Love United, hate Glazers
It's been an absolutely unbelievable English Premier League (EPL) season. Liverpool, after years grappling with failure, are now effortlessly dominant. Just seven points separate fourth from tenth place, an unprecedentedly close race for coveted UEFA Champions League qualifying slots. Manchester City are now banned from all European competition for two years, and are theoretically set to be docked EPL points as well.
Still, arguably the most unexpected among all this chaos is just how unsurprising Manchester United have been. United have struggled with general instability since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013, and are just now beginning to find consistency under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Watching them this season, however, you'd be forgiven for assuming their imminent rise—the club continues to win despite injuries, obscenely regular youth debuts, and pronounced lack of transfer window success. United do still clearly fall short of their celebrated standards, unfortunately, but this year's side is undeniably more hopeful than any other in recent history.
United have struggled for miscellaneous reasons—injuries, bad luck, José Mourinho. Ferguson's legacy is especially problematic, as well; despite his success and approval ratings, the Scotsman undeniably restructured the club in an intensely unique way. Ferguson bound United to his will, dictating everything from players' diets to sleep schedules. Rumors of intimidation tactics involving broadswords abound, and the iconic player-coach is storied for intentional savaging of irritating opponents in friendly matches. Ferguson's unreplicatable managerial style and decision to retire before revolutionizing his club's outdated organizational structure ensured that few modern coaches could succeed after him.
Ultimately, however, the foundational and structural challenges facing Manchester United begin with its ownership: the Glazer family. When the Glazer brothers finally leveraged a club buyout in 2005, they saddled United with its first debt since 1931—a mammoth £525m, through loans secured against its assets. This debt has oscillated through the years, peaking at roughly £778m in 2010, and has been refinanced multiple times. It currently stands at about £400m, and continues to rise. The club has additionally paid over £760m in interest since the Glazer buyout.
Manchester United are one of, if not the, biggest athletic organizations in the world. The club boasts a robust and renowned history of success, fans spanning continents, and a net value well over £3b. To hear, then, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward tell shareholders that "playing performance doesn't really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business" is a shocking betrayal of everything the organization stands for. The Glazer family is actively and consciously degrading Manchester United club culture, disastrously refocusing on finance while simultaneously neglecting to support staff requests or listen to managerial transfer recommendations. The Glazers are conspicuously absent at games and events, fail to instill any confidence in their constituency, and are seemingly indifferent to the general discontent enveloping their club.
I'm eternally wary of American investment in European sport. Occasionally, I am proven wrong—Fenway Sports Group's success with Liverpool is an obvious exception to the rule—but this is not such a case. Even United steadfast David Beckham has flown the anti-Glazer green-and-gold protest colors (the club's original scheme), and cries of 'Love United, Hate Glazer' have finally evolved into a clear petition: #GlazersOut.