Friday, May 13, 2005

Double Glazer

So, Manchester United fans are moaning about Malcolm Glazer's buy-out of the club. What a load of whingeing hypocrites. How do they think their beloved team managed to dominate British football so successfully in the 1990s? Sure, they had a great manager at the top of his game, and were blessed with one of the most talented groups of youth known in the history of English football. But their commercial supremacy was one of the big reasons behind their strength. Indeed, at their peak it was estimated that they could afford to get two out of three big transfer deals wrong, and still be in a better financial position than most of their rivals.

Arsenal are moving to a new purpose-built stadium to enable them to maintain their competitiveness in the transfer market (although one of their strengths has been identifying prodigiously talented young talent abroad and bringing it to England). Leeds nearly went bust banking on continued success in the Champions League, for the money it brought it was the only means of consistently competing at the highest level. Chelsea, of course, have been given the blank cheque of Roman Abramovich. Yet the fact is that most clubs would kill for the international reputation and financial strength of Manchester United. They have turned the club into a global brand, raking in millions and millions, attracting huge crowds across the world, with adoring fan bases from South America to Hong Kong.

In short, the recent success of Manchester United has come because they were the first club to realise football was no longer just a game. It was a highly lucrative business, and they organised themselves on that basis. Their superior organisation was directly linked to their pre-eminence throughout the 1990s. They won because they were the best business. And as soon as you play the business game, then the possibility of takeovers from Russian oil merchants, or Lithuanian-American ginger wingnuts becomes very real indeed.

So, you fear that your new owner will run you solely for a profit? Well, tough. In any case, I don't see what the worry is about. Is it really in the interests of a man trying to run a commercial empire to have a floundering team, uncompetitive at the highest level? Surely we all know the answers to that one. The fact is that, for better or worse, sport at the top has changed. We get the lavishly gifted club sides we have now because of the money in the game. If you want to support a team week-in, week-out, know where you are with them - maybe even know the players personally - then find a club lower down the leagues. Better still, play for them. When sports clubs up and down the country are being forced to fold every week, to see such hypocritical whingeing from the part-time fans of the incredibly wealthy really does question how far they truly appreciate the benefits and meanings of sport.