Sir Alex Ferguson used this weekend’s United Review programme notes to call for unity among the faithful as an atmosphere of sedition overtook Old Trafford. For the first time, the Scot chose to directly address United’s support on financial matters but once again failed to condemn his employers for loading the club with debt.
The United manager, who once told fans to “go and support Chelsea” if they did not like the 2005 takeover, is steadfast in his support for the Glazer family despite supporters’ concerns. Ferguson, consistent in his aggressive dismissal of Glazer critics, overtly supports the family in a way that the Scot never did when the club was public.
But the state of United’s finances, now more transparent as a result of the Glazer family’s foray into the international bond market, has fundamentally alarmed the core of the club’s support. Deep hostility to the Glazer family’s takeover has only intensified in the past fortnight.
It’s a fact that Sir Alex has registered but failed to fully comprehend: the Scot essentially asked the fans to ‘get off the Glazers’ backs’.
“The family of Manchester United is under pressure as a result of all the issues and controversies surrounding the ownership and financial situation of our club that have been stirred up in the media,” Ferguson wrote on Saturday.
“Some of our fans are clearly unhappy with our financial position but we must not allow that to become divisive.
“The danger, as I see it, is that we could be presented as being split which would be harmful and inaccurate because I believe the vast majority of Manchester United supporters are behind us.”
Ferguson, failing to differentiate between unity in the dressing room and the very real need for fans to question what value more than £716 million of debt brings to the club, ostensibly blames the current terrace unrest on the media.
The Scot, who insists he has money to spend despite the books saying otherwise, believes that insurrection in the terraces could impact performances on the field.
It is surprising then that paucity of funds in the club’s bank accounts over the next seven years does not concern United’s legendary manager more. Instead, Ferguson chose to concentrate on what he sees as potentially destabilising rebellion.
“I can see our opponents rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of us falling out among ourselves, if we do not all think carefully about what we are doing,” he argued.
“We must not lose our focus, which from where I stand is about building a strong football club that will win trophies.”
Undoubtedly this is a sentiment on which supporters, even the most militant, are in unison with the manager. More to the point that is the very essence of the manager’s job. One that is fundamentally undermined by the Glazer family’s ownership of the club.
But supporters’ green and gold revolution is not an exercise in fratricide. The enemy is indeed within but it is far removed from the dressing room or pitch. It is a singular fact that the club needs Sir Alex to embrace.
Yet the Scot, who evoked the memory of Sir Matt Busby in his notes, insists that the fans’ job is to support the team, just as it is his to manage it.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to express their disapproval if they don’t like what they see around them, just as it has always been the right of fans to let it be known if they are not happy with the way their team are playing,” argued the Scot.
“I’m not slow to express disapproval myself if there is something I don’t agree with, even in the boardroom with the directors, but once I walk out of the meeting I get on with my job as manager of the team.”
But it is an argument that bares false witness to Ferguson’s past. The United manager often used his position to push the Plc board into greater spending, both on transfer fees and wages.
The Scot, for example, harangued chief executive Peter Kenyon into breaking the club’s wage structure in 1999 to keep Roy Keane when the Irishman came within weeks of leaving during contract negotiations.
It is unsettling then that the manager is not willing to push the boundary with the current owners when his role as manager is stronger than ever.
“This is not about stifling criticism; it is simply a plea to stand together rather than take a course of action that will damage ourselves more than anyone else. Manchester United are bigger than me, the players, the directors, officials – and the fans,” concluded Ferguson, who is aware of the huge affect ejecting protesters from Old Trafford had on the current wave of unrest.
Ferguson though was unable to articulate precisely what course of action the club should take as it haemorrhages millions of pounds a month in interest, fees and dividends.