The Little Londoner: Manchester United’s American problem

Peppering over a grim 0–0 scoreline on a familiar gray evening in Manchester was a cantankerous sea of red fans. Instead of being ready to stand and cheer, however, they were ready to stand and walk out. 

Many of the scarves were not in the typical maroon red but instead a green and yellow, the club’s colors when they were first founded. No, they didn’t read “Glory Glory, Man United” or “Busby and Sir Alex”: these counter-mufflers instead proudly read “Glazer Out.” Glazers out? The club’s American owners?

While my own fandom (United’s red rivals to the north) inhibited me from wearing any kind of Manchester paraphernalia, I couldn’t even find any of the classics. I was tempted to purchase from a gentleman with a hat full of anti-American pins, only to be hawked at when he discovered my nationality, shooting me every piss-take in the book short of “you’ve got your football and we’ve got ours.”

Alas, these fans are tired of the club’s American owners using it as a vessel to clear vast sums of debt. They’re tired of an executive vice chairman disguising himself as its chief transfer officer. They’re tired of the harassment they’ve held from the city’s blue half — though after last Friday’s bombshell, that may change. More than anything else, they’re tired of losing — the club hasn’t finished closer than 15 points to first place since 2013. 

The Glazer family turned 3.17% ownership of Manchester United in 2003 to a majority stake in just two seasons, eventually dumping its own personal enormous debt upon one of the biggest franchises in the world. Currently sitting in the red by a staggering 385 million pounds, the Glazers have shepherded the club into its first debt since 1931. Former United legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson was close friends with the family and helped coordinate the sale: Surely with any sliver of hindsight, literally anyone else would own the club.

The Glazer ownership has stabbed with double-edged swords into the hearts of the common United fan. While the American ownership group has overseen a massive commercial overhaul that has grown the club’s brand internationally and increased its transfer expenditure on quality footballers, it’s been stuck with a product that does not translate to consistent results. 

The club’s 0–0 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers was exhibit A to such a case. Big-money transfer Bruno Fernandes made his debut to the great excitement of fans, but after a poor half, he was booed by halftime. Soon-to-be 32-year-old Juan Mata, scoreless in the Premier League this season, had the club’s closest chance, a curler from outside the box that was enough to make Wolves keeper Rui Patricio think about diving.

The greatest spectacle was supposed to be the planned walkout in the 58th minute, which to my great dismay didn’t come to fruition. It would’ve been a welcome relief from the dim product on the field. Until the hierarchy on the top of the club is grossly shaken up, United will remain more fascinating politically than from a footballing perspective.