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Joel Glazer has defended Manchester United’s debt mountain and dividend payments and claimed they have “never stood in the way” of the club’s ability to compete in the transfer market.
The controversial United co-chairman also said that the club have walked away from expensive transfer deals in the past amid fears that paying an “outlandish” fee would lead to the club being routinely held to ransom in the market.
United are currently haggling with Borussia Dortmund over the German club’s €95 million (£81.6m) demands for England winger Jadon Sancho, even if there remains an expectation of a deal being struck.
Glazer’s remarks were made during a two-hour fans’ forum meeting earlier this month when he refuted suggestions that the club’s American owners “only care about our commercial interests and money” and also revealed they have “big plans” to overhaul Old Trafford.
United have spent almost £1.1 billion financing the club’s debt structure – with £125m of that sum paid out in dividends, mostly to the owners – since the Glazers bought the club in 2005. That is more than the club’s net £1 billion outlay on players over the same period. United’s net debt stood at £455.5m as of December last year.
But Glazer claimed the debt pile had not impacted on the club’s transfer plans as he tackled questions at the fans’ forum in his first public engagement with United supporters in 16 years.
“We’re going to keep investing on the pitch, which we did last year, and we plan on doing it meaningfully this year. So, we feel that we’re in a good spot,” Glazer said.
“There’s always headline numbers [for the debt], and then there’s the real costs on an annual basis and… it’s never affected our ability to operate in the transfer market or do anything else with regard to the club.
“We’re able to pay a dividend but it’s a modest proportion of our five to six hundred million pounds of revenue – it’s less than three per cent of that.
“It has never stood in the way of us pursuing players or transfers on the pitch. We may have walked away from transfers at times because the other side wanted an outlandish number. And while it's easy to pay it that one time, it does have consequences. You do it once and the next person expects it, and then the next person expects it.”
Glazer apologised for their failure to communicate with supporters and said “our silence wrongly created the impression that we don’t care … that we only care about our commercial interests and money”. He added: “To compete for trophies requires a successful commercial operation. In our case at Manchester United, commercial interests may have come to the forefront, and that’s something we have to find the right balance for.”
The Glazers have also come in for criticism for a lack of investment in Old Trafford, but the co-chairman said that would change and insisted they had no interest in a naming rights deal or moving the location of the stadium.
“We have big plans for the future with regard to the stadium that you'll see, and in the training ground,” he said. “You know we own an NFL team in the United States [the Tampa Bay Buccaneers] and we just went through that process two or three years ago in our stadium there. Our stands were 20 something years old and it was up to 16 years until we did a major renovation. We got a Super Bowl there last year and it's a stadium that we're very proud of.
“We expect to do the exact same thing now that we're in a certain cycle with Old Trafford, so that when it's all said and done, it is something that everyone will be proud of.”
In addition to plans to create a fan advisory board and fan share ownership scheme, Glazer confirmed that the owners would foot the bill for any fines from Uefa and the Premier League over the failed European Super League plot that triggered furious protests among supporters.
“The Super League highlighted what mistakes can be made when there’s no consultation on important decisions,” he said. “Sometimes you need that as a wake-up call.”