Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Opinion: Man United fans must not allow Ronaldo signing to blind them from the Glazers’ sins

Cristiano Ronaldo’s whirlwind homecoming has rekindled Manchester United fan’s long-lost sense of optimism. While they should bask in their returning hero’s considerable glow, they must not neglect their enduring ambition – the emancipation of their club.

Ronaldo’s second goal against Newcastle United last weekend had a romantic, almost cinematic quality to it. Like a scene from Kevin Costner’s Field Of Dreams, when the Portuguese striker smashed the ball through Freddie Woodman’s legs and the Stretford End erupted, for the first time in an age, United’s ‘Theatre of Dreams’ lived up to its name.

For Red Devils fans, both young and old, their wildest fantasies manifested in front of their very eyes. Just like that corny tag line in Costner’s melodrama, “Sometimes, when you believe in the impossible, the incredible comes true.”

And yet, from their lofty perch, presiding over all that jubilance and nostalgia, sat the hubristic scavengers that have picked the bones of the club clean for over a decade.

Reassuringly, the majority of Manchester United fans seem to recognise the thinly veiled actions of the Glazers. Most see their three statement summer signings, Ronaldo, Raphaël Varane and Jadon Sancho, for what they really are – the latest in a sequence of distractions aimed at placating fans, damage control in the wake of their botched attempt at forming a European Super League.

As Gary Neville put it, “The Glazers have done what they always do when they come under pressure. They go and make two or three signings, and it shuts everyone up!”

Neville hit the nail right on the head, exposing a potential pitfall of the Ronaldo signing. While the Portuguese has galvanised fans support like no-one else could, in doing so, he inadvertently threatens to silence the anti-Glazer movement.

Ronaldo has given fans something they haven’t experienced for what must feel like an eternity – hope. However, hope, as Red told Andy Dufrene in The Shashank Redemption, “is a dangerous thing”. For the United fans who have driven the last 16 years of anti-Glazer protests, the biggest threat to their movement is their fellow fans renewed optimism.

If they are to continue fighting the good fight, the masses have to see beyond the Glazers latest offering – however beguiling it may be.

A Dream Signing, But The Nightmare Continues

In reacting to Ronaldo’s arrival, former United midfielder Paul Ince mused to the PA news agency, “It’s a clever piece of business from the Glazers, but was it more a commercial thing than a football thing? Who knows?”

In truth, the Glazers were always going to sign Ronaldo if he became available, regardless of whether they needed a striker or not, or which manager was in charge. Manchester City’s interest was merely the catalyst – the okay to pull the trigger. In 2018, The Glazers deployed a similar protocol, when they captured Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez from under the nose of their rivals.

The Glazers have a policy of appeasing disenfranchised fans with show-piece signings. In a similar move, they propped up their failing American football franchise, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, by signing iconic six-time Super bowl winner Tom Brady last year. The 42 year-old quarterback’s move was lampooned in the media, who labelled the signing ‘commercially driven’.

Footballing merits aside, Ronaldo was a bargain. The £12.85m transfer fee paid is peanuts, as is his reported £480k per week salary. The deal was a real no brainer.

Sales of Ronaldo replica jerseys smashed records, with £187m worth sold in the lead up to last weekends homecoming. The vast majority of the proceeds go to United’s kit manufacturers Adidas, however, United/The Glazers pocket a commission on each unit sold.

The quantity and quality of media exposure The Glazers have generated is priceless, skyrocketing United’s social media profile to dazzling heights. In the first hour after the announcement of Ronaldo’s signing, there were an astounding 64,321 related tweets. Subsequently, United’s share price soared, gaining 9% – adding £271m to the clubs market worth.

Indeed, in every aspect of this transfer, United’s dividend leeching parasites stand to profit. Ronaldo is just another quick fix for The Glazers, a drop of oil to get the wheels of their money spinning juggernaut in motion again.

Spurs kept Kane and Chelsea landed Romelu Lukaku but, make no bones about it, the Glazer family were the biggest winners in the summer transfer window.

A Question of Ethics

The founding principle of the anti-Glazer movement continues to be opposition to the Glazers’ financial exploitation of the club. It is estimated, through extracted dividends or ‘consultancy fees’, that the Glazer family has cost the club in excess of £1bn since they took over in 2005.

How is this possible? United is among the most financially viable and commercially successful clubs in the world. This is perhaps what galls Red Devils fans the most – pondering what they might have achieved with that financial clout.

In protest, some fans have painstakingly boycotted supporting the club financially, founding movements like #NotAPennyMore, while others draw the line at the inordinate match day prices. Each fan weaves their own moral tapestry and, equally, each fan has their own breaking point.

Understandably, after so many trophyless years, the long-term objectives of some United fans will take a back-seat to the short-term gratification of this promising season.

Of course, this raises the age old moral dilemma, that deeply-rooted hypocrisy that reared its ugly head during the ESL protests: how, if at all, can fans reconcile supporting the club they love financially, in full knowledge that they’re lining the pockets of owners they deplore?

While some fans may seek moral refuge in their prolonged plight, in denial and contradiction, others are simply too busy playing with their new toys to give a toss. As one ‘United Stand’ fan explained to another:

“While I, too, feel the anger towards the ownership and their past conduct, I disagree on not purchasing or supporting the club directly. This was a proper transfer window. We need to show the ownership that when you do us right, you are rewarded”

It is an unfortunate, sorry state of affairs, that fans should have to marshal their emotions, but, as was evidenced last spring, when several hundred fans stormed Old Trafford to demonstrate against their American owners – these are strange times we’re living in.

It remains unclear whether there will be any coordinated boycott of the club, or any demonstration en masse in the near future. However, the cycle of displeasure, protestation and appeasement must be broken. Despite the temptation to get caught up in Ronaldo fever, United fans must harden their resolve.

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