Britons, even those uninterested in sport, would have to have been ignoring the news for the past few weeks not have seen reports about the audacious purchase of English football team Manchester United by American tycoon Malcolm Glazer. His bid, which looks likely to succeed and will take the club off the stock exchange, has enraged fans, concerned that a man with no knowledge of football or the club’s history will wreck the club.
I hope the fans’ worst fears do not come to pass. The deal is, however, troubling. Glazer has taken on a vast amount of debt to finance the deal, presumably calculating that he can earn enough profits to service his debt to make the deal – known in the jargon as a leveraged buyout – viable. With concerns rising that the economy could slow down and dent the firm’s profitability, such a deal could easily end badly for the club. A number of teams, most notably Leeds United, have fallen on hard times, nearly going under due to mountains of debt.
As a gung-ho defender of free enterprise, I can hardly claim that Glazer was not entitled to bid for this team under the rules of the stock market. He has taken his gamble and who knows, it may pay off, although the financial details don’t appear very reassuring. I have noticed more than just a whiff of unpleasant anti-Americanism in some of the reporting on this deal in some quarters of the media.
I follow another team – Ipswich Town FC – but have always had a bit of a soft spot for the team that has given us the likes of Duncan Edwards, George Best and Bryan Robson. I hope that this rather oddball entrepreneur from Florida understands what he is doing and does not wreck one of the most famous, if the most famous, sporting institutions in the world.