Think back to the 2009/10 season. What are the images that stand out in your memory? The red shirts with the black V on the chest. Michael Owen’s last second goal against City. David Beckham, clad in his AC Milan shirt donning a green and gold scarf at Old Trafford.
Those green and gold scarves.
2009/10 was the first year the #GlazerOut movement really took hold (albeit that was before the days of hashtags). No one was ever happy that the new owners saddled the club with debt, but in the first few years it was easy to ignore as the club won Premier League and Champions League titles. That changed in the summer of 2009 when the club sold Cristiano Ronaldo, let Carlos Tevez walk away, and replaced them with... Michael Owen?
From the fans’ perspective it looked like that mountain of debt had reached a crescendo. The team would no longer be able to invest heavily in the first team squad.
The #GlazersOut movement came roaring back this summer. In July, the Glazers Out Movement twitter account released an open letter to the Glazers asking five key questions. The problem with that letter was it revealed how much United fans have lost the plot.
Let me start by saying a lot of these concerns are valid, but not only are they not exclusive to Manchester United, they’re necessary evils. The club is run like a business, as are all the top Premier League clubs.
That’s the view Martin Edwards had when he was among those looking to start the Premier League and when he turned United into a juggernaut in the 90s. It’s lead to the fans being left behind, not just at United, but at Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle, and every other club (think of all the 7:45 pm kickoffs that make the owners more money, but leave the away fans with no means of getting home). Running your team like a club and not a business would make it impossible to compete in today’s landscape. That’s a Premier League problem.
There are some very good points in this letter. The Glazers continue to enrich themselves while burdening the club with debt. Sure they’ve spent over £400 million on transfer fees for the first team, but very little has gone into the academy, or into improving Old Trafford which is in desperate need of upkeep. And what about the Director of Football? Ed Woodward started speaking about that last summer yet there’s still nothing — what’s happening there?
For all the good points this letter made it also had some major points invalidating it. The first is that they go on far too much about Ed Woodward receiving a raise. The second is the timing of the letter.
The question about why Ed Woodward received a raise? That’s simple. The biggest part of Ed Woodward’s job is to make the Glazers money. That’s what they care about. Despite his shortcomings with the on field product, he’s continued to make them a ton of money. That earned him a reward in their book and he got a raise.
The letter was also released at the end of July when fans were frustrated over the lack of signing new players. Whether intended or not, that timing makes the letter sound like a response over United not making big signing X or Y.
Over the past two years the attitude of United’s fan base has begun painting a revisionist picture of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. The tone of that open letter suggests that players are no longer the destination of choice for the world’s top players.
To that I ask, when were they ever?
For years the train was a one way ticket from Manchester to Madrid. David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gabriel Heinze, and Cristiano Ronaldo all made that trip. It wasn’t until after Ferguson retired that someone left Real Madrid for Old Trafford.
Even under Sir Alex Ferguson, United were constantly linked to players they ultimately let slip away. He thought £5 million was too much for Southampton left back Gareth Bale. Sergio Aguero slipped through United’s fingers, leaving them with Phil Jones and Aguero at Manchester City. And I hear Wesley Sneijder is due for his medical at Carrington any day now.
Yes, Manchester United were always “big” spenders compared to the other teams in the Premier League but Ferguson didn’t build his teams by buying the best players in their primes.
Ferguson built the core of his teams either through the academy or from signing young players who developed. He dipped into the transfer market to complement that core; sometimes that was was a talismanic player, sometimes a role player.
In fact, when Ferguson did spend serious cash for Dimitar Berbatov and Robin Van Persie, eyebrows were raised because it was so unlike United to buy players who were already in their prime and would have little resale value.
The big money signings United made under Ferguson were more often a case of favorable circumstances than being a desired destination for the world’s biggest players. Only British clubs were seeking the services of Roy Keane. Eric Cantona had practically fallen out with French football, went to England to revive his career, and then fell out with Leeds. The world wasn’t after 18 year old Wayne Rooney, just United and Newcastle. Ferguson poached Rio Ferdinand when Leeds needed to sell anything and everything.
There was one player that they did beat the world’s biggest clubs to. Seventeen year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s first choice wasn’t Old Trafford. It was Real Madrid. He ultimately picked Old Trafford after a one on one meeting with Ferguson and a promise from the Scot that when Real Madrid came calling he’d sell him.
The majority of signings made during the Ferguson era were either role players or low risk (read: cheap) players with high potential. And let’s be honest, his transfer record was spotty at best.
For every player like Nani, who was successful but never quite hit his potential, there was Anderson, Gabriel Obertan, or Nick Powell. For every Michael Carrick there was Juan Sebastian Veron or Eric Djemba-Djemba. And who could forget Bebe.
When it comes to bang for your buck, the best signings Ferguson made were a pair of unknown defenders Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidić, who came from Monaco and Spartak Moscow, respectively. These days if United sign a kid from Swansea fans think they’ve lost the plot.
More often than not, Ferguson didn’t buy the best players — he built them. It was under him that Giggs, Beckham, Scholes, Rooney, and Ronaldo became stars.
The players he put around those players weren’t the best players, they were the right ones. John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher played key roles on several Ferguson teams. When Nicky Butt and Phil Neville left the club, they didn’t go to Real Madrid, Barcelona, or even another team in the Champions League, they went to Newcastle and Everton.
It was only after Sir Alex Ferguson left the club that the team started spending crazy amounts in the transfer market. That was entirely under the Glazers’ reign so it’s pretty hard to say they aren’t willing to spend money.
Fans who want United to return to their old transfer strategy don’t realize that’s exactly what United have done. They’re buying young. They’re building from within. They’ll take this year to see if Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford can become a talismanic strike force, and if they can’t, United will see who they need to sign.
There are a lot of problems with the Glazers. There’s only so much money they can spend in the transfer market while still complying with FFP laws (which we know City didn’t comply with). But they can invest in the academy, which has fallen painfully behind City’s. They can invest in the stadium, which is in need of some serious upkeep. They can press Woodward to hire a director of football.
Those are all valid things to push these owners on. But to say that United are now signing players from Swansea when they used to be going after the best in the world?
That’s merely romanticizing the past and writing some serious revisionist history.