The silly season is well and truly upon us, and with football now demanding twenty-four hour, three hundred and sixty-five day a year media coverage the next few weeks seem likely to bring more stories to the back pages of newspapers that might otherwise not have been deemed worthy of such coverage. So it was with Sir Alex Fergusons recent comments regarding the Glazer family and their ownership of Manchester United Football Club. According to Ferguson, “They have always backed me whenever I have asked them for anything,” whilst “I think there are a whole lot of factions at United that think they own the club,” and, “I think the majority of the real fans will look at it ["it" in this case meaning the Glazer ownership of the club] realistically and say it’s not affecting the team.”
It has been noted elsewhere before that Sir Alex Fergusons glowing comments about the Glazers have an uncanny habit of appearing in public when the family itself is coming under close scrutiny, and this summers scrutiny of their IPO has thrown the spotlight on one of English footballs arguably most controversial football club owners. That the manager should be as close to the owners as he is may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, when we consider the trade union shop steward background from whence he came, but it may also be worth bearing in mind that Ferguson often seemed to be in a state of something approaching open warfare with the previous owners of the club – with the dispute that he had with the then major United shareholder John Magnier over stud rights for race horse Rock of Gibraltar – and that the arrival of the Glazers coupled with their ongoing confidence in Ferguson at a time during which his judgement was being called into question by some.
Since then, Ferguson has gone on to enjoy a position at Manchester United which makes him surely the most powerful manager in English football. He has absolute security in his position as the manager of the club and, it seems, complete control over whichever aspects of the management of the football aspects of the club he wishes. At over seventy years old, it seems unlikely that his praise for the owners is merely a matter of publicly towing the corporate line, too. Ferguson is at a stage of his career at which he can openly speak his mind – whether rightly or wrongly – on any number of subjects as and when he wants to. And wrongly he does, more than once in this particular interview. Consider, for example, this statement:
I think the problem is they are not publicists. They don’t go out of their way to seek good publicity. They are quite happy to stay in the background. Roman Abramovich is the same.
Whether this sort of comment is willful ignorance or otherwise of the many powerfully and cogently argued cases against the Glazers’ continuing involvement at the club is undebatable, and what Chelsea supporters might make of the notion of Roman Abramovich being “happy to stay in the background” at Stamford Bridge is a different matter altogether. Ferguson must surely know that criticism of the Glazer ownership of the club has many strands, and that to seek to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. What it does demonstrate, though – alongside the “real fans” comment, which will likely have angered a good number of Manchester United supporters, or at least those that aren’t now wearily over-familiar with such comments – is an unrelenting contempt for anybody that doesn’t agree with his world-view on the subject. Ferguson may merely being cantankerous or mischievous in making such comments, but it is worth considering whether he might not be better advised to stay quiet on the subject rather than making this sort of comment in public and risk starting another round of arguing on the subject. Ferguson has no responsibility towards the Glazer family, so the question of why he doesn’t just stay quiet on the subject seems like a valid one. Ultimately, it is his choice to make such potentially inflammatory statements.
Meanwhile, the clubs summer break is not going exactly according to plan. Chris Smalling is injured and is likely to miss the first few weeks of the season, while a one-all draw against Ajax Cape Town yesterday was a relatively uninspiring performance in which a draw was only salvaged thanks to a late, late goal from Bébé and from which the only real bright spot came in the form of an encouraging performance from new signing Shinji Kagawa. Even concerns over this, however, are only worth considering when set against the extraordinarily high levels of expectation which follow Manchester United around these days. The clubs almost unbroken run of success over the last two decades means that every result, every quotation and every decision, no matter how inconsequential it may be in the long-term is analysed to death.
Perhaps the biggest questions that the club faces over the next couple of years or so relate to Financial Fair Play, its enforcement and how the club might be able to keep up with Manchester City and Chelsea if these two clubs – and potentially others – continue to find creative ways to side-step such regulations, as well as the matter of who will replace Ferguson as the effective head of state at Old Trafford. The future for the club should be bright because, if for no other reason, the financial grounds upon which the club are built, in terms of match-day and commercial revenues, are amongst the highest of any football club in the entire world. That Manchester United has won four Premier League championships and one Champions League title in the time that the Glazers have been at Old Trafford can only be perceived as being in spite of their ownership rather than because of it and, perhaps ironically, Sir Alex Ferguson does himself a disservice by being over-enthusiastic about their ownership of the club.
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