It has been a strange week to be a Manchester United fan. In recent years, the summer transfer window has seen Sir Alex Ferguson – when not citing there is “no value in the market” – go quietly and efficiently about his business in preparing the squad for the coming season.
Somehow, things have changed this summer. Nick Powell and Shinji Kagawa have been signed, presented to the media and made their first appearances in Manchester United shirts. However, it is two other names that have dominated the back pages over the last week or so and have even seen Ferguson publically admit that the club are chasing and have put in bids for Robin van Persie and Lucas Moura. A far cry from the usual behind-closed-doors attitude to the transfer window, United have displayed their hand to the media and have left fans questioning is there an ulterior motive?
These very public admissions of interest by Ferguson have, coincidentally, at the same time as his praise of United’s American owners, the Glazer family: “They have always backed me, whenever I have asked them” – we are also made aware of the fact that the Glazer family “have been great” for the club. So great, in fact: they spent £250,000 per-day over nine months up to May 2012, on the buyback of bonds and the making of interest repayments – they have burdened the club with debt and threw £553m up the wall on debt repayments, interest repayments et al and still have a club that remains £423.3m in debt. Great owners, eh? They’ve turned Manchester United from club that was debt free and making healthy profits (albeit, the club still does make healthy profits) to one that has been mortgaged to the hilt. If and indeed when, this £423m of debt is cleared, the club will have paid out close to £1billion for the esteemed pleasure of having the Glazer family as owners.
Of course, real fans, as Ferguson says in his defence of the American owners: “will look at it realistically and say it is not affecting the team” and to a certain extent, success in the form of four Premier League titles and one Champions League title is attributed to the Scot’s genius as a manager and in spite of the Glazers as owners. Though United’s net spend since that Glazer family took control of the club is considered to be frugal for a club of its size, they have spent close to £70m on purchases of Phil Jones, David De Gea, Ashley Young last summer and Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell this summer.
So, why the public display of affection? Why the batting of eyelids from and lifting up our skirts to passers-by? Why? Well, the upcoming IPO is certainly one reason and it would certainly go some why in explaining the Van Persie and Moura bids. Looking at it cynically, one might think it is a ploy to demonstrate that United have the financial muscle to compete with the big boys, while Ferguson’s public praise of the Glazer family is another chance to portray the club in the most positive light possible, in order to attract potential investors, to clear the club’s debt because despite all the denials from David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson and seven years after taking control of the club, it has finally been identified that “our indebtedness could adversely affect our financial health and competitive position”.
Perhaps the most galling comment of the past week is Ferguson saying that those who criticise the Glazer family and their ownership of the club are not ‘real fans’ and a kick in the teeth those who fork out money for seasons tickets (ticket prices have risen 40% under the Glazers) and travel to games – the notion that ‘real fans’ should sit quietly and nod their heads while the owners continue to drain the club of money is absurd. Ferguson has given the club 26 years of exceptional service and unrivalled success but that doesn’t mean his public judgment of the Glazers is not deeply flawed. Without the Glazers Manchester United was successful, with the Glazers the club has continued to be successful.
Questions remain – Will the IPO be successful and help in clearing the debt? Will Manchester United sign either Robin Van Persie or Lucas Moura? With a couple of weeks still to go before the new Premier League season kicks-off it will almost certainly be punctuated with these questions along with plenty of usual mind-numbing transfer speculation.