What’s gone wrong at Man United?

09 Feb, 2024 - 00:02 0 Views
What’s gone wrong at Man United? Manchester United

eBusiness Weekly

My money is in this pot and I am not here to make more — I just want to win. As a statement of intent, Sir Jim Ratcliffe had turned night into day at Manchester United by telling club staff why he has decided to spend £1,3 billion ( US$1 639 618 500) for a 25 percent stake in the team.

It is early January and Ratcliffe, alongside Sir Dave Brailsford (former performance director of British Cycling and director of sport at Ratcliffe’s INEOS Group), is addressing over 100 United staff — ticket office and administration staff, security officers, canteen workers — in one of Old Trafford’s vast conference suites.

Others are dialling in remotely to watch on video as the incoming minority shareholder offers his vision of United’s future.

“Everyone left the room feeling 10-foot tall,” a United staff member who attended Ratcliffe’s introductory speech told ESPN. “All we have heard for years has been about cutbacks and engagement targets, so to hear somebody tell us that we are going to be a football club again was long overdue and a refreshing change.

“It was also nice to be in the same room as the person in charge. That has never happened with the Glazers.”

Ratcliffe’s determination to speak to the club’s team behind the scenes was welcomed by another United employee in the room.

“Sir Jim said that we were as important to the club’s success as the players,” the employee told ESPN.

“He said the club couldn’t move forward and succeed without us all working together, as one, and that we were all part of the same team with the sole objective of making everything better.”

Ratcliffe’s net worth was estimated at £29,7bn by the 2023 Sunday Times Rich List. He,s now the second-richest person in the UK according to that list, behind India-born businessman Gopi Hinduja.

Ratcliffe will take charge of football operations from United,s owners, the Glazer family, when his investment is ratified by the Premier League in early February.

Having made his fortune by building INEOS, the petrochemicals company, Ratcliffe (71) wants to use his wealth and business expertise to help revive the club he supported as a boy, growing up in the blue-collar Manchester suburb of Failsworth.

For many who work at United, Ratcliffe’s arrival can’t come soon enough. The club has been under the control of the Glazers, who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, since a leveraged buyout in May 2005 that plunged United into more than £500m worth of debt.

Even before the Glazers bought United, they encountered hostility from the club’s supporters who were angered by the prospect of the team, previously debt-free and incredibly successful, being forced into a huge level of debt.

A vehicle carrying the Glazers was attacked by fans on their first visit to Old Trafford and the anger has never subsided.

In 2010, United fans launched their “green-and-gold” campaign — green and gold were the colours of Newton Heath, the club which later changed its name to Manchester United — as a visible protest against the Glazers, with former player David Beckham putting a green-and-gold scarf around his neck while returning to Old Trafford with AC Milan that year.

Walk past any lamp-post or building near Old Trafford and you will see faded stickers, dating back to 2005, which simply say, “Love United Hate Glazer”.

The antipathy toward the Glazers was played out to a global television audience in May 2021 when fans forced the postponement of a Premier League game against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

A protest outside the stadium at the Glazers’ involvement in plans to form a breakaway European Super League spilled over when supporters forced their way onto the pitch.

For almost two decades, the Premier League’s biggest and most successful club has had to service the Glazer debt at the same time as paying regular dividends to the family.

Over the past five years, no other Premier League club paid a dividend to its owners. In 2023, the Glazers opted against taking a dividend for the first time to use the funds for new signings.

By 2015, 10 years after the takeover, the cost to United of being owned by the Glazers exceeded £1bn in interest payments, financing costs and dividends for the six siblings in director roles at the club.

In contrast to United supporters, the Bucs fanbase in Tampa likes the Glazers. A source familiar with the Glazer regime at the NFL club said that the family “brought hope” when buying the franchise in 1995, ousting an unpopular owner and investing in a new stadium and the team before building a new training centre.

In 2016, the Glazers began a three-phase renovation of Raymond James Stadium, including new giant videoboards, suites and a bigger locker room, in order to host Super Bowl LV in 2021, which the Bucs won in no small part to the Glazers recruiting legendary quarterback Tom Brady.

Off the field, the Glazers — notably Darcie Glazer Kassewitz — attend functions and host social and charity events, but in Manchester, they have remained largely invisible for almost 20 years.

Ownership under the Glazers has seen United overtaken, on and off the pitch, by rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, with both the team and stadium at Old Trafford requiring extensive — and expensive — improvement and modernisation.

The decline of the team speaks for itself, with no Premier League titles, or even a sustained challenge, since 2013. In that time, City have won six titles and a Champions League, while Liverpool have won the league and Champions League.

Having been England’s biggest and most modern stadium in the early-2000s, Old Trafford has been practically untouched by the Glazers since work to extend the capacity, started before their arrival in 2005, was completed shortly after the takeover. Opposition fans now taunt home fans by singing “Old Trafford is falling down” on visits to United.

The roof of the Main Stand leaks when it rains and the stadium has been left off the list of venues for Euro 2028, which will be hosted by the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In April 2022, United enlisted stadium architects Populous, who designed the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, venue of the 2022 World Cup final, and designers Legends International to “create a masterplan for the redevelopment of Old Trafford”.

Two years later, Populous’ blueprint is yet to be realised. — ESPN.com

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