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The Downfall of Manchester United

by Raheem Amany

"Like an adult version of Disneyland."


This is how Jurgen Klopp was pitched the Manchester United job by Ed Woodward before accepting the role at their biggest competitors instead, Liverpool, in 2015. Since then, Liverpool have gone on to win the Champions League for the first time since 2005, the Premier League for the first time in their history, the Club World Cup for the first time in their history, and the League Cup for the first time since 2012.


In that same time period, Manchester United won the League Cup, the FA Cup, and the Europa League.


Evidently, Manchester United have had a less successful decade than their biggest rivals, winning not only less trophies but less significant ones as well. But what is it that sets Liverpool apart? Or rather, considering the success of the other major players, Chelsea and Manchester City, what is it that sets Manchester United apart from these clubs that are continuously winning major honors while Manchester United still fight for their first trophy since 2017? The answer to this question is shockingly simple: the owners of Manchester United, the Glazers, are more focused on earning money by commercializing the club instead of winning trophies.


Historically, Manchester United are the most successful team in English football and one of the most successful teams in the world. From the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson as manager in 1986, Manchester United won 30 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League titles, dominating English and solidifying their title as the kings of English football. His tenure culminated in Manchester United became the first and only English team to complete a treble in 1999: winning the Premier League title, Champions League, and FA Cup in the same season. Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 with a statue, a section of the stadium dedicated in his honor, and the cause of millions of fans to grow up with the love of Manchester United and dreams of success in their hearts.


However, instead of being a passing-of-the-torch moment, his retirement spelled the end of Manchester United and the lack of trophies embodies that sentiment. While it would be easy to point to bad management and bad players as the reason for failure, looking at Manchester United depth will shine the light on the Glazer family's ownership being the leading cause of turning the club from the kings of England to one of its stooges.


The Role of the Glazers

The Glazer family took over Manchester United in 2005, when it was the most profitable an highest valued English football club in the world. Their very acquisition of the club was the first red flag of money to the fans, when it was discovered that instead of using their own money to purchase the club, it was instead bought using debt that to this day has not been returned to the club. Now, at this point, Manchester United had the best manager in the world and one of the best teams in the country, so the shift in ownership did little to shake up the team's immediate success. However, the Glazers immediately and subversively shifted the club's focus from that of football success to commercial success. Unlike the owner of Chelsea for example, Roman Abramovich, the Glazers were not actually fans of the team that they owned but rather the money that comes with owning such a large club. They had no background or knowledge of the rules of the soccer team that they owned, and to compensate for that, they decided to hire somebody else to handle the day-to-day running of the club. This turned out to be Ed Woodward, whose background was in finance and investment banking. In other words, instead of hiring somebody to guide them through the pitfalls of the soccer world, they hired someone who knows how to make sure their financials are up to standard at the end of every quarter. How did Ed Woodward fare at running a football club?


Since his appointment, Manchester United have spent over 1 billion pounds on transfers, gone on their longest trophy drought in their history, and have accumulated the highest wage bill in premier league history. When the Glazers took over the club, they put the club into a debt of over 500 million pounds to finance the acquisition. 17 years later, the club retains a debt of around 490 million pounds. During that same time period, the Glazers have taken over 1 billion pounds in interest and dividends to keep for themselves. In other words, while the club has remained in debt for almost two decades, the Glazers themselves have retained their profit.


How is it possible that the club has been able to stay afloat while this has occurred? Well, Manchester United's expansive history has enabled the club to retain a massive and loyal following, with over 75 million fans worldwide and the third biggest social media presence of any football team in the world. The club makes over 100 million pounds annually on merchandising. And that is how the Glazers have forced United into the kneeling position it currently is in: no matter how bad the team itself is doing, the fans will never abandon the club and keep putting money into it, leaving the Glazers to reap all the benefits without actually giving back any positives to the club at all.


It may seem like speculation or excuses, but is it a coincidence that performances have steadily declined with the Glazers' acquisition of the club? Is it a coincidence that the club is in debt while the Glazers are richer than ever, or that the stadium has not been renovated since 2006? Perhaps it is. Or perhaps, as is the case with many other teams, businessmen have understood just how much money there is to be milked from the soccer industry and Manchester United is just another name in a long list of clubs who have fallen victim to the rapid commercialization of soccer culture. Klopp may have compared Manchester United to Disneyland, but in truth if there isn't massive change from top to bottom of the club, Manchester United will never be referred to as the Happiest Place on Earth.


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