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