Wed. Feb 24th, 2021

Man Utd

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The Glazers are back in the limelight but are staying away from Manchester

9 min read

“Accept the George Halas Trophy, Mr Glazer,” the interviewer urged Joel Glazer. He grasped it before the second syllable of his surname had been uttered, turned to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and staff and hoisted the trophy to jubilant ‘cheers’.

Glazer, clutching the glass prize like an Academy Award winner, was asked what the moment meant to the owners of the ‘franchise’.

“We’re just so happy, so proud of all these players, so proud of Jason Licht, Bruce Arians, the entire team. And Tampa, we’re coming home!”. Super Bowl LV will be staged at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

Those 25 words were uttered in 10 seconds before Tom Brady was beckoned over. It is tradition for the franchise owner to be presented with the award for winning the National Football Championship and Glazer could be on camera to receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy, as his father Malcolm did in 2003, on Sunday.



Joel Glazer clutches the George Halas Trophy
Joel Glazer clutches the George Halas Trophy

It has been nearly 16 years since Joel Glazer addressed the followers of the other sporting ‘franchise’ his family owns, when he stressed communication with supporters was ‘extremely important’.

“People want to know what’s happening,” Glazer told presenter Steve Bower on Manchester United’s in-house station MUTV, shortly after his family’s hostile takeover in May 2005.

“People want to know where things are heading but we will be communicating.”

Not directly, though.

Former chief executive David Gill and his successor, the executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, have been their master’s voice since Joel sat down in the Stretford End studio. Woodward has been more open than the brusque Gill, although his dialogue over the last year has been reduced to mundane quarterly conference calls and virtual fan forums due to the pandemic.



Woodward and Avram Glazer watch on at Craven Cottage in February 2019
Woodward and Avram Glazer watch on at Craven Cottage in February 2019

It was a jolt to see the borderline reclusive Joel, not seen at a United match since the Champions League quarter-final first leg with Barcelona in April 2019, willingly hog the limelight in the NFL Playoffs. Joel is seldom seen at Old Trafford these days and the United chief financial officer Cliff Baty, a doppelganger for Glazer, was mistaken for Joel when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took a selfie with him and Avram Glazer.

Much has changed since 2005.

“I think it is important that the club remains in the right hands. I am absolutely on the supporters’ side and think the club is in very good hands as it is today. I am a United fan myself and only want what is best for the future.” That was Solskjaer voicing his opposition to the inevitable takeover by the Glazers.

At the press conference to announce bSkyb’s agreed takeover of United in 1998, the bSkyb chief executive Mark Booth was asked to name the team’s left-back and was unable to. What the Glazers know about soccer might not fill a postage stamp but they are more involved than many United supporters think. They hold daily dialogue with Woodward, who advised the Glazers on their £790million takeover.

Sources in Tampa say Joel’s ‘main job’ is running United. A senior United source clarified Joel’s involvement with United is ‘full-time’ and he is ‘fully engaged’. Joel does not live in Tampa but attends every Bucs game. A Glazer sibling has not been present for a United game since the 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea on the opening Premier League weekend in August 2019. Club sources say the Glazers maintain a low profile to avoid distraction.

Following the J Stand’s chorus of ‘Jose’s right, the board is s—e’ during the fraught October 2018 comeback win over Newcastle, Avram was in the directors’ box for the next home game against Juventus. When the family is embattled they tend to arrive at the front line and the Glazers crossed the Atlantic for the most heated home matches during the green and gold protests in 2010.

The days when the Glazers left Old Trafford in a police escort and a former United manager chuckled at the RedIssue fanzine’s front page reaction to Malcolm Glazer’s illness are distant. Anger among supporters still simmers over the family’s dividend payments the Glazers continue to rake in, reported in the club’s October accounts. The club now has net debt of £429.1m, a rise of £127.4m, although United figures believe their debts are affordable and have not interfered with investment in the squad.

The club insist their financial resilience amid the pandemic reflects the strength of their business model and ‘responsible financial management’. Woodward predicted the house of cards would collapse at Barcelona as far back as October 2019 and their debt stands at £1.1billion. The Glazers’ takeover has cost more than £1bn in interest.



Avram Glazer in attendance for United's 4-0 win over Chelsea in August 2019
Avram Glazer in attendance for United’s 4-0 win over Chelsea in August 2019

United have not furloughed staff during any of the lockdowns in England and season ticket prices have been frozen for nine years running. There has been a 500% growth in commercial revenues from £47m in 2005 to £279m in 2020 and it has not gone unnoticed by the Glazers that the Boston-based Fenway Sports Group, owners of Liverpool, are imitating their commercial model.

Sunday January 24 was one of the most successful sporting days for the Glazers in years.

United knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup, having knocked them off their perch in the Premier League, and Brady, the evergreen quarterback the Bucs recruited on a $50m two-year contract and a six-time Super Bowl winner, booked the Bucs’s first Super Bowl appearance since their 2003 win.



Joel Glazer shakes hands with Leonard Fournette at Buccaneers practice in September
Joel Glazer shakes hands with Leonard Fournette at Buccaneers practice in September

It was only 14 months ago the Tampa Bay Times accused the Bucs of ‘living with consequences of hiring a coach to coach one player’. The coach being the incumbent Arians and the player Jameis Winston, now of the New Orleans Saints.

“Koetter and Arians were hired by the Glazer family to coach Winston,” the TB Times wrote. “The theory went like this: Make Winston a franchise quarterback and somehow all the team’s other problems will cosmetically disappear. But what happens if the quarterback doesn’t really get any better?”



The Glazers watch on as Tom Brady speaks after the Bucs beat the Packers
The Glazers watch on as Tom Brady speaks after the Bucs beat the Packers

At the time, the Bucs’s strategy was comparable with United’s: Solskjaer, seemingly a substitute teacher, had been appointed to put a smile back on the face of Paul Pogba. Pogba did get better, only Zinedine Zidane was soon reappointed by Real Madrid and Pogba’s smile turned into a frown. United won two of their last 12 games in a trophyless 2018-19 and were relegated to the Europa League. The Bucs finished 11th out of 16 in the 2019 National Football Conference.

United can cope without Pogba but the Bucs cannot do without Brady. Brady squirmed when asked about his support of Donald Trump in a Zoom call on Monday, having once displayed a ‘Make America Great Again’ in his locker.

In a 2018 interview with Piers Morgan, Trump referred to his ‘friend who owns Manchester United’. The Federal Election Commission showed Edward Glazer and his wife, Shari, have donated at least $1.7 million since 2016 to conservative committees, most of them tied to Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell. Avram and his wife, Jill, both in attendance for United’s remarkable recovery at Paris Saint-Germain nearly two years ago, have donated more than $2.5m to the Democrats since 2016.

The United Review programmes list Joel and Avram as the ‘co-chairmen’ and Edward, Bryan, Kevin and Darcie Glazer Kassewitz as directors. Ahead of the 2019-20 season, Ms Glazer Kassewitz, was approached by a journalist from the Tampa Bay Times at a practice session and asked about the discontent among United fans. It was the summer that #Glazersout trended, sometimes ironically instigated by fans whose avatars were of them playing at Old Trafford on club-sponsored pitch days. Not for the first time, a Glazer sibling kept mum and walked away from a question.



A United fan displays an anti-Woodward and anti-Glazer banner
A United fan displays an anti-Woodward and anti-Glazer banner

The keyboard warriors were never going to unsettle the family and, in person, there has been little to no hostility. A United supporter who wore a garish green and gold ‘Love United hate Glazer’ hoodie to games posed for a selfie with Avram in a hotel elevator during the 2010 pre-season tour of the States.

Solskjaer was asked about fan disillusionment on the first leg of the 2019 summer tour in Perth and again after the demoralising defeat at Newcastle in October 2019. Both times he fudged his answers.

Following the 6-1 trouncing by Tottenham on October 4, some supporters mobilised in spite of the locked turnstiles by heading to John Gilbert Way, leading into Old Trafford, to hold aloft a ‘Glazers out Woodward out’ sign. Their gesture was reported by matchgoing journalists and they were back there three weeks later. Woodward will have been driven past them.

The sinister songs about Woodward and the Glazer family that marred United’s January last year have been replaced by manufactured crowd noise for television viewers or Harry Maguire’s Yorkshire growl. United were top of the English football pyramid less than two weeks ago and are through to the last 16 of the FA Cup; a mid-season double over Liverpool in itself.

Twelve months ago, United were 30 points adrift of leaders Liverpool, humiliated by Manchester City and Burnley on their own patch and Solskjaer returned from the winter break in Marbella to be interrogated about the Babacar Sarr case at Carrington.



United fans outside Old Trafford in January 2020
United fans outside Old Trafford in January 2020

Few teams have benefited more from sparse stands than United. Pandemic-era football has suddenly, unexpectedly, levelled the playing field with Liverpool, pining for their pyro and pint nights, when visiting coaches were greeted with a haze of red smoke as if entering a war zone.

“It’s amazing how a club can miss their fans,” a former United player messaged in the wake of Liverpool’s improbable home defeat to Burnley last month. Brighton left Anfield with three points on Wednesday.

Solskjaer is shaping up to be Woodward’s finest appointment and, of all his managerial choices, the easiest to work with. United sources are convinced the club is ‘on the right track’ under Solskjaer and Michael Carrick, a first-team coach for nearly three years and about as antagonistic as a kitten, opined in his 2018 book: “I think the Glazers have been great owners. Couldn’t really ask for anything more. The Glazers need a lot of credit for how they’ve gone about it… United have progressed under the Glazers on and off the field.”



The Glazers (right) in the United dressing room on the day they won the 2009 Premier League title
The Glazers (right) in the United dressing room on the day they won the 2009 Premier League title

United under-invested in the summer transfer window and failed to reinforce key areas. If Solskjaer was aggrieved, he kept his counsel, toed the line and was the polar opposite to his wronged predecessor. Jose Mourinho was blocked from selling the AWOL Anthony Martial by Joel Glazer in 2018 and is believed to have told a confidant Woodward ‘f—-d up deals’.

Not in Tampa. The Bucs general manager Jason Licht lauded the Glazers’ planning. “It’s just a feeling of being grateful for our ownership for giving us the resources that they had to keep this team together, to go out and get Tom, trade for Gronk (tight end Rob Gronkowski), make some other moves during the season when it would’ve been very easy for an owner – or owners – to pull the reins back a little bit for reason that go along with being in a pandemic.

“They desperately want this. They wanted to be in the Super Bowl, they want to win it – they want to do it for the fans.”

The Glazers are coming home, but not to Old Trafford.

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