- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

It has been two years since Malcolm Glazer’s controversial takeover of Manchester United for $1.47 billion. After a two-year hiatus, Manchester United, for the 16th time in the club’s history, is English Premier League champion. However, feelings over Glazer and his three sons — Bryan, Avram and Joel — who run the jewel of English soccer — still are very mixed.

Manchester United chief executive David Gill told BBC radio that the Glazers, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have had a positive impact on the club.

“Their ownership has brought stability and we are benefiting from that,” Gill said.

When the Glazers took over the team in May 2005 there were violent demonstrations. Fans tore up their season tickets and others walked away from the club to form their own club called FC United. The rationale behind the outrage was that Glazer wasn’t a real fan and would saddle the club with a massive debt.

“All the doomsayers who said we would be in trouble have been proved wrong,” Gill said.

But despite Manchester United’s success and Glazer’s willingness to spend money on new players, the hatred runs deep. The Independent Manchester United Supporters Association on its Web site — www.imusa.org — ranks this year’s triumph only second to the 1995-96 season when Manchester United came from 12 points behind to win the league. Still, the Glazers get no thanks and are only mocked.

“There has been no change in our attitude to the Glazers just because we have won a title,” IMUSA spokesman Colin Hendrie said in an e-mail to The Washington Times. “The team and Sir Alex [Ferguson] won the title in spite of the Glazers and we nearly didn’t win the title because of them. They sold so many players and failed to provide any investment for the team.”

The current title is Manchester United’s ninth Premier League championship under Ferguson, and its first in four years.

The Glazers weren’t afraid to spend money to return Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League. Three important players joined Manchester United in the last two years, including midfielder Michael Carrick, who cost the team $32 million by himself. The team’s venue was expanded and the club sealed a record $110 million shirt deal with AIG. Manchester United also still has a chance of claiming the FA Cup when it plays former EPL champion Chelsea at the new Wembley Stadium on May 19.

Still last week, a car thought to have belonged to the Glazers was attacked by an angry mob outside a Manchester hotel the Glazers had stayed in the previous night.

Hendrie doesn’t believe that anti-Americanism had anything to do with the opposition to the Glazers.

“Manchester is proud of its political history and its reputation for having a spirit of rebellion,” Hendrie said. “We even have a statue of Abraham Lincoln given to us by the people of the U.S. because Lancashire cotton workers voted to continue their financial suffering rather than end their part in the Union’s fight against slavery in your civil war.”

Since Glazer’s purchase of Manchester United, several other English clubs have been acquired by Americans, including Liverpool FC — England’s most successful club — by George Gillett Jr., who owns the Montreal Canadiens, and Tom Hicks, who owns the Texas Rangers. Randy Lerner, who owns the Cleveland Browns, purchased Aston Villa.

Interestingly though, when Gillett and Hicks took over Liverpool, there was hardly a murmur of dissent from the club’s passionate fans.

“Our current chairman is often accused of never having fully exploited the Liverpool brand so there’s an acceptance that a bit of Yankee ‘get up and go’ is needed here,” said Steven Kelly, editor of the Liverpool fanzine Through the Wind and Rain. “Also, you go through 17 years without a league title, despite some appreciated cup success and people are liable to turn a blind eye to anything.”

Liverpool will challenge for the biggest club trophy in the world — the Champions League Cup — against AC Milan on May 23.

“In general Liverpool fans are more practical and pragmatic [than Manchester United fans],” Kelly said. “We’ve simply realized that the way things were held us back from beating Manchester United and more so, Chelsea.”

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