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A deep dive into the Glazer ownership of Manchester United: The full story from 2005 to now

Michael Tunstall

Published 
| Last updated 

A deep dive into the Glazer ownership of Manchester United: The full story from 2005 to now

Manchester United have been under the ownership of the Glazer family for 17 years and tensions amongst the fanbase are reaching fever pitch - again. This article looks at their tenure in detail. From 2005 to now.

Further protests are planned and a hostile bid for the club is bubbling under the surface. Another bleak season is on the horizon and supporter unrest is increasing.

The Glazer family look set to do one of the few things they have been successful at during their reign in charge; buckle up and ride the storm.

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Those outside of the Manchester United fanbase often ask ‘what’s so bad?’. There is regular talk of how ‘the Glazer family have spent so much money at Manchester United’. But that’s not quite true. Whilst they ultimately sanction what the club spends, the Glazer family haven’t invested a single penny (or cent) of their own money into the club. 

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester United have spent over £1 billion under five different managers. But that doesn’t tell the full story. Nor does it focus on the damage caused as a result of the Glazers’ takeover in 2005. This timeline of events will detail how the takeover occurred and why the Glazer family’s ownership of Manchester United has gradually ruined the club both operationally and financially. 

1991 - Going Public

A quick sidestep. In 1991, under the stewardship of then chairman and chief executive Martin Edwards, Manchester United went public. This was two years after a planned sale of the club to Michael Knighton, who has hit the headlines recently with a fresh attempt to buy the club as part of a consortium.

Part of the reason for going public was to raise money to renovate Old Trafford. After the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, all clubs in the top flight of English football were obliged to convert to all-seater stadiums. The Stretford End at Old Trafford being the focal point of the renovations.

Many point towards this being the first stage of the Glazer takeover, as without the club going public it may have never happened. Nobody would envisage the Glazer family’s leveraged takeover just 14 years later but this unwittingly set the ball in motion.

2003 - The takeover begins

The Glazers’ relationship with the club started as far back as 2003 . Malcolm Glazer - who never actually set foot inside Old Trafford - initially bought a 2.9% stake in the club for a figure believed to be around £9m. By the end of 2003, Glazer increased the family’s stake in the Reds to approximately 15%. 

2003 - The Rock of Gibraltar

Infamously, The Rock of Gibraltar had a huge part to play in what eventually became the perfect storm of opportunity for Malcolm Glazer to seize.

The Rock of Gibraltar, a champion racehorse, led to a dispute and legal battle between Sir Alex Ferguson and two of the club’s biggest shareholders. It was the horse that changed the course of Manchester United’s history.

In 2001, Manchester United majority shareholders, John Magnier and JP McManus - collectively known as Coolmore Horseracing Group - invited Sir Alex Ferguson to invest in a racehorse after developing a great friendship with the United boss. It would see Ferguson own 50% of the horse with the other 50% being owned by Susan Magnier, Rupert’s wife. A couple of years later, the relationship soured, with Ferguson insisting he was due not only a cut of the prize money but also a portion of the stud fees relative to his share. It may seem trivial but they weren’t arguing over small numbers. Due to the rising success of The Rock of Gibraltar, the studding fees alone were estimated to be worth around £100m.

Sir Alex Ferguson in 2002 with jockey Mick Kinane who rode his horse 'Rock of Gibraltar (Alamy)
Sir Alex Ferguson in 2002 with jockey Mick Kinane who rode his horse 'Rock of Gibraltar (Alamy)

Ferguson took Magnier to court in what became a very public legal battle over a settlement believed to be worth somewhere between £50m - £150m. A figure that Ferguson felt he was owed.

Magnier continued to dispute Ferguson’s claim but things were about to get even uglier between the trio.

Magnier and McManus hired a Private Investigator to look into Manchester United’s transfer dealings, ultimately leading to a list of ‘99 questions’ being put to the board of the club. It was seen as an attempt by the pair to not only get the upper hand, but to actually remove Ferguson from his role as manager.

Thirteen of the questions were in relation to transfers covering the period of 1997 - 2003 where insufficient detail was provided. Many of the transfers were suspected to be linked to Ferguson’s son, Jason, whose agency, Elite, represented the players - raising questions over the legitimacy of the fees paid. Some of the transfers highlighted in the document were those of Rio Ferdinand, Diego Forlan, Juan Sebastian Veron, Jaap Stam and even Cristiano Ronaldo.

The document stated "The prohibition of payments for player transfers to agents or agencies whose members or directors have a close personal connection with the company or any officer or employee of the company.". Jason Ferguson was subsequently banned from working with Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson's son, Jason, at the premiere of the "Never Give In" Documentary in May 2021 (Alamy)
Sir Alex Ferguson's son, Jason, at the premiere of the "Never Give In" Documentary in May 2021 (Alamy)

A club statement confirmed "the board recognises the concerns over the connections between Elite and Sir Alex Ferguson. In future Manchester United will not employ Elite to act for the club".

A day after the club’s statement, the BBC aired a documentary revealing that many first-team and youth players had signed with the agency. This ultimately led to Ferguson giving the BBC a ‘lifetime ban’, even avoiding post-match interviews with them for over seven years. Throughout this time, United supporters backed Ferguson, allowing the club to put a lid on things and screw it tightly shut.

In 2004, Ferguson settled with Magnier out of court for a fee of £2.5m - a far cry from the figure he originally wanted - but by this point the bridges had been burned and the relationship between the trio was in a state of disrepair. Both Magnier and McManus, and the club themselves, were keen to find new investors after The Rock of Gibraltar debacle. 

In 2005, Magnier and McManus’ 28.7% major shareholding in the club was transferred to the Glazers and as they say, the rest is history.

2004 - The Takeover Continues

Reportedly already aware of the goings on with The Rock of Gibraltar, throughout 2004 the Glazers almost doubled their 15% stake in the club. The threshold for launching a takeover bid was 30%, leaving them just short of what was needed to make their first attempt to seize control of Manchester United - which would ultimately fail.

In February of 2004, tentative enquiries were reportedly made to explore the feasibility of a takeover bid. As Malcolm Glazer, sitting comfortably in his South Florida home, edged closer to the 30% mark, things began to heat up on the other side of the pond as some Manchester United fans could foresee the inevitable and began to set protests in motion.

2005 - Protests begin

As the Glazer takeover increasingly became a case of when and not if, in February 2005 Manchester United supporters protested again. Something that would be all too common over the next 17 years.

There was a growing concern that the Glazer family would not only take control of the club but also plunge it into debt. Shareholders United, which was setup to oppose the BSkyB takeover six years earlier, was leading the fans once again. The likes of Paddy Crerand and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had signed up as patrons. Solskjaer talked about becoming a patron at the time, “I am honoured. I think it is important that the club remains in the right hands. I am absolutely on the supporters’ side and think the club is in very good hands as it is today, I am a United fan myself and only want what is best for the future.”

Little would anyone know then, he would end up working under the Glazers when he was appointed as United manager in late 2018.

2005 - The Takeover Completes

For two years, the Glazers gradually bought shares with a full takeover always the end goal. In early May, the shares of Magnier and McManus were purchased for £227m. Red Football - the holding company of the Glazers - now had a controlling stake in the club which amassed to around 57% ownership.

The Glazers then launched a raid on other shareholders at the same valuation they had paid to Magnier and McManus. Harry Dobson, who was the third largest shareholder at the time, was part of that. By close of trading, the Glazers shareholding was close to 70%, making the takeover bid a formality.

The dominos were falling and despite the inevitability that the takeover would go through, supporters continued to protest in a last ditch attempt to prevent it.

A fan protesting against the proposed Glazer takeover in February 2005. (Alamy)
A fan protesting against the proposed Glazer takeover in February 2005. (Alamy)

Later that month, their stake grew to over 75%, at which point the Manchester United board wrote to all remaining shareholders to advise them to sell their shares. The statement read "The Board of Manchester United believes that there are risks of remaining as a minority shareholder in Manchester United,

"The board has now unanimously concluded that, unless Manchester United shareholders have strong non financial reasons for wishing to stay invested in the company, they should accept the offer, as the board intends to do so in respect of its own beneficial holdings."

In June of 2005, the Glazers - headed by Malcolm - would complete their takeover of Manchester United in a leveraged buyout. A leveraged buyout is the equivalent of owning your house and then taking out a huge mortgage on it as Kieran Maguire, football finance expert, nicely put it.

Upon the completion of the takeover, the Glazers instantly loaded the club with £550m debt. A club that had been completely debt-free in modern times was saddled with a crippling financial obligation which would cost United over £850m in interest alone over the next seventeen years.

It’s estimated that the Glazers spent just £270m of their own money to acquire Manchester United in the £790m takeover, the majority of which they have since recouped in dividends alone.

Following the completion of the takeover, Malcolm Glazer was joined on the board by his six children: Joel, Avram, Kevin, Bryan, Edward and Darcie.

Avram Glazer (left) and Joel Glazer (right) at Old Trafford in 2010 (Alamy)
Avram Glazer (left) and Joel Glazer (right) at Old Trafford in 2010 (Alamy)

For a lot of Manchester United supporters, this was sadly the end. Some never set foot in Old Trafford again. Others left to form their own club, FC United of Manchester.

FC United climbed up the lower leagues and reached as high as the National League North in 2019. They currently play a level below in the Northern Premier League and remain completely supporter owned.

So why was the takeover allowed? For much of the 1900s, football was tightly regulated with controls over what directors could and could not do. For example, there were strict limits on dividends that could be paid to prevent clubs from being stripped of cash. This began to loosen during the 1980s and 1990s and was completely blown open by the advent of the Premier League. Commercialism, TV money and more.

This would attract covetous eyes from the greedy. Richard Scudamore, Premier League Chief Executive, sat silently by as the Glazer takeover unfolded in all its gory detail. He assured supporters that the takeover didn’t represent a risk for the club provided they performed on the pitch. In 2005, he stated in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live "We have looked at the numbers ourselves. Clearly there is a way of seeing how it works. It's not for me to comment on that.

"It's only for directors and owners of clubs to really assess that balance of risk. Nobody underestimates this - if you take football generally across the 92 professional clubs in this country, everything is a stretch.

"The fans were concerned by the lack of debt before the takeover and the level of debt there is now. But it's not out of ratio or sync with other clubs with that sort of turnover.

"The most important thing for us when we met with them was to talk about their aspirations regarding television rights and collective rights generally, and there was a very positive outcome.” 

The FA, headed by Richard Scudamore, failed Manchester United and its supporters for allowing the takeover to happen. In Scudamore’s own words, the most important thing for the FA was to discover their aspirations regarding television rights.

The key worry for Scudamore was that the Glazers would come in and organise a revolt against the collective television-bargaining deal which would essentially mean Manchester United could negotiate their own TV rights, in particular abroad, which would be a financial disaster for the Premier League. Once it became clear that the Glazers would play ball, the green light was given from the FA.

2005-2013 - The Underinvestment on the pitch

If not for the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson and the squad he built before the Glazers arrived, things could have been much worse, much sooner on the pitch.

It was said the Glazer family had to convince him to stay at the club in the early stages.

Ferguson opposed the takeover a year prior to the completion, telling a fans’ forum "We don't want the club to be in anyone else's hands."

The Glazer family’s first task - and priority - was to secure the services of the man who many consider to be the greatest manager of all-time. They were all too aware that the resignation of Ferguson would heighten tensions further and potentially make their ownership untenable before it had even begun. Some quarters of the fanbase had even called for Ferguson to resign for those reasons.

Despite initially being against the takeover, the Scot would go on to openly praise and defend the ownership in the last eight years of his tenure as manager. The notorious ‘no value in the market’ line is something that still haunts supporters to this day. Speaking in 2012, Ferguson continued to defend the Glazers amidst fresh protests from supporters, he stated “I’m absolutely comfortable with the Glazers situation. They’ve been great, so if you’re asking me for my views, I don’t have any complaints.

“I’ve never encountered opposition. They’ve always been as sensible as they can be in terms of financing the team, and they have to invest in the team to maintain the value of their asset.” This was the summer of Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge of United.

In the period of 2005 - 2013, United allowed their rivals to catch up. It was the height of ‘Glazernomics’. During this time frame, United had a net spend of just £164m across eight years - which works out at just over £20m per season. For comparison, Manchester City had a net spend of £466m over the same period, spending more than United did across the period in just two transfer windows: 2008 and 2009. The latter being the same window where United sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for over £80m and replaced him with Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen.

From left to right: Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen, Sir Alex Ferguson and Antonio Valencia at Man United's Carrington training ground (Alamy)
From left to right: Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen, Sir Alex Ferguson and Antonio Valencia at Man United's Carrington training ground (Alamy)

To compound the issues of summer 2009 even further, Manchester City also poached Carlos Tevez from under the noses of their cross-town rivals after a two year loan spell had ended. The ‘Welcome to Manchester’ banner that was used to goad United was a sign of things to come. United lost the title that season by a single point, finishing behind Chelsea whilst City made the leap from 10th to 5th, their highest finish in the Premier League era. Tevez was named City's player of the year and demonstrated how he could have been the difference for United that season.

It wasn’t the last time that City would pip United to a player. One of the best examples is the pursuit of Sergio Aguero who moved to Manchester City in 2011. With United heavily linked to the Argentinian striker, Ferguson revealed in his book "His agent was demanding a price we were not prepared to pay".

Aguero eventually made the move from Atletico Madrid to Manchester City for a fee of less than £40m. He would go on to score 260 goals over 10 years, picking up five Premier League titles along the way and of course scoring *that* goal to snatch the title away from United on the final day in the 2011/12 season.

It could be argued that even Ferguson himself saw the writing on the wall, especially with the short-term signing of Robin van Persie in his final year. 

The squad left for David Moyes had already been fully drained. It had nothing left to give. Main staples such as Giggs (40), Ferdinand (35), Evra (33) and Vidic (32) were coming towards the end of their careers. Paul Scholes had retired. The club had already seen the best years of the likes of Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick. Robin van Persie was the wrong side of 30 with a history of recurring ankle and hamstring injuries. Younger players who were supposed to be the future never lived up to expectations such as Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Wilfried Zaha.

Wilfred Zaha for Manchester United against Crystal Palace in 2013/14 (Alamy)
Wilfred Zaha for Manchester United against Crystal Palace in 2013/14 (Alamy)

David Moyes was left with the Champions of England but that doesn’t quite tell the full story. As City were assembling one of the best squads in Europe and Chelsea were throwing millions at their squad on a continuous basis, United stood still. Positions in the team were neglected. The squad was left to rot. David Moyes was the first fall guy for Ed Woodward but certainly not the last.

Protests would continue throughout this time. Tensions grew higher around 2010 when the club announced that they would be refinancing all of the debts brought onto them by the Glazers. This led to the Green and Gold campaign which saw David Beckham don the colours after a Champions League tie with AC Milan at Old Trafford. Beckham picked up a scarf that a supporter had thrown onto the pitch and draped it around his neck, giving supporters hope and breathing life into a fresh protest against the ownership.

That season, Manchester United were on the back of winning three consecutive Premier League titles. That night, United had just beaten AC Milan 4-0 to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals. So for the continuous jibes directed at Reds that ‘you only protest because you’re not winning’, it’s evidently not the case. Protests have been consistent from before the takeover was completed, right up until the present day. Success has never deterred supporters. Not even three Champions League finals in four seasons from 2008 to 2011.

Alongside the Green and Gold campaign, a takeover bid was launched by The Red Knights. A group of wealthy supporters which included former Football League Chairman, Keith Harris, now a Director at Everton. The bid was eventually shelved as the Glazers valued the club much higher than the £1bn The Red Knights were willing to pay.

Manchester United did enjoy success in Ferguson's final eight years at the helm but that was in spite of the Glazers, not because of them. Without Ferguson in the dugout and an aging squad, the consequence of the Glazer chokehold from 2005-2013 was about to be laid bare. 

2013-now - The wasted investment on the pitch - Ed Woodward

The departures of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill thrusted Ed Woodward into the top operational role at Old Trafford. It came just a year after he was named executive vice-chairman. Woodward’s relation with the club - and perhaps more importantly the Glazers - dates back to 2005 when he was involved in the takeover itself, advising the Glazer family during that time.

A Glazer in all but name, Ed Woodward was now depended on to make the footballing decisions at Old Trafford. A man whose previous experience was in accounting, financial and commercial was now trusted by the Glazers to essentially take charge of the biggest club in the world.

His first window in charge set the tone for things to come. David Moyes was thrown in at the deep end and a summer long chase of the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale resulted in a solitary signing on deadline day - Marouane Fellaini. What makes this signing so strange is the clause that David Moyes himself had inserted into Fellaini’s contract whilst at Everton. Fellaini’s contract had a release clause of £23.5m should a transfer go through before the 31st July. Despite making enquiries throughout July and being aware of the clause, Manchester United would wait until deadline day in September to agree a fee of £27.5m to secure the signing of the Belgian. Paying £4m more than they needed to had they just signed Fellaini little over a month earlier. Even a deal for Leighton Baines that summer proved too complicated for Woodward to get over the line.

Marouane Fellaini being unveiled as a Manchester United signing alongside David Moyes in 2013 (Alamy)
Marouane Fellaini being unveiled as a Manchester United signing alongside David Moyes in 2013 (Alamy)

In what may have been a shock to the system after decades of success under Ferguson, the first season without the Scot didn’t go to plan. In hindsight, and not being trapped in the bubble of United being expected to challenge just because they were United, many would agree that David Moyes was doomed from the start. The opportunistic signing of Juan Mata in January gave Moyes much needed reinforcement but it quickly became evident that there was no real plan for him. The £40m signing didn’t change Moyes’ fortunes who ultimately paid the price of losing his job towards the end of the season.

If you had to describe Woodward’s first year in charge in one word, it would be desperate. A theme that continued over the next eight years of his term.

After David Moyes came Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. Two outspoken managers who each delivered silverware to Old Trafford. Both managers spoke openly about the issues at the club. After being hastily sacked after winning the FA Cup in 2016, Louis Van Gaal sat down with Jamie Jackson from The Guardian in 2019 to share his experiences whilst in charge of the Reds. When asked how he tried to refresh the team and bring in his own players, Van Gaal said “Yes, but I didn’t always get the players that I want. That’s the problem. There is Woodward and his right hand is Matt Judge. Judge I met once in a while but not too much. And there was the head of scouting. That was the structure but you are always dependent on Woodward and Judge.”

Van Gaal spoke about the club’s failings three years after leaving, Jose Mourinho wasn’t quite as patient. In his final summer in the job, on the back of finishing 2nd with 81 points, Mourinho felt let down due to the lack of backing from his superiors. In truth, Mourinho had ambitions that the club wouldn't match. After winning two trophies, reaching an FA Cup final and finishing 2nd with the club’s highest points tally post-Ferguson, Mourinho was given Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant to close a 19 point gap. Mourinho was sacked in December of 2018.

Jose Mourinho in his seat during a Premier League encounter between Manchester United and Brighton in August 2018 (Alamy)
Jose Mourinho in his seat during a Premier League encounter between Manchester United and Brighton in August 2018 (Alamy)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure will be remembered fondly by some sections of the fanbase and for others he tarnished his great legacy. Much like Ferguson, Solskjaer backed the Glazers publicly on numerous occasions. Perhaps the worst quote for supporters to hear came in 2019 when Solskjaer insisted “You can’t say that we haven’t invested enough money. If you look at the money that’s been spent, the owners have invested loads of cash – and will continue that.”

Protests reached boiling point under Solskjaer’s tenure in April of 2021 when fans stormed the pitch, leading to the game against Liverpool to be called off. It would be the first time that a game was postponed due to protests in Premier League history.

The demonstrations led to an open letter from Joel Glazer where he promised more dialogue and communication. Something that the general fanbase is yet to see over 12 months on.

After Solskjaer, Ralf Rangnick would be given an interim role until the end of the season. Rangnick’s spell at the club only lasted a few months despite it originally being agreed he would stay in a consultancy role. Rangnick, similar to Mourinho, told the truth in the media which the hierarchy wouldn't have appreciated. Rangnick’s comments about the team needing ‘open heart surgery’ and ‘ten new players’ didn’t go down well with anyone at the club. Rangnick left at the end of his interim role and his proposed consultancy role was torn up and replaced with an NDA. 

From 2013 to present day, Manchester United have a net spend on transfers of around £914m. For comparison, Manchester City have a net spend of approximately £824m over the same period. It’s beyond doubt which side got better value on their investment.

Joao Cancelo and Kevin de Bruyne are just two of Manchester City's smartest signings in recent years (Alamy)
Joao Cancelo and Kevin de Bruyne are just two of Manchester City's smartest signings in recent years (Alamy)

It’s well known that Manchester United have missed out on numerous top targets for all of the managers post-Ferguson with no exceptions. In some cases it was a refusal to pay the fee or an inability to convince the player on the project.

In other cases it was quite literally Ed Woodward himself overruling the manager with the help of his questionable recruitment team, some of which have now left the club.

In 2019, Ed Woodward proudly stated in an interview with United We Stand that he told Mourinho ‘no’ when the Portuguese manager asked for a centre-back. Woodward said "It is true that we didn't sign a centre-back in the summer of 2018 and it is true there was a difference of opinion on one or two players between the manager and the recruitment department.

"Sometimes I have to be one who delivers the 'no', which isn't easy. Our natural tendency is to back the manager in every possible circumstance. But we have to listen to the recruitment experts too."

Woodward would go on to sign one of Mourinho’s centre-back targets a year later, under a different manager, for around £20m more than it would have cost originally. It appears that despite best advice, United’s leadership team need to see a physical hole in the team before they look to fill it. The best sides in Europe plan well in advance. United just react.

Many of Ed Woodward’s signings can be split by panic, convenience or a big name to sell shirts. Woodward’s first signing was a panic infused chase on Deadline Day in the summer of 2013 to secure the signature of Marouane Fellaini. His second was a signing of convenience in Juan Mata, who happened to become available after falling out of favour under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. In the very next window he convinced Angel Di Maria to make the switch from Madrid to Manchester. Di Maria topped the shirt sales in the Premier League for the 2014/15 season, which no doubt would have prompted a David Brent-esque celebration inside Woodward’s private office.

Angel di Maria signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2014 (Alamy)
Angel di Maria signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2014 (Alamy)

A combination of delivering second, third and fourth choice alternatives, panic buys, big name signings, convenience transfers and renewing the contracts of players purely just to retain the ‘asset value’ all contribute to why the club find themselves in a sinking hole that they’re struggling to get out of. Add that to the neglect of the squad from 2005-2013 and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

New contracts have been given out like fliers outside a nightclub. Phil Jones has been given two new contracts in the last seven years on a wage that no other club would match despite making just thirteen appearances in the last three years. Luke Shaw and David De Gea are two of the highest paid players in their respective positions in world football. Brandon Williams is earning over £40,000 per week. Dean Henderson - the backup goalkeeper out on loan - earns in excess of £110,000 per week. The list goes on.

The incompetence is blatant. It’s also a contributing factor to why the club’s net spend is so high in comparison to other clubs. United can’t sell players. The ridiculous terms they give - and continue to give - isn’t sustainable. United pay a premium for players who just aren’t that good or in some cases, don’t play at all.

Whilst Woodward has now left, he set the precedent for the club’s transfer and contract dealings post-Ferguson and Gill. His methods have been deeply ingrained into the fabric of the club. There isn’t much thought about the profile of the player. Not even now. With the Frenkie De Jong deal up in the air, United have turned their attention to Adrien Rabiot and Sergej Milinković-Savić, neither being direct alternatives. The Cristiano Ronaldo saga continues to rumble on and a deal for Marco Arnautovic was close to being finalised until the club pulled the plug after fan complaints. None of it makes too much sense. It’s scatter-gun at best.

On the flip side from the disarray he created on the football side, Woodward is credited with increasing Manchester United’s commercial revenue - which did take a considerable leap under his control. The Glazers came to Manchester with an aggressive commercial strategy. The club consumed the idea of having a dedicated sponsor for numerous commodities. In the last decade, United have had a multitude of different sponsors. An official tyre partner. An official pillow partner. An official lubricant partner. It’s almost endless.

A combination of signing every feasible sponsorship deal and a huge increase in TV and Champions League money saw record breaking revenue years under Woodward. Questions over how much of that was down to Ed Woodward or the Glazers are valid. Was the jump in revenue a direct consequence of Woodward’s hard work or was it simply the fact that United were on top of a booming industry whilst already being established as one of the biggest brands in the world? Will the overload on commercial activity dilute the brand longer-team? Has it already happened?

Speaking in 2018, Woodward was asked whether or not a successful season would impact the commercial revenue. Woodward said “If I answer that just very simply and candidly, playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business.”

United fans were happy when Ed Woodward left the club earlier last season. Image: PA Images
United fans were happy when Ed Woodward left the club earlier last season. Image: PA Images

The longer that Manchester United don’t compete for top honours, the harder it becomes to accept his statement as fact. The cracks are already showing. Recently, TeamViewer confirmed that they won’t renew their deal with the club just 12 months into a five year deal. The primary kit sponsorship - which was valued at £17m less than United’s previous Chevrolet sponsorship - has negatively impacted the German software company and has seen their share price plummet more than 70 percent.

Ed Woodward’s disastrous reign at Manchester United ultimately led to his resignation in February of this year. At least nine years too late in the eyes of many supporters.

It is true that the club has spent a lot of money since 2013 - to clarify, the club, not the Glazers - but it hasn’t been spent well. The wage structure hampers the club’s flexibility in the market. United finds it too difficult to offload players without some sort of compromise. Combine that with the period of 2005-2013 and it’s not too difficult to see why the club are in a worse shape now than they have been at any point since Ferguson retired.

Top clubs around Europe have a refined recruitment and scouting process. They have people who are experienced in negotiations with contacts across the globe. The Glazers installed a banker with an ego big enough to tell one of the most successful managers in football history that he knows better.

Woodward was a trusted ally but had the Glazer family looked deeper at his dealings, they would perhaps admit that they would have got more for the money outlaid had they employed someone with an ounce of football knowledge. Most supporters would give you better insight than those who own the club and run the daily operations at board level. It was only last year that Avram Glazer was giving a motivational speech on a University Campus to an American Football team, stating Cristiano Ronaldo joined the club when he was 16. He was 18.

The Glazers claim to love the club. Joel has a huge picture of George Best hanging in his boardroom. That apparent love has never been transferred to the club itself or the supporters. In the last seventeen years you can count on one hand the number of times that the Glazers have communicated with fans. 

Since Woodward’s resignation, John Murtough has stepped into the role to assume many of his duties. Murtough joined the club in 2013, coming with David Moyes from Everton. He slowly worked his way up the ranks, becoming Head of Football Development in 2016. He was also put in charge of the recruitment for the women’s team when it was formed in 2018, where he first demonstrated his apparent talent to become the club’s first ever Football Director in March of this year.

Some of the faces around the club have changed but the same problems are occurring. Right now, United’s scouting department appears to be a one-man team. A man they recently employed from Ajax to be the manager. What should represent a new era just feels like history repeating. The only constant is those at the very top.

The underinvestment in Stadium, Facilities and Women’s Team

Manchester United have not only fallen behind their rivals on the pitch, they’ve fallen behind off it too.

Eight of the twenty clubs currently in the Premier League have built new stadiums in the last twenty years. Further to those, over in Merseyside, Liverpool have made major renovations whilst Everton are building a brand new stadium, due to open its doors in 2024. Chelsea’s new owner, Todd Boehly, has already outlined his plans to renovate Stamford Bridge just weeks after taking over.

The biggest renovation to happen under the Glazers at Old Trafford were the quadrants in 2006 to expand the capacity. It was a project that the Glazers were obliged to fulfil as part of their takeover, as considerable money had already been spent. Since then, supporters have seen the roof leak on numerous occasions and renovations primarily focused around the hospitality sections. The rest of the stadium is lucky to see a new lick of paint every now and then.

Although It's not just the stadium. Before the Glazers, Carrington was a state-of-the-art training facility, perhaps the best in the world. Now it's been surpassed by the likes of Manchester City and Spurs in England and doesn't come close to what Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have built abroad.

The neglect of the stadium and the surrounding facilities is symbolic of the general direction of the club and also a consequence of the position it finds itself in. It's not that Manchester United can't make huge renovations, it's just that they simply won't.

As of April this year, Manchester United had spent just £94m on infrastructure since 2011. In that same time period, Spurs, Manchester City, Liverpool, Brighton, Leicester and Arsenal had all spent more. Spurs laid out over £1.5bn, most of which was for their new stadium. Manchester City and Liverpool each spent £379m and £259m respectively. Even Leicester and Brighton spent upwards of £150m.

The academy is dwarfed by Manchester City’s £200m Etihad Campus, which is hailed as one of the best facilities in the world. Even those heavily associated with Manchester United have sent their children there instead of Carrington. Darren Fletcher’s twin boys are still on the books at City despite him being employed by United since 2020 and spending 12 years of his playing career at Old Trafford.

The academy is one of the few things that the Glazer family have specified they want to get right at United - primarily because it both saves and generates money for them in the long run. A document released to investors focused on the benefits of the academy. The benefits outlined didn’t include anything such as ‘a local kid becoming a United legend and winning trophies’. The two key elements highlighted to investors were ‘carried on the balance sheet at zero book value’ and ‘capital expenditure costs only for agent fees - no transfer or associated fees’. When something as important as the academy to the club - and to the Glazers for different reasons - has been allowed to fall behind, it’s hardly surprising the rest has followed suit.

That includes the women’s team. Given the sheer size of Manchester United, it’s staggering that the club didn’t have a professional women’s team until 2018. The previous iteration was disbanded in 2005 with the club stressing, bizarrely, that they didn’t have any intention of being involved in women’s football at a high level.

A report which surfaced last year went into detail of the poor conditions the team faced, particularly during training after relocating to Carrington. The players were unable to shower in between training and meals before makeshift portacabins were installed, while the nearest toilets were a 10-minute walk from their training pitch. Upgrades that were promised by the club didn’t happen which ultimately led to manager, Casey Stoney, resigning at the end of the season. The issues around training just scratches the surface. There were many other issues that affected the women’s team, even going as far as not giving the players enough accommodation allowance to find anywhere sufficient to stay. United players learned that their Manchester City counterparts were given almost double. 

The cost of the Glazers

The Glazers’ ownership has cost Manchester United over £2bn in debt, interest, dividends and other outgoings. The below is a breakdown of how much the club has lost - and still owes - since the 2005 takeover. 

Current Debt - £596m (not including the £184m still owed in transfer fees and a potential further £122m owed in add-ons)

Debt Repayments - £135m

Interest on Debt Repayments - £855m

Dividends - £154m 

Millions more were paid in consultancy fees. The Glazer family also raised over £500m in share sales. Needless to say, none of the money raised was invested back into the club. 

The numbers are staggering. A club with zero debt before the takeover has since spent £855m just to service it. 

Without inflation, the Glazer ownership is estimated to have cost the club around £2.2bn, with inflation that figure is much closer to £3bn.

Despite huge losses during the pandemic, the Glazers continued to take their dividends. Dividends have been paid every year since 2016 which isn’t a common occurrence amongst Premier League clubs. So far in 2022, £33m has been paid in dividends. The most they’ve taken in a single year to date.

Reasons for Optimism 

It may not feel like it now but there are reasons to be optimistic. Change, although it may not be imminent, is on the horizon. The Glazers’ long-term intentions are unclear but running the club the way they have for the last seventeen years is unsustainable. There will come a point where the stadium and facilities will have to be upgraded. Competition in the Premier League is fiercer than ever. City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool will always be there or thereabouts. The now oil-rich Newcastle United among other clubs will look to break the ‘top six’ stranglehold in the coming years.

The Super League and Project Big Picture, which the Glazers were heavily involved in and in some respect were banking on, didn’t come to fruition. The share price of the club on the NYSE has stagnated. As Kieran Maguire wrote earlier this week ‘On 10 August 2012 the Glazers listed Man Utd on New York Stock Exchange, with an opening share price of $14. If you had invested £1,000 in MUFC shares that day, on the 10th anniversary they're worth £814. Same amount invested in Juventus is worth £2,000, F1 £2,564, Atlanta Braves £1,585’. 

The recent acquisition of Chelsea and the bidding war it sparked provides some hope that there are willing buyers out there should the Glazers decide enough is enough.

Manchester United supporters protesting against the Glazers (Alamy)
Manchester United supporters protesting against the Glazers (Alamy)

The longer Manchester United don’t compete for the top honours, the less likely they are to secure the lucrative sponsorship deals that they have always signed with relative ease. The Manchester United juice won’t last forever and there are already signs that it’s running out.

Fans have a voice. We saw that in the protests against Liverpool last year and the online campaigns that led to The Hut Group pulling out of a sponsorship deal worth £200m. There is an appetite within the fanbase for real change. There will come a point where the Glazers consider it a good time to sell the club, the supporters have the power to ensure that time is now.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, Premier League, Football, Ed Woodward

Michael Tunstall
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