Ferguson’s unity call wide of the mark

January 25, 2010 Tags: , , , Reads 13 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson used this weekend’s United Review programme notes to call for unity among the faithful as an atmosphere of sedition overtook Old Trafford. For the first time, the Scot chose to directly address United’s support on financial matters but once again failed to condemn his employers for loading the club with debt.

The United manager, who once told fans to “go and support Chelsea” if they did not like the 2005 takeover, is steadfast in his support for the Glazer family despite supporters’ concerns. Ferguson, consistent in his aggressive dismissal of Glazer critics, overtly supports the family in a way that the Scot never did when the club was public.

But the state of United’s finances, now more transparent as a result of the Glazer family’s foray into the international bond market, has fundamentally alarmed the core of the club’s support. Deep hostility to the Glazer family’s takeover has only intensified in the past fortnight.

It’s a fact that Sir Alex has registered but failed to fully comprehend: the Scot essentially asked the fans to ‘get off the Glazers’ backs’.

“The family of Manchester United is under pressure as a result of all the issues and controversies surrounding the ownership and financial situation of our club that have been stirred up in the media,” Ferguson wrote on Saturday.

“Some of our fans are clearly unhappy with our financial position but we must not allow that to become divisive.

“The danger, as I see it, is that we could be presented as being split which would be harmful and inaccurate because I believe the vast majority of Manchester United supporters are behind us.”

Ferguson, failing to differentiate between unity in the dressing room and the very real need for fans to question what value more than £716 million of debt brings to the club, ostensibly blames the current terrace unrest on the media.

The Scot, who insists he has money to spend despite the books saying otherwise, believes that insurrection in the terraces could impact performances on the field.

It is surprising then that paucity of funds in the club’s bank accounts over the next seven years does not concern United’s legendary manager more. Instead, Ferguson chose to concentrate on what he sees as potentially destabilising rebellion.

“I can see our opponents rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of us falling out among ourselves, if we do not all think carefully about what we are doing,” he argued.

“We must not lose our focus, which from where I stand is about building a strong football club that will win trophies.”

Undoubtedly this is a sentiment on which supporters, even the most militant, are in unison with the manager. More to the point that is the very essence of the manager’s job. One that is fundamentally undermined by the Glazer family’s ownership of the club.

But supporters’ green and gold revolution is not an exercise in fratricide. The enemy is indeed within but it is far removed from the dressing room or pitch. It is a singular fact that the club needs Sir Alex to embrace.

Yet the Scot, who evoked the memory of Sir Matt Busby in his notes, insists that the fans’ job is to support the team, just as it is his to manage it.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to express their disapproval if they don’t like what they see around them, just as it has always been the right of fans to let it be known if they are not happy with the way their team are playing,” argued the Scot.

“I’m not slow to express disapproval myself if there is something I don’t agree with, even in the boardroom with the directors, but once I walk out of the meeting I get on with my job as manager of the team.”

But it is an argument that bares false witness to Ferguson’s past. The United manager often used his position to push the Plc board into greater spending, both on transfer fees and wages.

The Scot, for example, harangued chief executive Peter Kenyon into breaking the club’s wage structure in 1999 to keep Roy Keane when the Irishman came within weeks of leaving during contract negotiations.

It is unsettling then that the manager is not willing to push the boundary with the current owners when his role as manager is stronger than ever.

“This is not about stifling criticism; it is simply a plea to stand together rather than take a course of action that will damage ourselves more than anyone else. Manchester United are bigger than me, the players, the directors, officials – and the fans,” concluded Ferguson, who is aware of the huge affect ejecting protesters from Old Trafford had on the current wave of unrest.

Ferguson though was unable to articulate precisely what course of action the club should take as it haemorrhages millions of pounds a month in interest, fees and dividends.

13 comments

darrenrichie - January 25, 2010 Reply

You say that SAF “…harangued chief executive Peter Kenyon into breaking the club’s wage structure in 1999 to keep Roy Keane when the Irishman came within weeks of leaving during contract negotiations.” But that is within a manager’s role, to hold onto players that he thinks will keep a winning team. But to publicly condemn the owners or the financial situation is suicide. Too many United fans are expecting SAF to step up to the plate and say what a lot of us are thinking but he is the manager. That is all. Anyone who believes that getting the manager to resign or sacked by speaking out is forgetting the most important thing; how will that help our football club? When it comes down to it the owners have the final say. SAF is more important to us at the club than he is away from it. Let’s keep some clarity here and not get into some stupid “the manager is wrong” type argument when the battle is with the owners.
You also say “The United manager often used his position to push the Plc board into greater spending, both on transfer fees and wages.” But that is a totally different situation. Do you really believe he would go into the boardroom and say “look clear the debt and piss off”? Come on. As SAF said himself “Manchester United are bigger than me, the players, the directors, officials – and the fans” Let’s start showing him support, after all isn’t that what “fans” are supposed to do?

Stretty - January 25, 2010 Reply

It’s disturbing to see him talk like this. As a former union man, you’d think he’d side with the fans and speak out against the Glazers. I can understand to a certain extent that speaking out against the Glazer’s would put his job at risk, but I have a feeling that Fergie is ‘unsackable’. If he spoke out in support of the anti-Glazer movement and was sacked for his troubles, the protests and boycotts would reach fever pitch and the Glazer’s would be forced to sell up. It would be great to see the Glazer’s gone, but can we really expect Fergie to fall on his sword after such an amazing career with us?

Dee Mac - January 25, 2010 Reply

Dear SAF,
We are united behind United,but DO NOT treat us like fools.
You are defending the indefensible.
We will not be used to feather the nests of these shysters.

Azri - January 25, 2010 Reply

I can definitely see the reason for concern from the fans on this. Going forward, it will be tough to compete against better funded teams. The only silver lining is that more clubs are realizing the need to be more realistic in terms of operating expenses. But social trust clubs ala Real & Barca have added bullets that will protect them somewhat from economic realities. And crazy owners who over-invest to accelerate value for their clubs, previously Abramovich and now Mansour doesn’t help the need to be reasonable, so unless UEFA impose it, it aint gonna happen.

However, for all the fans venting, the owners can say so what? I’ll sit pretty until someone buys me out. And if we’re lucky we get one who can finance their acquisition better. But they will still want some returns, ie. dividends instead of interest payments. But you are still playing roulette, see Pool for the supposedly better structured DIC vs Hicks&Gillett for merely 8mil. And for all you know, DIC would still get into trouble last year cause of all the shit exploding across Dubai.

The ONLY way is for the supporter’s trust to make a viable offer to buyout the Glazers with decent return for their investment troubles. You might not like them making money but that is the only way to dislodge them.

For all the push for Sir Alex to side with the fans, anger is a short term emotion. What it can do however, is destroy faster the hard work in building such a great club back to the top. So I can see him wanting the club to improve rather than some fans’ rationale to let us go down (by pushing Glazer out by them selling the club for a loss – but to whom? opportunist investors? same boat still) and then to stand up again stronger (unlikely roll of the dice again). Alex has worked thru many a crisis and building many teams, and that is what he will have to do, and the next managers that will replace him at this great club.

Work on the Trust structure, if not it’ll still be same old same old.

Something to work on thru the summer and introduce throughout the League to save the sport, many other clubs in the same situation. Only the scale is different.

Red Paddy - January 25, 2010 Reply

Has it ever struck anyone that SAF is indirectly resposnible for some of this and that might explain his reticence in speaking out? His public spat with the two of the biggest shareholders in the PLC over the horse is intrinsic in how we got to this point…..thats the elephant in the rooom that no one wants to talk about albeit appportioning blame is not the way forward it does explain his dismissal of any criticism associated with the Glazers.

Real Red - January 25, 2010 Reply

Ed, as I already said, last week, the only sensible action is to work and secure the funding amongst genuine true reds to takeover the club.

All this nonsense about wearing green and gold is gonna do nothing more than make Old Trafford look like a haven for canaries and delight the Norwich City microstore in increased scarf sales.

What really bothers me is than in the long term how can we guarantee that a small number will not contrive to do the self-same as previous owners and run the club to their own ends ? It’s human nature.

ned - January 26, 2010 Reply

Fergie might not be allowed to critisize the owner, but he is insulting the fans by saying they are fantastic owner,the debt has no impact and he has money to spend.
He should just refuse to speak about the subject,lke he did when his son was an agent.

dtgreen - January 26, 2010 Reply

Good read, sharp writing as ever! The thing is, no matter how much the club appears to be divided in the context of the supporters and ther relationship with the owners, there are owners of premiership clubs now genuinely believing that sustained and high profile investment will reap the rewards of a top four place.

The back page of The Sun this morning is a semi-reassuring story of Rooney committing himself to the club for the forseeable; but if we’re unable to bring in the big name quality players – especially after the end of this season where several key members of the senior squad are set to hang up their boots – then do we really believe Rooney will stick around when big money deals to play in La Liga are dropping like artillery shells on the roof at Old Trafford? Who will we turn to then to maintain a combined Premier and Champions League assault?

Ed - January 26, 2010 Reply

Nobody seriously believes that Rooney wants to leave. But what if the club got an unsolicited £70 million bid? Under the current financial arrangements that would go a long way to paying off the Glazer’s PIK debt.

dtgreen - January 26, 2010 Reply

Aye. Personally I don’t believe we’ll see the end Rooney’s time at the club any time soon, but as you say, a big money bid could change things.

It horrifies me to think what bids are being prepared around Europe for some of our finest. If Vidic goes then I’ll spill my own blood in front of the ground!

First aid courses London - January 31, 2010 Reply

Everything hinges on the clubs debt level. If this is addressed in the short or medium term things will look rosy. Alex cant really slag off his employers publicly, no matter what he really thinks

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