Though last season’s climax will linger odiously in the minds of Manchester United fans, the summer which has followed is one easily forgotten. On the pitch, the absence of key players, due to international commitments at both the European Championships and Olympics, has seen United’s depleted squad score just three goals in five games against markedly inferior opposition, save for Barcelona.
Meanwhile, away from it, only moderate activity in the transfer window has left a midfield bereft of variety and depth, seemingly unimproved. Even speculation concerning the potential acquisition of Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer last term, has polarised opinion; such is the Dutchman’s inability to mask the team’s most deep-rooted deficiencies.
Arguably the most engrossing stories to emerge from Old Trafford relate to the Glazer family’s much maligned attempt to float part of the club on the New York Stock Exchange, while still pocketing more of the proceeds than will be devoted to reducing United’s insidious debt. Yet, despite the club’s recent anguish, and its future shrouded in doubt, there still remains scope for optimism.
This optimism begins with hope for desperately needed reform. The detrimental nature of the Glazers’ ownership was already well known, but renewed outrage in the face of their Initial Public Offering (IPO) in New York has reinvigorated opposition at a time when the family are looking more vulnerable than ever.
The family’s US-based businesses continue to haemorrhage money, while rumours of a rift within the family persist; the Sunday Times reported this week that of the six children to whom Malcolm has gifted control of United, three “want to sell their shares to concentrate on other ventures.” Even if tales of a family dispute prove untrue, the Glazers are still faced with the dilemma of somehow generating the capital necessary to prop up their failing businesses elsewhere.
Thus it appears the success of the proposed IPO, expected to be launched later this week, is fundamental to the Glazers’ continued ownership of United. Should it fail to deliver the cash injection hoped for, the Americans may well be forced to consider selling the club, or at least settle for relinquishing a much larger share of control.
And if the reports disseminated by a number of renowned forecasters are to be trusted, it is hardly inconceivable that the IPO will fail; the Financial Times damningly opined that the Glazers believe “investors are so credulous that they will hand over their money without being offered a financially persuasive argument or even the pretence of good corporate governance practice,” while analyst house Morningstar has valued potential shares at between $6 and $10 less than the amount targeted.
Though it is true that news ‘leaked’ from inside the club contradicts this position, anybody familiar with United’s increasingly lacklustre attempts to sell season tickets will rightly be sceptical when the world is told that the IPO is already oversubscribed.
The potential difficulty the Glazers face has not been lost on United fans, with the all-espousing Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) avidly vocalising its plans to test the family’s resolve. Having developed a reputation for being somewhat passive in its previous attempts to force the Glazers from Old Trafford, the group headed by Duncan Drasdo stepped up its efforts this week, as it facilitated the dispatch of over one million emails to potential backers of the IPO and club sponsors.
More significantly, MUST released a statement on Tuesday calling for the worldwide boycott of all products and services of those same sponsors. Though such an appeal is highly ambitious, with results unlikely to materialise, it is a step in the right direction; the only way United fans can gain leverage over the Glazers is to hurt the family’s revenue streams until they are forced to sell. This is a goal ordinary fans can only achieve collectively, through mass boycott.
Aided by Blue State Digital, the marketing firm used by Barrack Obama during his first electoral campaign, MUST now provides a figurehead more widely received than the fanzines and online forums that were previously alone in calling for belligerent action. If MUST’s growing global presence proves enough to intimidate the Glazers’ financial advocates and allies even slightly, it may be enough to stifle the IPO, forcing the hand of the Americans.
The infamous figure of 659 million supporters, touted at every possible opportunity in the build-up to floatation, is so significant because it is through these supporters that the club stands to generate revenue.
Should a scenario arise where the Glazers are not able to sell on their own terms, particularly if the catalyst for such a scenario was supporter action against the family, it is unimaginable that new investors would not seek to rebuild the broken relationship between the club’s fans and its owners. A model of the club whereby fan ownership is a realistic possibility may once again emerge.