Malcolm Glazer's Death Puts Spotlight on Family Investment at Manchester United

Stuart Howard-Cofield@@grumpyoldfan99Featured ColumnistJune 4, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Manchester United fans, wearing green and gold scarves, protest against the Glazers, current owners of Manchester United before the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on January 23, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Although little in the day-to-day running of Manchester United ought to be affected by the death of Malcolm Glazer, there is no doubt that some uncertainty still exists.

Glazer had started buying shares of the PLC back in 2003. Following a couple of failed bids, Glazer took advantage of a dispute between Sir Alex Ferguson and the Irish Coolmore horse racing organisation, who owned around 28 percent of the club. He bought up their share and won control of Manchester United on 12 May 2005.

An American billionaire who could also count NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his portfolio, Glazer had no intention of becoming a sugar daddy for Manchester United. They didn't need one. Supremely profitable, the famous old club was viewed as the perfect moneymaking vehicle for the U.S. tycoon.

As detailed by Jim White of The Telegraph, Malcolm Glazer's purchase of United was heavily leveraged. He didn't have to invest any of his own personal fortune in a club which boasted incredible revenue streams that he would seek to exploit even more. Huge debts were accrued to essentially "mortgage" the club. This predatory yet perfectly legal means of buying would result in supporters slowly paying off the debts for him.

The debt level stands at £350 million, according to James Robson of The Manchester Evening News. However, aggressive commercial activity will ensure that the levels of debt will continue to drop. Slowly. The club, and the Glazers, will continue to make money.

However, from a footballing point of view, the impact of the Glazer tenure has been staggering, if not immediately clear.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  Sir Alex Ferguson manager of Manchester United (L) speaks with Avram Glazer (2L), Bryan Glazer (2R) and Joel Glazer (R) during a Manchester United training session prior to the UEFA Champions League final versus Barcelona at Wem
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Sir Alex Ferguson defended the Glazer regime, asserting in his autobiography that he was allowed to get on with his job without interference. A closer look might suggest otherwise.

A gaping hole has been apparent in United’s midfield for years. However, when clubs like Chelsea managed to attract long-term United target Michael Ballack, and more recently when Manchester City were buying players such as David Silva and Yaya Toure, Ferguson was bemoaning a lack of value in the transfer market. They were strange comments that seemed at odds with the club’s transfer dealings before the takeover.

Prior to 2005 United were seen either breaking transfer records or paying large transfer fees on a regular basis. Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron and Rio Ferdinand are a few examples. Since then there appears to have been a marked change in policy, ignoring 2008’s signing of Dimitar Berbatov.

Mark Ogden of The Telegraph tells us that over £680 million has gone towards interest fees, bank charges and debt repayment. In contrast, £382.9 million has been invested in players.

Indeed, since 2005, of all the clubs from the English Premier League that have competed in the UEFA Champions League, only Arsenal have spent less than Manchester United on players.

Life under the Glazers continued to be successful, though. Sir Alex managed to keep his side in among the trophies despite a slowdown in United’s own investments and the rise of competitors willing to outspend all others. It couldn’t possibly continue.

David Moyes took over from Sir Alex a year ago with the hole in midfield still unfilled and with a defence that was showing the creaking signs of age and which possessed inexperienced backups. It was said to be a long-term appointment. In truth, without proper backing, Moyes had no chance.

Peter Dejong/Associated Press

Louis van Gaal has now been been charged with the task of taking United back to the summit of English football. His appointment suggests that the club are prepared to do battle, but even the Glazers must realise that serious investment is now needed in the squad if that ambition is to be realised.

It is difficult to deny that the Glazer ownership of Manchester United has had a major impact on the club. Supporters have felt this keenly. As outlined by Paul Ansorge of Bleacher Report recently, the United family has been split irrevocably.

Some left altogether or formed their own club (FC United of Manchester), others tried to fight from within, and there are those who prefer to leave the politics of club ownership to one side. Deep fissures have been created, and the scars are unlikely to heal.

Jon Super/Associated Press

A lack of engagement with those match-going supporters is often criticised. The relative silence of Bryan Glazer, Avi Glazer and Joel Glazer has surely helped fuel the flames of concern among United fans over the years. Perhaps understandably due to the hostility, the three attend Old Trafford infrequently, but communication has been minimal in any event.

Malcolm Glazer’s passing now places a spotlight on the other three Glazer siblings, about whom even less is known. Kevin, Edwin and Darcie also own a stake in United, and the question has to be asked: Taking in to account the considerable investment that will be required, will all six have the stomach for a fight to reinstate United at the top, or will they now look to cash in?

MUST, the independent United supporters trust, offered this view on the subject following Moyes’ sacking:

...the sooner the Glazers recognise that Manchester United has to be able to reinvest its own revenues, and that there will be no surplus for them to cream off, the sooner they'll realise they need to cut and run before the market corrects the vastly inflated valuation of Manchester United. This is based on profits that cannot be sustained if the re-investment necessary to compete is to be made.

The last few weeks have seen the failed “long-term” experiment with David Moyes shelved and the passing of the Glazer family patriarch. The message is “business as usual.” The impending World Cup might be holding back transfer progress, but supporters want to hear more than a regular flow of press releases about new global partners.

The impression given is that at Manchester United, money talks. More than ever, United supporters need to hear the Glazers speak.