There are many things to resent the Glazers for. One selfish reason is they have made understanding economics an essential requirement of supporting Manchester United. This presents a problem for me.
I can hold court about defensive lines and spatial awareness until all around me are fast asleep but when I try to understand Economics I really struggle. This upsets me. In my Clark Kent day job I regularly refer to economics with confidence – whether it be the end of slavery, the revival of Germany or the outcome of the Cold War- as a History and Politics teacher economics is my friend. As a football fan it oh so clearly isn’t. I have tried over the last few years to get my head around jargon and concepts that are not only alien to me but seem to lack the rational basis I am used to; ‘leveraged buyouts’, ‘PIK loans’ and the latest addition ‘IPO listing.’
Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem. There are loads of things in the world I don’t understand and have made my peace with the fact; molecular physics, the length of time it takes my wife to get ready for anything, and Liverpool fans unwavering commitment to forming their opinions as if the 1980s never ended. The difference with this recent puzzler though is it does matter.
It matters in a way nothing else has mattered in the recent history of our club.
Before the last few weeks, it was easy for many to operate a deliberate indifference. Yes we enjoyed the green and gold scarf thing, and Beckham’s support brought some hope and glamour, but generally it was easy enough to paint the Glazers as pantomime villains whilst marveling at the continued success of our great man at the helm. In fact, arguably the constraints placed upon him made the story of Ferguson even more inviting as yet another challenge was seemingly overcome by our man of the people.
Then came the bombshell – a suspicion that ‘Our man’ stood to benefit from the rape of our club. Like one of the great twists that only the best films can pull off; the leading character we had put our faith in to ensure that RIGHT prevailed had potentially sold us out for WRONG. Could the great Sir Alex have shown himself to be our own Lando Calrissian? It would have been foolish to raise the pitchforks immediately but even the most ardent Ferguson acolyte would surely admit that taken alongside the ‘real fans’ comments, reasonable grounds existed to question the motives of our legendary boss. The expectation was that these fears would linger as no-one at the club would deem it necessary to clarify the situation with mere ‘fans’.
What followed was pretty unprecedented. Over the last decade we have witnessed Ferguson purposefully engineer a scenario where even a media arrogant enough to hack phones of royalty are afraid to ask pressing questions for fear of exile from the court of King Ferguson. Not for the first time in his career, the manager caught out his critics by doing the opposite of what was expected; he directly addressed the rumours in a strongly worded public statement.
The predictable result was crowing from those who ‘never doubted him’ and an absurd amount of abuse directed at those who raised the suspicions in the first place. Presumably they haven’t considered the fact that had these questions not been raised by concerned Reds there would never have been the public statement. The statement itself is fascinating.
The last time Ferguson reacted so swiftly was when a certain scouser publically agitated for a move away. On that occasion Ferguson was lauded for rescuing a toxic situation. He was undoubtedly impressive but whatever our number ten claims in cliche ridden interviews – the caving in to his contractual demands was a major contributory factor to his ‘change of heart’. A Rooney defection to the neighbours would have been a stain on the legacy of Ferguson the supreme man manager. The man who rode pillion across Paris to bring back Le Roi. Could it be that Ferguson acted, in part, to protect his reputation?
Fast forward to recent events. For the first time in over two decades the mood seemed to be turning against Ferguson. Reactionaries are never hard to find but now fans who in the past had staunchly defended the manager began to entertain the idea that he had perhaps become part of the problem rather than the defender of our values. Supporters would always be grateful for the on-field success he had brought but gaining from the extraction of wealth from our club would mean his standing as a man would be forever tarnished.
The swift reaction struck a markedly different tone to the ode to the owners he had sung during the previous week. He offered no criticism of the owners but was keen to state the boundaries. He was the football man and a man of the people. He worked hard every day with the fans and for the fans. He expressed revulsion at his own character being brought into question. Ferguson is no Harry Redknapp. His pride in his own perceived intelligence and political leanings are well documented. Ferguson therefore cannot and will not plead ignorance of financial issues.
So why might this be significant in the long run? For the first time, economic issues threatened to have a real impact on how Alex Ferguson is viewed as a character. One canny press release won’t suppress the view that by pledging his support for their style of ownership; he is endorsing their plundering of the club. Could Ferguson finally be recognising that by association; activities in the boardroom risk compromising his own legacy? His praise of the Glazers has been a familiar theme of ‘non-interference in footballing matters.’ Will he remain supportive if their strategy brings his own place in history into question?
History has often presented us with glamorous exciting reasons for the collapse of seemingly invincible powers – nuclear weapons, charismatic leaders, popular uprisings – yet more often than not the end of an era can be attributed to one overriding factor; economics.
In the mid-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev was hailed at home and abroad as the great saviour of the Soviet Union – yet his inability to turn the tide of economic decline in the previous two decades means he is remembered by his people as the man who presided over the collapse of a once great Empire. Despite impressive achievements, his association with a failed regime meant he was abandoned by even his greatest supporters. As a keen reader of history, might Alex Ferguson be fearing the same fate?
I for one hope so. Our greatest chance of removing the Glazers could be convincing our legendary manager of the necessity.
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Tom is a southern dwelling Kendalian who is one of our editors and a weekly guest on the podcast. He has an unhealthy obsession with Jaap Stam and despite 20 years of success never expects United to win.