Manchester United need owners who see fans as partners, not problems | Manchester United

After 17 years, Manchester United are finally on the market and the downright hated ownership of the Glazer family finally seems to be coming to an end. But what does a realistic good result look like to United supporters? What can a football fan reasonably expect from a club owner in 2022?

The simpler days of the local businessman (still a man) presiding over the board, putting his hand in his pocket to build a new stand or sign a new player, compare favorably in the minds of fans to a world of American sovereign wealth funds, oligarchs or “sports entrepreneurs”. Yet the reality of those days has never been as good as our collective sepia-tinged memories suggest, and all recent deals for Premier League clubs indicate that it will be financially motivated buyers looking to acquire major clubs. English. Even local boy Sir Jim Ratcliffe is driven more by his belief that Premier League clubs will continue to grow in value than his support for United. After all, he tried to buy Chelsea.

It is not unreasonable, however, that fans expect any owner, whether financially motivated or not, to understand the history and culture of a club and realize that they are the custodian of a cultural institution that will last long after his departure. Football clubs endure, through ups, downs, relegations, promotions – even insolvency, and they do it because supporters endure, through families and friends, uniting people in a common cause .

For the owner of a football club, this persistence of loyalty is one of the attractions of ownership, but it is his responsibility to nurture the assets in his temporary care. Even on the scale of United and Liverpool, whose US owners have also said they are open to a sale, the institution is more than a business. Fans don’t change clubs like consumers change brands of sneakers or washing powder. The best owners – and Fenway Group probably fits that description – work to understand the institution they own, to work with the cultural groove of the club.

In many ways, owners and supporters need to be aligned. And the paradox of the shift over the past 20 years from matchday to media and commercial revenue at the biggest clubs is that matchday fans are no longer the financial goose to pluck but rather part of the game. global offer, seen and heard on TV. The progressive adoption of safety in England shows a growing understanding that loud and atmospheric pitches benefit both the club and the fans; the relationship is symbiotic and not oppositional.

Many proponents view the German ownership model as a model; banners emblazoned with ’50+1′ could be seen prominently on various pitches during the European Super League protests. However, the model is difficult to apply in England. German clubs started out as membership organizations and the 50+1 rule was a means to allow controlled commercialization, not a mechanism to roll back creeping commercialization of the kind featured in the Premier League. The value of English clubs makes such a structure virtually impossible to achieve. No current or future owner is likely to hand over billions of pounds worth, let alone control to supporters.

Cristiano Ronaldo has left Manchester United and the Glazers look set to follow suit Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

But material-scale supporter ownership remains the best way to formalize and cement the relationship between supporters and owners. Recent discussions between the Manchester United Supporters Trust (Must) and the Glazers over a fan sharing scheme show the start of a way forward. Any move to an element of supporter ownership will inevitably be gradual and frustratingly slow, but having supporter shareholders, especially organized by a properly constituted supporter trust, is good for the majority owner. Any company’s board should welcome passionate, long-term, loyal customers to its share register, and a savvy owner, wishing to cement his relationship with United’s fanbase, would work with Must to give supporters the opportunity to have a real stake. in the club.

As the structure of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter shows, even those with the deepest pockets can’t fund everything themselves. Chelsea’s takeover by a consortium led by Todd Boehly has a significant debt element, including a £500m term loan and a £300m revolving credit facility. Debt will almost inevitably be part of any United purchase, or at least future investment plans for Old Trafford, but the lessons of the past 17 years are that excessive leverage, taken for the wrong reasons, can be prove to be a dead weight, preventing investment. and providing no benefit to the club.

Any new owner at United must strive to understand the true nature of what they have joined and recognize the ephemeral nature of their connection to what is an institution of cultural significance. We need owners who see supporters as partners and not as problems, and who give them the opportunity to be involved in the club. And after a billion pounds was taken out of United just for the privilege of paying off the Glazers’ debt, we need owners who are financially prudent and only borrow to reinvest in the club. It’s not too much to ask.

Andy Green is a Manchester United supporter and football finance writer.

James C. Tibbs