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Glazer gets United

Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer has now acquired over 70 per cent of the shares in Manchester United. The dam broke yesterday when McManus and Magnier (dubbed the Coolmore mafia in reference to their worldwide horse breeding operation) sold their stake. Shareholders United, a group formed in a vain attempt to thwart the takeover, described the transaction as "a treacherous act of betrayal by the Irish. They've sold Man U for 30 pieces of silver and they won't be forgiven." It seems the Christian analogy is limited. Man U supporters are threatening boycotts, blocking traffic in front of Gold Trafford, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Henry Winter, The Telegraph's head football writer, is apparently drinking from the same cup. In a rant that could have been scripted by Shareholders United itself, Winter makes the claim that shifting control from one tycoon to another "will damage our national game." His descent into xenophobia in the concluding sentence - the "famous club certainly do not deserve an American predator like Glazer" - reveals more about Winter himself than what is in store under a Glazer regime.

Apart from wrangling over TV money, there is not much that Glazer can do to reform the EPL or the FA. He will control Manchester United, not the decision-making of the governing bodies. That is the beauty of the English system. Glazer might ruin the club for a decade if he seeks to profit by restraining the wage bill for players, but on balance that might be a positive contribution! You won't find Arsenal or Liverpool supporters shedding tears over that prospect.

The potential downside for English Football is that the deal may be an incremental step towards American-style organization of the league. That might be good for owners of the top clubs, but it would cost everyone else dearly, most notably fans and players.** But Glazer can't change the system by himself, so the danger is remote, though worth guarding against.

The timing of the transaction is intriguing. The Irish are selling at a profit as the decline in United's dominance of the EPL is becoming increasingly obvious - an excellent move on their part (the takeover premium is significant). On the buying side, Glazer is taking control with one game left in the EPL season, and the FA Cup Final with Arsenal next Saturday. Man U "supporters" will have their pop in the streets over the next ten days. But then what? Things might cool off if Glazer, as planned, brings a superstar or two to the squad over the summer. The alternative scenario is that the off-season will give rabble-rousers time to organize a full-scale assault for the start of next season. Unfortunately, the history of pathological lunacy among English football supporters makes that a real prospect.

**The EPL is arguably the most successful league on the planet, based on the value it creates for consumers. But the open system of competition between England's divisions (the three bottom teams will be relegated to a lower division this weekend) and among leagues (for players and viewers) in the rest of the world makes the wage bill much higher than it would be under an American system. This seriously limits the potential for profit - most English clubs eat capital, rather than generate a return on it. There's nothing wrong with that in my view - its primary effect being that it limits the pool of ownership to sportsmen.

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