EPL TALK: Manchester United fans should be furious and must protest

A banner reading
A banner reading "Time 2 Go Glazers Out'" by Manchester United fans is seen during the Premier League match against Brentford. (PHOTO: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

MANCHESTER United are a broken club. They have the wrong owners, the wrong players and possibly the wrong manager, forcing their apoplectic supporters to take the right decision, the only decision left to them.

The Red Devils must protest against Liverpool. A walkout is planned on 22 August in a strike action being called #EmptyOldTrafford, a fitting gesture for a club that turned its back on its own kind some time ago. United’s soul has left the building.

For the United haters, this is whiny entitlement at its worst, of course, a sulky gesture among bandwagon jumpers still sobbing over their blocked return to the top table. A billion quid spent in the transfer market hardly constitutes a crisis, just ageing aristocrats bleating about being left behind.

But be careful what you wish for. What has happened to United could happen to your club – unless the English Premier League finally gets together with a new independent regulator and bans leveraged buyouts of once-profitable football clubs.

The Glazers’ debt-laden takeover broke no laws. They are legally killing the club slowly, keeping the cash cow in a decrepit barn, feeding the emaciated beast only enough to produce the milk of human gluttony.

And they are laughing at you. All of you. Not just United supporters, but anyone addicted to a product designed to monetise that addiction.

Naturally, they’ll laugh loudest at those currently flocking to United fan forums in Singapore and elsewhere, re-pledging their allegiance and promising to stand firm in the face of adversity, as if watching the Red Devils on StarHub was a military exercise in Pulau Tekong.

As you say it loud and proud on Facebook, you can almost picture the Glazers, gleefully rubbing their hands together, going full Bond villain, and hissing the same line, over and over again …

You. Will. Keep. Coming. Back.

No matter how inferior the product, no matter how many times David de Gea fails to distribute cleanly, no matter how often Cristiano Ronaldo plots a late escape, no matter how many strange signings Erik ten Hag makes from the Eredivisie, no matter how poor the running stats and no matter how many leaks in a decaying stadium, just keep saying it together with the Glazers.

You. Will. Keep. Coming. Back.

The Glazers are literally banking on it, swapping tribal devotion for unquestioning subservience, replacing sentient supporters with mobile ATMs, always available for withdrawals, night and day, from Salford to Singapore, the gullible gifts that keep on giving.

Unlike any other business, Manchester United represent a no-lose investment for their owners. Punters cash out of failing corporate ventures, but fans rarely cash out of failing football clubs. The Red Devils’ loyalty is being wilfully turned against them by their owners.

First, the Glazers came for the club, loading the richest sporting franchise in the world with £550 million in debt. For Manchester United fans, the leveraged buyout was the financial equivalent of owning an HDB flat outright – and making a tidy profit on the home furnishings – only to suddenly be saddled with a huge mortgage for the same property.

And then they came for the dividends, which covered most of their original investment (reported to be around £270 million). And those dividends came from you, the mobile ATMs, trudging along to every pre-season exhibition and collecting every shade of every new kit whilst presumably supporting their many official partners.

Manchester United fans show their displeasure at the players after the 0-4 defeat by Brentford.
Manchester United fans show their displeasure at the players after the 0-4 defeat by Brentford. (PHOTO: Reuters/David Klein)

In the alternative reality of Old Trafford, there are no strikers, combative central midfielders, passing goalkeepers or centre-backs with either height or speed, but there are official pillow, tyre, chocolate and noodle partners. Liverpool fans will always have Jurgen Klopp’s full set of silverware. And Manchester United supporters will always have a cup of instant noodles and a plastic fork.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, United’s net spend on transfers has crept towards a billion pounds, which is higher than Manchester City (heading towards £850 million), but the investment came not from the owners, but from revenues generated from those mobile ATMs, previously known as supporters.

The initial debt of £550 million still stands and the self-destructive financial obligations have cost the club anything from £2 billion to £3 billion, as the owners prioritised payouts over an infrastructure rebuild.

At this point, United haters may struggle to contain their indifference. Why should anyone beyond protesting loyalists care?

Maybe because their current predicament underlines the powerlessness of most supporters, knowing that club ownership is always a spin on the roulette wheel. The only weapon left for the Red Devils is the supporter’s cyanide pill, to leave the world of Old Trafford itself, to walk away from a life-affirming ritual in the vague hope that the Glazers might listen.

The fans of the world’s biggest football club are reduced to turning away from the world’s biggest football fixture against Liverpool. The symbolism is almost too obvious, a pitiful exercise in futility.

But what’s the alternative, beyond proving the prophecies of both Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp correct?

In their lively TV debate, Neville was right to acknowledge the debilitating effects of the Glazers’ absentee ownership and Redknapp was right to address the players’ lack of industry. One feeds the other. A club run by bankers obsessed with commercial revenue has favoured too many household brands and fading icons, over a long-term playing philosophy.

As a result, Brentford knocked over a weird United Legends XI, a bizarre mix of Harlem Globetrotters and academy graduates still clinging to the Class of 92 ghosts to justify their selection. And yet, their salaries are huge, thanks to employers more adept at securing an official noodle partner than a reliable centre-back.

Why should anyone leave this ponderous, gravy train? Why should any half-decent footballer join? It’s hard to see how ten Hag fixes anything. United’s owners have different priorities. The team can plateau as long as the commercial enterprise endures.

Why should anyone leave this ponderous, gravy train? Why should any half-decent footballer join? It’s hard to see how ten Hag fixes anything. United’s owners have different priorities. The team can plateau as long as the commercial enterprise endures.

Only an intervention from the terraces can end the abusive relationship now. The Glazers need to see, finally and decisively, that supporters are more than a gullible, inexhaustible cash supply. And a football club should mean more than a sponsored packet of instant noodles.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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