Several readers have asked for my views about the purchase of Manchester United by American Malcolm Glazer and, in particular, on the furor it’s caused in Manchester. I’ve been reluctant to comment because, while I regard the furor as irrational, much of the joy of supporting an English soccer team is the freedom to be irrational. I certainly would not want to defend in rational terms my affection for Duncan Ferguson or my great dislike of Liverpool.
On the merits, it’s difficult for me to see the problem with having Glazer as owner. Manchester United has been in slight decline the past few years, falling from best team in Europe to best team in England to third best team in England. Under these circumstances, one might expect at least a “wait and see” attitude towards new ownership.
Here, the new ownership is foreign. But foreign ownership is not uncommon in English football. Chelsea was able to surpass Man U precisely because of the money pumped in by its new Russian owner. One-time soccer power Stoke City improved markedly under Icelandic ownership. In recent years, supporters of clubs like Everton and Leeds would have killed to be taken over by a rich foreigner. Every situation is different, and Man U, of course, is less desperate than Everton, Leeds, and Stoke City. But, again, it’s difficult for me to see why anything more hostile than mild skepticism is called for here.
Stefan Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist take a shot at the question in today’s Washington Post. They speculate that the furor is down to the fact that Glazer is American and does not love soccer (or at least is not known to). I suspect that the “American” part gets to the heart of the matter. In any case, the Man U fans should get as worked up about this as they like. As I said, irrationality is what supporting a club is all about.
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