it being spent on others things. Imagine losing a chunk of your salary to service long-term debt imposed on you by someone else while they profit.
You wouldn’t stand for it. Even if you’re still comfortably surviving, think of what extra you could have done or achieved with the money that has been lost. It is the same for United.
United have spent a lot on transfers over the last 16 years, but without the Glazers actively taking money out during that time, there would have been far more to reinvest in all parts of the club. Crucially, it is not simply about buying players, but also improving and maintaining infrastructure.
Old Trafford is in a sorry state compared to some state of the art Premier League stadiums. Manchester City have invested heavily to turn the Etihad Stadium and surrounding area into a world class facility, while Tottenham have a brand new stadium, Chelsea are tentatively planning to rebuild Stamford Bridge and Liverpool have recently done major redevelopment work on Anfield.
Meanwhile, Old Trafford’s leaking roof, the single best way of illustrating the point, has been a joke for a decade. Similarly, United’s training ground is no longer the standard bearer in English football.
In the same 16-year period in which United have spent £1.1bn just on financing the Glazer ownership, only £185m has been spent on Old Trafford and the training ground.
That United have frittered money away in the transfer market thanks to poor recruitment strategy and an inefficient senior management setup is irrelevant here and a completely separate issue.
Critics would point out that most clubs would be grateful for United’s facilities and spending power as it is. But when the club is earning significantly more than it is able to spend on furthering itself as a successful sporting institution there is a major problem.