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Mark Kelleher Headshot

A Sad Mess - The Glazers, Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United's Supporters

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Those with heroes all share a propensity for thinking the individuals they adore are somehow infallible. A state of unadulterated perfection is moulded around the hero and any flaw traced in their DNA is rejected as a momentary blip, as something that should be left hidden behind those traits that made the individual a person to be adored in the first place. Those fanatical in their support for certain others have an admirable devotion, but residing in their love is a warped version of reality and a delusion that one who has done well in the past cannot ever do wrong.

Sir Alex Ferguson's latest espousing of support for the Glazer family should come as little surprise to those forced to endure his sentiments on the topic in recent years. The Floridians may have landed the club with hundreds of millions of pounds in debt, but Ferguson has staunchly supported their ownership since its inception. His case is that, unlike the Abramovichs of the game, the Americans do little to disrupt his movements when attempting to prolong the already enormous success he has achieved with the club. They don't interfere with team selections and transfer targets and never directly engage in the PR guff so popular with egotist owners worldwide. In short: they let him do his job daily without influence and so are good owners.

Oddly, for one so vehement in his beliefs, Ferguson is masterly in evading the many other things the Glazers do not do and the turbulence they have enveloped the club with since 2005. Excuses are made for the manner in which they acquired the club, yet there is little recognition of its lasting effects. Statements are made about the family backing him when needs be, but there are no ponderings on the fact they're yet to proffer a single penny of their own money to stabilise what was once the healthiest club in the world. He describes his position as "comfortable" with the owners, not affording a minute's contemplation towards the discomfort felt by those forced out due to principles and price-rises. In the vast world of the Glazer ownership, Ferguson's view is through a key-hole that glimpses only what the club itself want supporters to believe: all's fine.

If Ferguson's stance is lamentable, perhaps the most disturbing element is the knock-on effect it has over those who rightly hang on his words. United's support has been fractious since the takeover, with the vast majority of its fan-base purporting to be angered at the way the club is being run. However, the numbers of those willing to do something about it are miniscule in comparison to the droves of the ultimately unperturbed. There is a resignation amongst the many. The feeling is that little happened before so little can ever happen now. Small pockets of United's support disagree, vociferously attacking anything deemed pro-Glazer because they recognise the damage being wrought against something they love. Ferguson's proclamations play into the hands of those who lack the motivation to see change. If he says it, it must be right - or, if he says it, his hand is being forced and his public displays of affection for his employers are only being uttered to protect United and keep him in a job. Both arguments are clearly flawed.

The patent obviousness of the detrimental aspects of the Glazer family's ownership has been well covered. Saddling a club in debt, siphoning off money to service that debt and now listing a portion of the club on the New York Stock Exchange to alleviate the burden beset upon the club leaves little room for credibility. Those inclined to slip into apologist mode - a move quite similar to one shutting their eyes to the rain and claiming it's not there - decree that periods of prolonged success prove that the doom of financial figures are no harbinger of failure.

In truth, the titles and European Cup secured over the last 7 years have little to do with their involvement and all to do with the workings of a genius at the helm. Any excuses made to polish the period of their stay can quickly be reduced to the empty nothings that they are. If vitriol cannot be found in United's incapability of spending convincingly, or rising ticket prices, or the sullying of its name in the tax haven of the Caymans, it can unequivocally be found in perhaps the most saddening places of all: the distances established between warring reds on either side of the Glazer debate.

A large portion of Manchester United's support dare not question a word enunciated by Alex Ferguson. Past achievements, it would appear, cannot be separated from character. Managerial greatness, too, appears to guarantee greatness as a man, leaving sparse room for the possibility of error. This too, we learn, shirks away from what is true. We attempt to convince ourselves because the fiction is more acceptable than the reality. There is a sadness in hearing something repugnant coming from someone whose work has supplied your life with beauty. In many respects, Ferguson's reign has embodied United at its truest core; relentless when challenged with adversity, his style was the next chapter of the Busby-inspired United: a club unlike any other, who triumphed frequently and drove on endlessly even in defeat.

Achievements-wise, he has no equal and, given the now unforgiving nature of the game, now never will. His period of greatness verges from the mesmeric to the surreal, descriptions that will catalogue his legacy and mark him down as the greatest manager that has ever taken hold of a team. However, with a career edging towards its end, blemishes are appearing - sad pockmarks on an otherwise largely pristine stay. His legacy will be rich, as it deserves to be, but the championing of those who have done nothing but destabilise and pilfer profit will live long in the memory of those who care most. It hurts because, as trophies have stacked up, Ferguson is expected to be at one with the core support. In truth, he is now more distanced from the hardcore than he ever was before. Their interests outside of the team winning matter little now, it would seem. Glory is wanted by all, but the wider worries - the debt, prices, investment in the team - are routinely ignored by Ferguson.

Still, excuses will be made by those terrified to question. Ferguson, it is said, is merely doing as he is told - a curious excuse, given the near-dictatorial command he has over the club. Along similar lines, apologists will declare that if Ferguson doesn't adhere to his overlords' demands, he will be rendered unemployed as a result of his noncompliance. Again, this is a flawed argument. The Glazers may be parasitic in their ways, but they are not stupid; they realise the immensity of Ferguson's power and are unlikely to ever risk the mutinous backlash that a sacking would produce. In order to be not met with full-scale vitriol, they need those who the fans respect on their side. As seen in the numerous interviews that have followed, Ferguson's puppet-like approach is a tool with which they use to get by largely unopposed. The idea that the Glazers would flog and run the risk of wide wrath is unrealistic.

While it may be idealistic to think Ferguson could retreat back into his purported socialist roots and publicly denounce the debt-loaders, there is an alternative that will change little but keep what was once an unsullied legacy intact: he could keep quiet. A master of batting off anything that doesn't suit his own agenda, a simple reply of "I'm not getting into that" or "My job is to manage the team" would be more desirable than the sigh-inducing issuing of support that he now lamentably chooses.

Ferguson's prolonged support for the Glazer ownership is damaging. It not only undermines warranted worry from those with the club's best interests at heart, but it also warps the reality for the wider support who seek appeasement rather than contemplating what is going on underneath the shiny facade. The club desires little introspection from its support. "Real fans" should remain mute with eyes tightly shut, the message seems clear - a suggestion that evidently queries the adoration of those who, because they care, seek to destroy what is crippling the club.

Manchester United's ownership and the way it has been presented has been criminally deceptive. From Ferguson, to Gill, to the wider support feeding off their mistruths, the reality is often replaced by what the club wants everyone to believe. Certain moments - lack of success; financial results; the recent IPO listing - create temporary storms, sending what appears to be the wider support into disharmony. But a signing later, or a run of wins, and it quells once more, leaving the outrage and calls for action to be replaced by a predictable resignation and acceptance of the way things are. Little has changed since the infamy of May 2005; the majority still disapprove, but only when it suits. The Glazers are winning and have won for the last 7 years.

In truth, the motives behind Ferguson's support are difficult to ascertain. Those clinging to the romanticism of a hero being unable to fall will privately believe that the public statements are a far cry from his private actions. Cynics will purport that with a hefty pay-package in his back pocket and a career almost over he is ensuring his last days are untroubled and left uninfluenced by those above him. Those most aggrieved will render his messages of support treacherous, enormous stains on an indescribably triumphant career. Ultimately, no matter what his reasoning is, the sad sound of Ferguson attaching tags such as "great" "fantastic" and "wonderful" to those who have set a rot into the club he helped make great is inexcusable.

To add further insult, those who are the club - the supporters - and who were there long before him and will be there long after he has gone, have had their devotion questioned for the simple act of caring. Alex Ferguson is not, for all his otherworldly achievements and genius, Manchester United. Nor are the Glazers, or the players, or the illimitable hangers-on who scurry elsewhere when the moment suits. The supporters are the club. To vilify them for opposing the repulsion of an ugly ownership is loathsome. Ferguson is perhaps the only manager in the world who could have performed the juggling act of the last 7 years - of achieving success with a club in spite of the way it was being run. But his comments of last weekend, and the many others that have preceded it, have cast large shadows. Evidence, perhaps, that being the greatest manager doesn't necessarily make you the greatest of men.