Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer broke a near 16-year silence on his family’s ownership of the club and told a fans forum meeting he wanted to “win every competition we compete in”.
Glazer vowed to make interaction with supporters a priority in the wake of United’s involvement in the European Super League debacle.
He revealed an intention to form a ‘Fan Advisory Board’, to “consult with the club’s senior leadership and owners”. It is hoped significant progress will be made before next season.
In an expansive opening address to the meeting, Glazer outlined what he felt were the positive aspects of the ownership since 2005.
BBC Sport has been told by one fan representative present at the meeting that they were shocked at how engaging Glazer was, although some questions did not receive direct answers.
In addition to answering questions, Glazer took follow-ups, meaning the meeting was extended by an additional 20 minutes.
“I was pleased to join the fans forum to listen to the views of supporters, address their questions, and share ideas on how we can improve the way we work together,” said Glazer.
“As owners, we want exactly the same thing as the fans – a successful team and a strong club – and we want to work in partnership to achieve those objectives.”
Glazer takes on board fan complaints
Glazer addressed the virtual meeting from an office in the United States that almost exclusively contained United memorabilia.
Witnesses say he appeared genuinely moved at the contents of a statement read out at the start of the meeting on behalf of the 11 fan representatives, which spoke of their vision of what the club is, which did not involve share prices and social media interactions.
Glazer is said to have referred back to the contents of those opening remarks on a number of occasions and did not give the impression of someone who was acting up for the occasion.
His previous silence, he said, was due to a desire to step back from the public side of the business and not be in the limelight as other owners have tended to do. He accepts this may have been perceived as a lack of interest but insisted this was not the case.
Full detail of the actual question and answer session will not be released until next week, when United hope to publish the full minutes. One club official said that it was possibly the most significant fans forum meeting in the history of fans forums.
Glazer answered every question, including ones around the club’s massive debt burden and dividend payments that provide the family with millions of dollars in income every quarter. He also confirmed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be provided with funds to strengthen his squad, while pointing out the coronavirus pandemic had affected United financially.
However, possibly the most important aspects of the near two-and-a-half hour event centred around the structure of the club.
The Fan Advisory Board will contain elected fan representatives, and in addition to senior club figures, at least one member of the Glazer family will be required to attend every meeting. This is intended to ensure there is no repeat of the ESL decision, which went against the wishes of the vast majority of the United fan base.
Talks will also begin over a meaningful share scheme for fans. In theory this will allow them to build up a collective stake in the club and, at the same time, have a meaningful input into its future direction.
Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) said they were “cautious” about the proposal and whether it will meet their tests.
They added: “Despite the huge concession on voting rights that this proposal signals as ever the devil is always in the detail.
“In particular, despite Joel Glazer’s assertion that this will be ‘the largest fan ownership group in world sport’, MUST is concerned that there is a risk that the scheme will limit the number of such fan shares made available so reducing the opportunity for this to achieve a meaningful collective fan ownership stake – and ultimately with the potential to result in a change in control of the club.”
Positive words, now action is required
Aside from spending on the team, Glazer says the club “will now accelerate the process of planning much more significant investment and upgrades to the stadium”. He is also planning work on the training facilities and says “significant funding” will be made available for that area of the club.
“We want this club to always be successful and win trophies,” he said.
“To compete for trophies requires significant investment. The commercial growth at the club has helped deliver the revenue which ultimately underpins that investment in a sustainable manner.
“That approach has allowed us to have among the highest net transfer spend in world football over the last five years and have one of the highest wage bills.
“Also, as a direct result of our commercial business we have kept ticket prices affordable for all fans and not raised season ticket prices in over 10 years.”
Those present took the words in good faith and having spoken to a number of sources, BBC Sport understands the message Glazer delivered was positive enough to ensure the process will be repeated if the opportunity presents itself, as expected.
However, placed in the delicate position of needing to be aggressive enough to ask difficult questions but not so much the club’s owners do not view the process as being worthwhile, they also underlined a determination to hold the Glazer family to account.
The promises have been made and the discussions have started, they all now expect the words to turn into action.