Of all the men who have had their names cursed from the stands of Old Trafford, Malcolm Glazer is probably the only one who has never stepped inside the stadium. The owner of both the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United, Glazer's death has been met with two very different reactions in the respective home countries of his two teams.
In the U.S., he's remembered as a personable pioneer who turned a financially troubled laughingstock of a franchise into Super Bowl winners bonded with their local community. In England, he's remembered as a mysterious, unseen villain who leveraged the pride of a city for his own financial gain, alienating fans to the point where some even gave up on their beloved club and started a new one from scratch.
Six years after Rupert Murdoch's attempted 1999 takeover of Manchester United was blocked, Glazer was successful with his and immediately saddled the club with more than £500 million in debt in the process. Even before the leverage buyout was finished, Manchester United supporters had apocalyptic visions of this financial burden sinking the richest club in the world. Demonstrations were held, effigies of Malcolm Glazer were burned and he was told to rot in hell as he quickly increased his stake in the team.
Glazer was seen as yet another dastardly foreign owner and a prime example of the evil that had slithered into modern football and wrapped itself around the game like a boa constrictor. A month after Glazer's takeover was complete, thousand of Man United fans banded together to form a new club that they would control democratically called FC United of Manchester, which now play in the seventh tier of English football — far away from the concerns of unaffordable ticket prices and leveraged buyouts. And fans weren't the only ones staying away. "Glazer could give me 100 million euros to be manager and I still wouldn't go there," said volatile and idealistic club legend Eric Cantona in November 2005. "I don't think Glazer knows the game. He is nothing in comparison to Manchester United. I love the club but I don't like it with him in charge."
Meanwhile, many of the fans who stuck with Man United assumed heartbreak and ruin was just around the corner. But thanks almost entirely to the genius of manager Sir Alex Ferugson, who publicly backed the Glazers at every turn, and chief executive David Gill, Man United entered the most successful period of what is now the country's most successful club. Since 2005, they have won five Premier League titles, giving them a total of 20 top-flight trophies to surpass Liverpool's previous record of 18. They also won the third European Cup in the club's history in 2008.
Simmering animosity towards Malcolm Glazer and his sons, whom he had installed as the club's chairmen, boiled over again in 2010 when they sought £500 million in bonds to refinance their debt. "Love United, hate Glazer" became the tagline of a new round of protests outside Old Trafford.
The club's original colors of green and gold from when they were known as Newton Heath became a popular symbol of the anti-Glazer movement both inside and outside the stadium. Even former Man United player David Beckham put a green and gold scarf around his neck after returning to Old Trafford to play in a Champions League match as a member of Milan in March 2010. You know you're unpopular when David Beckham — one of the most strategically inoffensive and corporate friendly footballers of all time — publicly shows his support for the vehement protest against you in the stadium you own but dare not enter.
But because of all the trophies, the protests over nefarious financial dealings and complaints about never quite spending as much as other top clubs despite having unmatched revenue were largely kept at bay. The silent majority that had been ambivalent towards the Glazers' ownership since the beginning seemed to grow until this past season when David Gill left the club and Sir Alex retired, leaving the unequipped duo of new chief executive Ed Woodward and already sacked manager David Moyes to take the wheel of a leaking ship.
Manchester United finished seventh in the Premier League and, for the first time under the Glazers' ownership, outside of the Champions League qualification — a very costly shortcoming that could affect how the club continues to pay down debts while still keeping the squad stocked with world class talent. Now Malcolm Glazer is dead and Man United prepare to try and climb back up the table with the combination of Woodward and another new manager in Louis van Gaal.
Considering how literally absent he was in the daily operations of the club, it seems highly unlikely that Glazer's death with change much for Manchester United. His sons and other assorted family members have been far more present over the years in apparent preparation for a smooth transition once this day came.
The smiling man who was only seen in pictures but came to represent untold devastation has now passed, yet the nightmares his ownership of Manchester United was foretold to bring might still one day be realized. And even though the disparate images of Malcolm Glazer held by NFL and Premier League fans might never be reconciled, his Jekyll and Hyde legacies will serve as examples for what owners should and should not do in those leagues for many years to come.
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