United CEO: Only small minority oppose Glazers
Fan protests have disappeared as Manchester United adds to its trophy room.
''There are still a small number of dissenters and they will always be there, and they have had long held views which they are not going to change. We respect those,'' chief executive David Gill said Tuesday, a day after the club clinched a record 20th English league title. ''Ultimately, someone has to own the club.''
Many United fans have opposed the Glazer family since it bought the club in 2005, for years showing their disdain for the Americans by wearing green-and-gold scarves in honor of the club's original colors. But after five Premier League championships and one Champions League title, those angry voices have silenced and the red is returning to Old Trafford.
Three years ago, many matches were marred by protests, mainly because of the club's huge debt. But United has slashed the debt, bought Robin van Persie from Arsenal for 24 million pounds ($36 million) and overcome defending champion Manchester City to win the league with four games to spare.
''I think they have definitely demonstrated that since they have taken over, they have shown that what happens on the pitch is crucial to the club's ambitions off it,'' Gill said.
Some fans are still not satisfied with the Glazers, who also own the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Gill said the team has proved it can - and will - invest in new players.
''But having said that, there will be a very small minority, MUST, who will always retain their own views,'' Gill said, referring to the Manchester United Supporters' Trust.
The team's shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange at $17.73 on Tuesday after a lackluster opening on the market at $14 in August.
In part using the proceeds of the initial public offering, United has cut its debt in half in the past three years to 366.6 million pounds ($558 million), according to its latest statements. United forecast record revenue this season of at least 350 million pounds ($533 million), thanks largely to its ability to attract an array of global sponsors.
But the pockets of animosity in Manchester meant that the Glazers couldn't celebrate the trophy success on Monday night with the fans, instead heading back to the United States.
''They get the personal enjoyment,'' Gill said. ''Are they going to drink or anything like that? I wouldn't think they'd worry about that. The important thing is there's really no ego about them. They operate behind the scenes here, they don't walk around saying `We own the club.' ''They are very mindful of the traditions and the history of the club and people ... clearly if you own an asset and it comes up with winning a 20th title, it's unbelievable.''
Manchester United is among five Premier League clubs with U.S. controlling owners, joined by Arsenal (Stan Kroenke), Liverpool (John Henry), Aston Villa (Randy Lerner) and Sunderland (Ellis Short).
''I'm not going to name other teams who have been taken over by foreigners,'' Gill said, ''but you can see there are some examples of some not-so-good foreign owners, shall we say - or owners, because it's not the passport that matters.''
Gill will leave the club at the end of the season and will try to earn a seat on the executive committee of the Union of European Football Associations. During his time at Old Trafford, he watched crosstown rival Manchester City become a force under Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who bought the club in 2008.
City edged United for the 2012 league title, winning on goal difference on the last day of the season.
''I'm sure they'll come back. They've got some ambitious plans on their investment and their academy,'' Gill said of City. ''That's what the excitement of the Premier League is. I'm sure all the clubs who missed out this season will be doing business in the summer - as we will be - with a view to come back all guns blazing next year.''
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris