Fans' Blunder and Players' Beef as United Prepare for Decisive Week of Football

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Fans' Blunder and Players' Beef as United Prepare for Decisive Week of Football

After a streak of media coups and positive headlines, did the anti-Glazer fans movement blunder in its finest hour?

There is little doubt that action groups such as MUST and IMUSA have done sterling work in steering United fans anger against the Glazer family's plunder of the club.

They must redouble their efforts now that the Glazer £500M bond issue has been fully subscribed.

Fortunately, the Red protest movement is a slick media machine with a reach long enough to capture the attention of leading journalists of Her Majesty's Fourth Estate.

It helps, of course, that the subject matter is compelling. Some £717 million of needless debt and astronomical annual interest repayments plaguing Britain's top club is hardly a subject to ignore.

Several Guardian newspaper writers have taken particular interest in the story with the talented David Conn time and time again, ripping away the fig leaf of respectability from the Glazer family's financial stewardship of the club.

Fellow hack Daniel Taylor summed up the general mood when he described the Glazer family as "an orchestra of geeks."

Over at the Times, it was noted that "the world's biggest football brand" might now be "a ticking time bomb of debt just waiting to explode?"

Even the Financial Times weighed in with a damning indictment of the Glazer financial model. "The more that Manchester United’s £500M senior notes offering is picked over, the less appealing it looks."

Faced with such withering contempt, United's spin machine deployed its biggest guns. Both Sir Alex and Gary Neville sought to allay the fears of the Red fan base, the majority of whom remains baffled by on-field success and financial practice off the field which can lead only to ruin.

Having engineered the blanket negative coverage of United's owners, the anti-Glazer protesters could have retired to the sidelines and allowed the media to keep attention focused on United's sorry financial prospects.

Instead, campaigners overplayed their hand in the sulphurous atmosphere of a Stretford pub's meeting room before the home match against Burnley.

The Guardian newspaper's splash told the full story.

"Supporters fighting the Glazer family's ownership of the club are contemplating asking Sir Alex Ferguson to make the ultimate sacrifice and resign in protest," the newspaper thundered.

The article then quoted Johnny Flacks, a founding member and former chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association.

"This is not intended as an Alex Ferguson rant," Flacks began unconvincingly. "But he claims to be a socialist, a former shop steward and a man of the people, so he must be horrified by what is going on."

“It would work only if thousands of people sent a copy of this letter to Ferguson letting him know that our fear, if the Glazers stay in control, is that his legacy is going to be destroyed. We wouldn't want that, and I don't think he would either." 

Flacks request to Ferguson, one of several measures considered by protesters, made headlines in the Guardian but was not given prominence elsewhere. This was because the proposal is daft.

Ferguson has moved from an ardent critic of the takeover to a Glazer cheerleader; his on the record statements have been supportive of the owners even as they have deprived him of the funds he clearly needs to strengthen his squad.

But as Guardian football writer Kevin McCarra noted, "It would take a great deal more distress before Ferguson turned into some rogue manager who gave a coded endorsement to would-be insurrectionists."

Fans, out of respect and self-interest, generally forgive the manager his flip-flop. What they appear to want is for Ferguson to remain at the helm for a good deal longer, to oversee a sticky transition period and the development of a new team.

Unsuprisingly, the only fans who would be keen for Ferguson to fall on his sword are those who do not carry United in their hearts.

The Daily Mail's waspish football writer Martin Samuel used his column to set down their standard.

Samuel discussed the "contradiction at the heart of the Glazer saga." He wrote of an "empathy for Manchester United supporters," experienced by the wider football community which nevertheless revels in "quietly relishing what is happening for the change it might bring to English football."

Be careful of what you wish for, some might say. If the game's undisputed giant can be pimped of its resources, what hope have the rest?

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