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Cost of Glazers' takeover reaches £500m

Despite seven years of success under the Glazers' rule, United have leaked half a billion to service the debt-laden ownership

David Conn,
The Guardian
22nd February 2012

For most normal souls outrage can only last so long, and at Manchester United, supporters' fury at the Glazer family's pillage of their club has been tempered by titles won, the glories of Wayne Rooney, Nani and the rest in full flow, as well as the passage of nearly seven years. The Glazers have sat across the Atlantic, not communicating with the club's fans, and ridden it out until battle weariness has consigned green and gold to the fringes. The release of impassive accounts for "MU Finance plc" has become a quarterly ritual, with the world pointed to the growth in the club's income, from TV deals which would have increased anyway, and commercial operations the Glazers have required to be sweated until the brand squeaks.

Yet the latest figures, covering the Glazers' financial machinations with United for the final three months of 2011, document a landmark. From October to December 2011, the cost of the Glazers' "leveraged buyout" of United, when they loaded their own £525m borrowings on to the club itself to repay, was £17.5m. The club paid £12.2m in interest and other financing charges, and £5.3m paying off some actual debt, which nevertheless remains over £400m. As documented with forensic anger by Andy Green in his "Love United, Hate Glazer" Andersred blog, the total drained out of United in interest, bank charges and other payments before these latest figures was £480m. So the total cash taken out of United, to pay for a takeover the fans and then board did not want, was £497.5m by 31 December. In round figures, and anyway now, with two months further interest from December, the Glazer family have been responsible for £500m going out of United.

Most United supporters know this and have never become reconciled to the damage done, only, slowly, to the frustration that there is nothing they can do about it. The Premier League, Football Association and government, after unrolling the red carpet for the Glazers in 2005, have ever since been silent.

There are a few contrary voices in support of the Glazers' record, so the tedious argument does have to be joined with the fact that United have continued to be successful under their rule, winning four Premier League titles since 2005 and one Champions League, in 2008. The three most straightforward answers to that are: United, who were hugely rich, had no debt, a great manager and squad of top players when the Glazers arrived, might have been even more successful, perhaps dominated in Europe as well as the Premier League, had £500m dead money not gone to bankers since.

Secondly, it is arguable that the Glazers' shrewdest move has been effectively to leave Old Trafford well alone, knowing that in Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill, they had the partnership to maintain success, even given so much less money to play with. Third, give the Glazers as much credit as you like, decide the playing success really is somehow all due to their absentee and debt-laden ownership, yet still no argument can be advanced for how leaking half a billion pounds out of the club, still to barely chip into the originally imposed debt, has been good for United.

The US owners of two of England's other biggest clubs, Arsenal and Liverpool, both motivated financially by the Premier League's global TV and commercial income, fly in this week. Stan Kroenke will contemplate the crumbling of quality at Arsenal and departure of several top players during his ownership, while ticket prices for fans were increased. John Henry will arrive for a Wembley final after a deeply ignominious episode in the club's history, the Luis Suárez affair, the leadership at Liverpool furiously criticised by a coalition of anti-racism groups.

Henry has always expressed puzzlement with United fans' objections to the Glazers' debt-loading, given United's success. Kroenke, who paid Arsenal's selling English shareholders millions personally but has committed to not putting a cent into the club itself, in his only public address to date, memorably went out of his way to express admiration for what the Glazers have done. MU Finance plc is where those deeds are recorded, and even after so long, the running total should always be observed.