For a man paid £1.8 million per year to espouse the Glazer family’s line, Manchester United managing director David Gill is hardly likely to utter a word against the club’s owners. Instead, Gill went on the PR offensive this weekend, belittling fans’ concerns and leading a campaign of disinformation emanating from the club.
Gill, managing director since 2001 following a stint as United’s finance director, has consistently supported the takeover and the Glazer family’s financial management of the club. At least since confirmation of the takeover that is.
This weekend Gill launched a sustained attack on supporters’ ongoing protests over United’s financial mismanagement, branding the green and gold revolution “ridiculous” and claiming that fans should feel “proud” of the club’s current direction.
One protest idea, first brought up at a supporters’ meeting held in a Stretford pub last month, is for fans to enter Old Trafford 10 minutes late for the Champions League match against AC Milan on 10 March. It’s one that Gill aggressively dismisses.
“I would appeal to the fans to be sensible and get behind the team,” said Gill, who fought the Glazer family’s 2005 takeover, calling the business model aggressive and debt a road to ruin. How right he was.
“We are a very well-run club and given what’s happening at other clubs, people should be proud of what’s happening at Manchester United. It [a protest] serves no purpose and it won’t change a thing. [Milan] will be a tough game and we can’t afford for the fans not to be there. Let’s not have ridiculous protests of that nature.”
It is with no sense of hypocrisy that Gill brands the club “well run,” with United’s total debt now topping more than £716 million, according to the most recently published club accounts.
While the recent bond raised £504 million the issue actually increases the club’s annual debt interest payments. More insidious still, the financial reorganisation brought about by the notes issue means that the Glazer family will leach more than £560 million from the club over the next seven years.
However, Gill insists that Sir Alex Ferguson has money to spend on player acquisition in the summer, with just Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Chris Smalling bought, in addition to free-transfer Michael Owen, since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo last June. The total outlay, including Smalling, is just £28 million.
“The owners understand that they will only get value back by ensuring the team continues to be successful and continues to attract exciting players and produces results off the pitch as well. They are in it for the long term,” Gill told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I do not have a clue about how many players we would buy in the summer. We do our planning throughout the year but the money will be there and it might be more than £55million.
“We have well over £100million in the bank, so we will assess the squad over the next few months and go into the market as appropriate.”
In the face of a sustained supporter campaign that has now reached the highest level City investors, business and celebrity – the so-called ‘Red Knights’ – the club has chosen a strategy of clampdown and disinformation.
In the stadium fans find themselves frisked for seditious banners, while a club statement issued to the BBC’s Football Focus contained the outright falsehood that the “group’s debt is £340 million,” based on the £500 million bond, minus £140 million in cash reserves.
What Gill failed to admit is that the Glazer family will take up to £127 million out of the club’s cash reserves in the coming year, with the family’s £200 million Payment-in-Kind burden now a financial priority above all others.
Gill’s assessment that Ferguson has £55 million to spend not only breaks a promise made to supporters in 2005 that the manager would be able to spend a net £25 million per season, it is also now clear that any future spending will come from the club’s new revolving ‘overdraft’ credit facility.
While the Glazers have effectively pocketed the £80 million raised by selling Ronaldo, Gill insists that the club’s major star, 22-goal Wayne Rooney, will sign a new contract at the club despite reported interest from Real Madrid and Barcelona.
“Wayne has a contract through until 2012,” said Gill.
“He has gone on record to say he wants to stay and we want him to stay. I’m sure that will be addressed in the close season. We hope that would be the case as we want to put him on a new, long-term contract.
“He’s 24 and has got the best years of his life ahead of him. Very few players, particularly UK-based players, want to leave Manchester United.”
Indeed that is true. Although Gill said the same of Ronaldo at this stage last season. In any case Rooney’s future is a moot point. The question Gill must answer with some honesty is where the next Rooney is coming from.