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Wheeler: Glazer gone but little changes at Manchester United

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Gareth Wheeler
5/30/2014 9:01:03 PM
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Twitter: the place media and the public alike turns for news and public sentiment.  It's a reflection of what individuals, groups and brands deem important for those with interest.  The respective Twitter accounts of the Tampa Buccaneers and Manchester United took different approaches Wednesday upon news of the passing of Malcolm Glazer, 85, owner of NFL's Bucs and patriarch of the Glazers takeover of United.  A life celebrated by the Buccaneers, a life unacknowledged by United.

@TBBuccaneers told a story of the loss of a beloved owner and friend, with condolences and heartfelt messages pouring in from across the NFL world.  Pictures were shared of Glazer hoisting the Lombardi trophy among fitting tributes to a Super Bowl winner and highly regarded franchise owner.

There was no mention of Glazers death on Manchester United's Twitter account (@ManUtd).  A brief, 75-word mention on Manutd.com was the depth of any tribute.  No pictures of Premier League glory.  No acknowledgement of what he and his family have done for the club.  Silence, which speaks volumes.

Instead of paying tribute to the life of Glazer, @ManUtd daily content featured a picture of Sri Lanka's cricketers paying a visit to Old Trafford, and condolences of the passing of former player and 1958 FA Cup winner Stan Crowther.  It was best for the club to ignore, rather than enrage.  The worldwide reaction to Glazer's death has brought back a groundswell of negative emotion.  The story of the Glazers truly provides a cautionary tale; with ownership does not come entitlement.

The Glazers remain controversial, disliked and untrustworthy even nine years after the family's leveraged takeover of Manchester United.  'Glazer Out' and 'Love United, Hate Glazer' remain the popular sentiments among the majority of Manchester United's roughly 660 million supporters worldwide.  Five Premier League titles and Champions League glory cannot wash away ill feelings.  The issues are as much symbolic as they are fiscal and they run deep.

Over £680 million has been spent paying down the debt on the club purchase of approximately £790 million in 2005.  Malcolm didn't have the liquidity to purchase the team without incurring incredible debt.

Manchester United was purchased on debt, taking the club from once financially secure and debt-free into a new era of massive debt payments and financial unknown.  Current club debt sits at £351.7 million despite a growing number of brand partnerships and sponsors and unprecedented popularity.

Debt remains a burden and central influence on club direction.  Bankruptcy is not a realistic end game because Manchester United is far too lucrative.  

The brand itself thrives and continues to grow, with the Glazers squeezing as much revenue as possible from the logo.  The brand is Teflon. 

That's fine and part of business.  Here's where it's important to separate the brand from emotion.  There is no personal relationship, nor overriding fandom as the driving force in the Glazers' interest in United.  There never has been.  The Glazer ownership seems no more than a stale, unemotional business transaction.  Buy, sell, grow, expand, it's all about monetary growth. 

The very essence of the North American sporting culture, rendering a product that's popularity comes from a place of passion to becoming a series of business transactions and a moneymaker.  Soulless.

There is supposed to be something more substantial as motive towards ownership of a club like United than merely dollars and cents – a level of romanticism, a guardianship from a place of genuine affection. 

Malcolm never stepped foot in Old Trafford, a stroke in 2006 contributed to the detachment.  Sons Avram and Joel are co-chairmen and are heavily involved in the operation of the club.  Three of Malcolm's other children owning stake have rarely, if ever been seen. 

Sadly, these individuals will play decisive roles in what happens at United next.

Although Malcolm never had anything to do with the day-to-day operation, he'll forever been synonymous with the controversial takeover of United.  After failing in his attempt to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers over a decade ago, Glazer turned his attention to Old Trafford. 

Glazer began buying up smaller portfolios of ownership, setting himself up to take advantage of the dispute between manager Sir Alex Ferguson with United shareholders JP McManus and John Magnier over the stud rights of racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. 

Glazer bought McManus/Magnier's shares in 2005, taking control of almost 75 percent of club shares and allowing him to strong-arm the board and remaining shareholders on his way to complete control.

Many hands were dirty putting Malcolm on the fast track to ownership, inside and outside of the club.  The Premier League stood idle as Manchester United supporters made their disapproving voices heard. League overseers have remained absent in the fight.  Those who the team is supposed to represent are true victims of this power play.

Malcolm Glazer  (Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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