As Manchester Uniteds 50 million fans across the world celebrate their teams winning the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League finalcrowning them Europes best soccer teammany owe an apology to the teams American owner, Malcolm Glazer. For when Glazer, also the owner of the NFLs Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bought the Red Devils in May 2005, fans and commentators reacted with outrage. Indeed, Red Devils fans burned him in effigy outside the Old Trafford stadium, dressed themselves in black, and boycotted games.
A spokesman for one fan group said: He wont be given a chance. We dont like Malcolm Glazer, we dont like what he stands for. An Internet game offered the opportunity to parachute Glazer into the Manchester United stadium. To get points you had to land him safely, but alternatively, the instructions read, If youre a Man Utd fan, just dont open his parachute and let him plunge to his death! The British tabloids pounced on Glazer, too. A headline in the Sun renamed the club the Damned United. A Daily Star headline proclaimed, Glazers Gonna Die! Fans chanted outside the stadium: Hes gonna die, Malcolm Glazers gonna die, how well kill him I dont know, cut him up from head to toe, all I know is Glazers gonna die.
Even the usually respectable broadsheets joined the hysteria. The conservative Daily Telegraph accused Glazer of seeing the club as a cash dispenser attached to a dressing room. A column in the left-leaning Observer lamented that soccer fans were now the new class of the exploited proletariat. The reaction was so extreme, in fact, that Glazer had to hire bodyguards to protect him in Florida, where he lives. To keep his British address a secret from angry fans threatening him harm, he relied on the enforcement of laws originally designed to protect companies from animal-rights activists.
All of this viciousness arose because Glazers detractors believed that he would strip the club of its assets. To the angry mobs, the arrival of an American capitalist meant no more top players, no more competing at the highest level, and no more championships. It was, they said, the end of one of the worlds most successful and famous sports teamsone that rivals the New York Yankees for renown.
But Manchester Uniteds future didnt turn out as the fans feared; quite the opposite, in fact. When Glazer bought the club, it was having a bad run. For the first time in the Premier Leagues 13-year history, the Red Devils had not won the championship for two seasons. Commentators predicted that the teams dominance of English soccer was over. Since Glazer took over the club, however, the Theatre of Dreams has seen some of its best soccer. For the second year in a row, Manchester United has won the Premier League title. Last week, they won the top competition in Europe. Some commentators believe that this years team is possibly the best Manchester United team ever.
So how did soccer supporters and columnists misjudge the arrival of Glazer so sharply? Like many in Europe, they misunderstood what a capitalist is and how capitalism works. Glazer may not understand soccer, but as a successful capitalist he sure understands investment. He knows that for his approximately $500 million investment to pay off, the club has to be a success. You dont make money from a losing team.
Glazer brought top players to the club, won trophies, and made his investment more valuable. Incidentally, Chelseathe team that finished runner-up in the Premier League and in the Champions League to Manchester Unitedis also owned by a wealthy foreign capitalist. Maybe now soccer fans will realize that when a capitalist joins your team, everyone wins.