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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Glazers Should Beware

Several months ago, they finished the job and bought Manchester United, the marquis name (sorry, Arsenal and Chelsea fans) in the English Premiership, which, for those of my readers who a) will read on because this is about soccer and b) know nothing about soccer, is the top league in English football. For those of you who know about soccer, Man U is one of the best franchises in the world, a perennial contender. Among other squads in that rarified air are Arsenal and Chelsea of the Premiership, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus of the Italian League (the top league in Italy, that is; there is what is tantamount to a "B" League, too), Barcelona and Real Madrid of the Spanish League (again, the top league in Spain), Bayern Munich in the German League and so on. That's a rough landscape, but it should do for this post.

The sale of Man U was put, in the U.S. papers, as the equivalent of a sale of perhaps the most heralded franchise in all of U.S. sports, the New York Yankees baseball team. The Glazers got Man U and their valuable trademarks, and they believe, of course, that they can cash in on the Man U magic (I'd use mojo, but that's reserved for West Texas high school football) on an international basis. They paid dearly for the privilege, that's for sure.

Right now, Man U is in third place in the Premiership, behind surprising Chelsea (which has had an amazing year) and behind bellwether Arsenal as well. Both of those teams are based in London. For years, Chelsea fans had bemoaned the fact that they had become a relative also-ran, certainly not in danger of being relegated to the First Division, but not necessarily in striking distance of Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool and a flavor of the year who were at or near the top of the Premiership.

That was then.

Because Chelsea has a relatively new owner -- one of the Russian oligarchs -- Roman Abramovich. You're probably talking Glazer money (or more) with a Steinbrennerian temperment (or more). Get the guys with the big talent, win games. It's that simple, and Chelsea's doing it. Read this link for the latest news on a rumor about who Chelsea might be pursuing. The name, Shevchenko, won't mean much to Americans, but it will mean everything to fans of international soccer. The rumor, of course, is denied, and Chelsea burned its fingers on the stove earlier this year when they dallied with Arsenal player Ashley Cole, only to get fined for tampering. Clearly, the Chelsea squad is hell-bent on firmly maintaining its perch atop The Premiership. If they cast out enough lucrative offers, they're bound to field an "A" list team for years to come.

What will become of Man U? There are no reports of any demise at Old Trafford, the famous pitch on which Man U and its red jerseys play their home games. Will this dynasty remain so? Or, as with some dynasties, will it fall victim to the fierce Darwinism that takes place in professional sports? The bet here is that they'll stay near the top of the Premiership for a long while. The Glazers didn't leave themselves bankrupt when they paid all that money for Man U, and no doubt they'll have sufficient funds to acquire new talent and reward existing talent.

They'll have to.

Still, with Chelsea having come on like a freight train, and with Arsenal always tough, English soccer, err, football, should enjoy some great teams for years to come.

But they should allow for the fact that the champions, on occasion, will be owned by an American or a Russian.

Which means it's only a matter of time before a state-owned Chinese company or the Sultan of Brunei make a serious run for the New York Yankees.


Blogger Flash said...

I'll be a Gooner until I die, so, naturally, I'm quite biased when it comes to the Reds. But I don't see how the Glazers will do any sort of good for Man U football. While I'm sure they'll remain in the top 4 of the Premiership due to current talent and Sir Alex's direction, they won't overtake Arsenal or Chelsea and there won't be an Abramovich type overhaul of the squad. Glazer's rich but he's not Abramovich rich.

The difference between Man U and the slags in Blue is that United is now being run as a business venture, whereas Chelsea is run as a billionaire's hobby. Abramovich spends as he pleases without heavy concern of profit margins and the bottom line. But by financing his takeover with borrowed funds, Glazer has put United on an unforgivingly commercial platform where his margin for error is terrifyingly thin.
He saddled £540 million in debt on a club that made £28 million in profit before taxes and interest last year.
I don't see the problem with an American or a Russian or a Korean owning an English football club. But I'd hate to see a great franchise brought down to a lower level because ownership is more concerned about profits than maintaining (or building) greatness.

7:04 PM  

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