As Manchester United’s 50 million fans across the world celebrate their team’s winning the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League final—crowning them Europe’s best soccer team—many owe an apology to the team’s American owner, Malcolm Glazer. For when Glazer, also the owner of the NFL’s 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 won’t be given a chance. We don’t like Malcolm Glazer, we don’t 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 you’re a Man Utd fan, just don’t 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, “Glazer’s Gonna Die!” Fans chanted outside the stadium: “He’s gonna die, Malcolm Glazer’s gonna die, how we’ll kill him I don’t know, cut him up from head to toe, all I know is Glazer’s 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 Glazer’s 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 world’s most successful and famous sports teams—one that rivals the New York Yankees for renown.
But Manchester United’s future didn’t 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 League’s 13-year history, the Red Devils had not won the championship for two seasons. Commentators predicted that the team’s 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 year’s 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 don’t make money from a losing team.
Glazer brought top players to the club, won trophies, and made his investment more valuable. Incidentally, Chelsea—the team that finished runner-up in the Premier League and in the Champions League to Manchester United—is also owned by a wealthy foreign capitalist. Maybe now soccer fans will realize that when a capitalist joins your team, everyone wins.