FRIDAY’S BIG STORIES

GOODBYE TO THE GLAZERS?

Faced with a season which is already threatening to unravel in front of their eyes and more angry protests from supporters, it seems like the Glazers have finally decided that the milk of the Manchester United cash cow has gone sour. Following murmurs that they could be open to selling a minority stake in the club, a spokesperson for Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire Ineos founder who was once the UK’s richest man, told The Times: “If the club is for sale, Jim is definitely a potential buyer… if something like this was possible, we would be interested in talking with a view to long-term ownership.”
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Ratcliffe is not the only interested party. Assuming the Glazers are serious about selling up in the long term and this isn’t a misguided deflection tactic, United’s next owners would be hard pressed to be as exploitative.
While rival fans may have limited sympathy with United owing to them being, well, United, bad ownership is the blight of English football and affects clubs big and small across the league pyramid. Contrary to the superficial reading – still remarkably widespread – that supporters are disgruntled because the Glazers haven’t spent enough money in the transfer market, United fans have consistently pointed towards the nature of Malcolm Glazer’s leveraged buyout in 2005 as a far greater factor in their disillusionment.
The club has shouldered an enormous mountain of debt ever since, with net debt standing at just under £500m at last count. United have also squandered vast amounts of money on interest payments, while also regularly paying out dividends to shareholders which go towards further enriching the Glazers. The fact that this was ever allowed to happen is testament to the failure of English football’s power brokers to establish effective checks and balances. Throw in a chronically confused recruitment strategy, numerous missteps in the transfer market, constant PR blunders, neglected infrastructure and an all-pervasive sense of decline, and the full context begins to take shape.
To that backdrop, whoever follows the Glazers may well be preferable. For as long as clubs are traded like novelty collectibles between billionaires, however, there are no guarantees. For their part, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust are rightly demanding that fans be given a stake in the club’s future. “Any prospective new owner or investor has to be committed to the culture, ethos and best traditions of the club,” read a statement released on Thursday. “They have to be willing to invest to restore United to former glories, and that investment must be real new money spent on the playing side and the stadium.
“Finally any new ownership structure must embed supporters, including a degree of fan share ownership, in their operating model. These are the criteria supporters will judge any bid on. We are open to dialogue with any bidder, and look forward to any such discussions.”

EUROPA OBSCURA

Looking for some water-cooler conversation for the day? Why not bring up FC Slovacko’s 3-0 win against AIK in the first leg of their Europa Conference League play-off? If that seems a bit left-field, HSK Zrinjski Mostar’s 1-0 win against Slovan Bratislava might just do the trick. “Tigran Barseghyan getting sent off? Seemed soft to me. And what about that late winner from Nemanja Bilbija?” This sort of talk makes people exceptionally popular at work, honest.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST’S NEVER-ENDING SPLURGE

Over at the City Ground, Nottingham Forest’s manic supermarket sweep shows little sign of slowing down. Having already made 15 signings this summer as they look to kit out their squad for Premier League survival, the latest news is that they have agreed a club record deal of £35m plus add-ons for Wolves’ Morgan Gibbs-White. While Steve Cooper was left with little choice but to turn to the transfer market given that several prominent members of his promotion-winning side were loanees and have either returned to their parent clubs or moved elsewhere, signing 16 new players brings to mind the Ship of Theseus. If Nottingham Forest were to entirely replace last season’s line-up with summer signings, would they still be Nottingham Forest? One for the philosophers out there.

RETRO CORNER

If Manchester United lose to Liverpool on Monday, Erik ten Hag will be their first manager to taste defeat in his first three league matches since John Chapman in 1921. United would go on to be relegated that season, finishing rock bottom of the old First Division on 28 points. They did go on to earn promotion after only three seasons in the second tier, so that’s something to look forward to at least. Meanwhile, we only have to go as far back as 1986 and the dying days of Ron Atkinson’s tenure for the last time that they lost their opening three games of the season. A little over two months before the start of that ill-fated campaign, Diego Maradona had made history with the “Hand of God”. How’s that for retro?

HAT-TIP

Segueing effortlessly back to Nottingham Forest, Taiwo Awoniyi, one of their vast cohort of summer signings, will be looking to score in back-to-back games when they take on Everton on Saturday afternoon. The Guardian’s Will Unwin has done a good job of charting his journey from perpetual loanee at Liverpool to breakout star at Union Berlin and, now, history maker with Forest, having scored the goal which secured their first Premier League win since 1999. Unwin has also done his best to make sense of Forest’s transfer strategy and why the club has repeatedly looked to the Bundesliga for new signings. Credit where credit’s due: picking apart the tangled threads of Forest’s summer transfer business is no mean feat.

COMING UP

Elsewhere in the Premier League, it’s hard to decide which is the pick of this weekend’s fixtures. Will Tottenham slip up against Wolves, having lost three of their last five home matches against the west Midlanders? Will Brentford maintain their momentum after last weekend’s demolition of Manchester United, or grind to a halt in their west London derby against Fulham? Will Thomas Tuchel crush Jesse Marsch’s hand to dust when Leeds host Chelsea in what is likely to be a feisty encounter at Elland Road? We’ll be live blogging the Premier league action, as ever, so stick around to find out.
We’ll also have minute-by-minute coverage of some of the biggest games across Europe, including Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga meeting with VfL Bochum – who inflicted a shock 4-2 defeat on the perennial champions in February – Atalanta’s clash with AC Milan in Serie A and Barcelona’s trip to Real Sociedad in La Liga. Of course, there’s always an FA Cup preliminary round match instead. Congleton Town against Bootle? Sheffield FC against Glossop North End? Tooting and Mitcham United against VCD Athletic? There really is something for everyone.
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