Jim White

Fergie’s backed the wrong horse in Glazer affair

Jim White

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The news that certain members of Manchester United senior management are to benefit from the club's public listing by being gifted shares will come as little surprise to those who have followed the club's recent history.

The sale is a botched and sorry effort, an asset stripping operation which has been chased across the stock markets of the globe as it sought some sort of refuge from the prevailing economic woes. The idea, we were told by the acquisitive family who own the club, was to free up some of the debt. Accrue investment and pay off the loans was the idea, that way the interest payments would be reduced and more money be made available for keeping tabs on the field of play with the super-rich neighbours.

Never mind that it was them who first foisted totally unnecessary debt on to an institution which had been proudly debt free for generations, here they were presenting the share issue as some sort of financial nirvana. It soon became pretty clear it was no such thing. While approximately half of the £300 million raised by the sale will indeed be used to pay off the various notes and loans levied on a reluctant host body by its parasitical owners, the rest was to go directly to the Glazer family.

They have urgent need of cash to prop up the other ailing parts of their retail and property empire, stricken by consequences of leveraged buy-outs. The Glazers never owned anything, they just bought it all on loans. And when the loans were called in, and the interest hiked, in the wake of the credit crunch, boy were they in trouble.

United is just about their only liquid asset, the only source of cash. The IPO was financial chicanery of the most blatant and shameless kind. Scandalous barely covers it. In the Glazer empire, the only way forward is robbing Peter to pay Paul. And in this case Peter's wealth is derived from the pockets of Manchester United's supporters.

And yet we are told by the manager of the club that the Glazers have been fantastic owners. And that those who point out their chicanery are merely sour-faced moaners. Most proper fans recognise their decency, he insisted. Now we know why he is so in favour of their rule. According to the financial blogger Andy Green he could be in line for shares valued at over £10m. Well, with that sort of bonus in prospect you would reckon the owners decent.

The sadness is the Glazer recklessness, the sheer audacity of using the once great institution as a piggy bank to prop up their faltering net worth, is so evidently dangerous that not to recognise it as such is the indecency. This is a property that has stood proud in the annals of football as a self-sustaining, self-financing titan being transformed by its current owners into a milk machine, to be sucked dry at every teat. The very act of doing so not only jeopardises the short term — the chances of United keeping track with the spending power of their neighbours is now beyond remote — it absolutely undermines the future.

The warning is there in Glasgow. Sure, the details are different. But the fundamentals are the same. At Rangers, a hapless and hopeless board believed endless cash flow would cover up their financial mismanagement. At United, the view is the same. As long as the punters keep coming, as long as the shirt deals are signed, as long as the sponsors are attracted, all will be well.

But as was demonstrated at Ibrox, cash coming in has to match cash going out. The Glazers have signalled their intent with this sale: United is their personal ATM. Such reckless endangerment of basic probity is not remotely decent. Sir Alex you have been warned: you are supporting the wrong side in this affair. No amount of share bribery can disguise this fact: the Glazers are very bad indeed for the future well being of the club you insist you love.

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