Given the success that Manchester United fans enjoyed for two decades under Sir Alex Ferguson, achieving what felt like one impossible task after another, it’s little wonder it has taken so long for them to come to terms with the fact there are serious problems at the club.
No matter how bad things looked under David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal or Jose Mourinho, there was always the belief from many than next season would be better, with supporters adopting the same mantra they had mocked from Liverpool fans for following their last league title win in 1990.
Under the Glazer ownership, supporters have seen the club generate more and more money, signing up new sponsors every season, yet the performances on the pitch have been nowhere near as impressive.
While sections of the fan base turned their back on United when the Glazer family bought the club in 2005, with FC United forming as a result, this had no impact on the weekly attendance at Old Trafford.
The genius of Ferguson masked how deeply rooted the issues of the Glazer ownership was, with United winning the league five times in the manager’s last seven years at the club, as well as winning the Champions League and playing in a two further finals.
Yet when United sold Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million in the summer of 2009, and spent just £19 million to replace him in the form of Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan, it was clear something was wrong.
Protests were seen within the ground on a regular basis during the season that followed. United were the current champions, had just reached the Champions League final, but they were unimpressed with the aspirations of the club. The protests revolved around green and gold, the colours of the club when they had played as Newton Heath before becoming Manchester United in 1902. Even David Beckham got on board, wrapping a green and gold scarf around his neck as he walked off the pitch after his AC Milan side lost 4-0 at Old Trafford in the Champions League.
United won the league the following season and the protests lost momentum. More people have given up their season ticket and swore not to step inside the ground while the Glazers were still there, yet it still made no impact on the attendance figures or revenue.
The club and the fans plodded along, Ferguson retired, and it’s gone from bad to worse. Despite being outspent by City every season, United still have invested fairly heavily, but Fulham, West Ham and Everton were among the many clubs that spent more in the transfer window last summer.
The lack of investment last summer was a kick in the teeth, given United had just finished second in the league under Jose Mourinho, ahead of Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur. Having extended his contract earlier that year, it looked as though the timing was right to back the manager in the market. But Ed Woodward and the owners had seemingly already decided that Mourinho wasn’t going to be there for much longer, so didn’t want to buy the players he wanted.
Mourinho had lost his way but the lack of business in the summer only accelerated his downfall. He knew his cards were marked and looked to have given up before last campaign even began, which unsurprisingly had an impact on the players. He should have been sacked before last season had begun, but what was the latest of poor decision making saw him stick around only to be dismissed by Christmas.
With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer given the permanent job, a hasty move that was taken with the belief that it would offer the reassurances needed to the likes of David de Gea, Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford to get them to agree new long-term deals, but we are seeing history repeat itself in the transfer window. Nobody has extended their contract and the signings have been minimal.
Before this week, 21-year-old Championship player Daniel James was the only signing. Having spent weeks going back and forth with Crystal Palace over the fee for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, it now appears as though the full-back is the next signing. But it’s too little too late for a fan base who knew how much work needed to be done, only to see the club drag its feet once again.
As everything football related goes these days, it’s played out dramatically on social media, with the #GlazerOut hashtag trending regularly. Every tweet from the club is met with fans from around the world tweeting their frustration with the owners, even those about charity events or revealing a new signing.
Supporters are also treating tweets from sponsors of the club in the same way.
Fans are more than entitled to voice their frustrations but you do have to wonder how much impact, if any, trending topics on Twitter make in the real world and on the Glazer family.
There is also the sense that it could be out of the frying pan and into the fire, with the possible Glazer exit not ensuring a better future for United. The problems run so deep, with poor decision making at every level, you almost feel as though the club has to be gutted and to start again from scratch. Would new owners be able to guarantee that?
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had been heavily linked with buying the club earlier this year, although talk of that has died down following reports of connections to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Manchester City’s owners have invested over £1 billion into the club while the Glazers have taken over £1 billion out. City supporters couldn’t care less about the human rights record of those who bankroll their club, and likely many United fans would feel exactly the same way if Bin Salman bought the club. After having to endure watching City win the title and Liverpool the Champions League, they are desperate for any owner who would run the club better and invest more than the Glazers do.
Still, what we know for certain is that the Glazers are terrible owners and have overseen one of the largest falls from grace a football club has seen, particularly one of United’s size. While it’s unlikely to make any real dent on the Glazers’ plans, it can’t harm for the fan base to unify.
How the Glazers ever passed the fit and proper test to become Premier League owners is incredible, when considering how much debt they plunged the country’s biggest club in to, but it’s unlikely they will be saying goodbye to Manchester any time soon, regardless of what any hashtag says.