Respect. Interesting word. One thrown around with ease, abused at will. So misunderstood. Respect, they say, is the proper reaction to Malcolm Glazer’s death at 85. It is a demand for reverence that was never proffered a 136-year-old football club, pillaged for its glory and robbed of its soul. Respect is to not speak ill of the dead; to whitewash history, to let a man ‘rest in peace’ from across an ocean to a family home dripping in disdain for an asset stripped. No deference was ever offered, nor earned.
Glazer’s death after six years brutal illness and nine of callous ownership brings no tears and precious little peace. His impact on United will be felt years after the ashes are scattered to the winds.
The paterfamilias has long since withdrawn from active ownership, invested neither spiritually, or indeed literally, in a club that was bought on debt and devoured by greed. Yet, the octogenarian was never less than the family’s leader. It’s moral void and blackest heart.
Secretive and recluse in death as he was in power Glazer and family have never veered from a path that set out to extract greatest value from an asset leveraged and supporters made patsy for the Americans’ strategy. Respect? Pull the other one.
Nine years ownership and one thing can be said for Glazer – he went a long way to maintain a secret. More than four and a half thousand miles from United’s base at Old Trafford to the tax haven on Grand Cayman in the Caribbean Sea where the club is now registered. To his Tampa home and the State of Delware where United was first incorporated under the Glazer family. To the New York Stock Exchange where the club was listed in 2012.
Never, though, did Glazer venture to Old Trafford – the centre of a billionaire’s business empire, its crown jewel, the cash cow milked for every drop. The Glazers have never sought less than to minimise the tax burden, maximise profit gained, and interdict public scrutiny.
Supporters’ challenge, waxing from threatened violence to terrace unrest and astute financial analysis, was never broken though. Not in a decade of patronising indifference and Sir Alex Ferguson’s vitriolic defence. The Glazers’ debt, which has extracted more than £690 million in service, interest, repayments and other fees, assured that apathetic though the masses, the truth remained close. No guesswork will uncover what might have become if United’s fortune was reinvested not plundered. The imagination runs wild though.
Those at the forefront of a near decade-long protest remember well the Glazers’ takeover. The Coolmore scandal that ensured Ferguson’s acquiesce, David Gill’s duplicitous about-face, and more than £500 million loaded ominously onto the club’s books in 2005. It was a buyout leveraged at great risk while the Premier League’s dignitary sold tickets to watch Rome burn. The governing body was as absentee then as United’s new landlords have remained since.
It was a takeover every bit as tarnished as those engineered by the family in previous years. They ramped up both the shareholding and price with incremental purchases, leveraging against United’s value, and seeking to bet each way in a two-horse race. The dice were loaded in Malcolm’s favour; Ferguson, Coolmore and Gill scrawled a six on every face. There are many for whom forgiveness will never come.
In the intervening years there have been countless rounds of financial engineering. Each designed to secure the family’s position and to extract yet more cash. An aggressive merchandising and sponsorship programme, instigated to keep the treadmill turning, has pimped United’s brand to potato snacks, Saudi telecoms, tomato juice and beyond. The Glazers’ strategy has centred on the price of all, mindless to the value of anything.
Supporters are little more than wallets from where yet more lucre is extricated: the masses are customers, followers – sickeningly -‘social media reach’. Whether fans are foolishly loyal to the family, or permanently disenfranchised, it has made little difference to the Glazers’ model. The shirts may be Red, but cash is green. This was Malcolm’s bidding and his sons’ execution. None of it was respectful.
On the pitch United continued to win. Ferguson’s brilliance ensured that permanent under-investment, relative to rivals at home and abroad, had little short-term impact. Four Premier League trophies won between 2005 and 2013, one European cup and two further continental finals speak well of the Scot’s genius. Only the foolish believe that these trophies were garnered because, and not in spite of, United’s ownership.
Yet, this was a model that could never last. The squad left first to David Moyes and now Louis van Gaal was gradually eroded in quality as England’s nouveau riche and Europe’s established giants first caught up and then usurped the Reds. Drip by drip the club was stripped of its lustre. Twice in three years Manchester City has become England’s premier side. There is undoubtedly a long road back from here.
With Uncle Malc now gone talk will once again turn to the club’s future. More in hope, one suspects, than in genuine substance. Glazer siblings Bryan, Avram and Joel believe there are more riches to upturn; Darcie, Edward and Kevin, it seems, do not. The prospect of extracting more liquidity in New York is real even if an outright sale is remote.
It is a truism that whatever path the future holds Malcolm bequeathed not only his shares, but the key to the safe. United’s loss and supporters’ injury will be the remaining children’s gain. The question left unanswered remains: “for how long now?”
United’s violation is Malcolm’s true lasting legacy. More potent than any failing businesses, from fish oil to cheap strip malls, and a forever mediocre NFL franchise. And if the family is divided then it is nothing compared to the supporters: those who incoherently sponsored the ransack, and those who failed to hold the barbarians from the gates. The terraces may never be United again. “The takeover of Manchester United caused a lot of pain in this city,” said, pointedly, FC United’s Andy Walsh.
Respect? He amassed none and offered less. There are no tears for Glazer’s death.