Manchester United Owners Rocked by Protest at Breakaway Plot
Manchester United Plc’s U.S. owners faced protests from hundreds of fans on Sunday, many of whom broke into the club’s famed Old Trafford stadium to express their anger at a failed attempt to form a breakaway league for Europe’s elite teams.
The team’s match against Liverpool, also American-owned and part of the Super League plan, was postponed. Dozens of supporters had entered the field, releasing flares and smoke grenades to protest against the Glazer family. Images showed one person hanging onto a crossbar, while a corner flag from the pitch was paraded outside.
“Our fans are passionate about Manchester United, and we completely acknowledge the right to free expression and peaceful protest,” the club said in a statement. “However, we regret the disruption to the team and actions which put other fans, staff, and the police in danger.”
The Premier League came out with its own statement, noting that the “actions of a minority seen today have no justification.”
Last month, the attempt to form a new league with Europe’s richest clubs collapsed just days after it was announced as teams began to pull out following opposition from fans, politicians and even players. Owners are now bearing the brunt of the criticism.
Condemnation of the Super League plan, which would have helped clubs fix their finances after a year of playing behind closed doors, was widespread. The U.K. government even drew up a proposal to block the league, saying it would do “whatever it takes” to stop the formation of the new competition.
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The late U.S. property tycoon Malcolm Glazer took control of Manchester United -- one of the Europe’s most storied clubs -- in a leveraged buyout in 2005. Supporters have often expressed their resentment against the level of indebtedness of the club resulting from the takeover. Manchester United was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012 partly to help pay down the liabilities.
The fallout of the Super League has already led to the departure of United’s boss Ed Woodward. The former JPMorgan Chase & Co investment banker will step down from his position as executive vice chairman -- effectively the most senior operational role at the club -- at the end of 2021.
Meanwhile, the Glazers are under pressure to relinquish control. Hedge fund titan Paul Marshall and former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Jim O’Neill -- part of the Red Knights consortium that tried to buy the team in 2010 -- have urged the family to sell their majority stake at its initial IPO price.
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