Even in the hush of a warm Spring morning, there is the intoxicating sense of soul about Old Trafford. The old Munich clock on the corrugated red metal of the South-east corner. The red rose slotted into the hand that Bobby Charlton slings over Denis Law’s shoulder on the bronze United Trinity statue.
To walk the place and its surrounding terraced streets is to feel the identity of a club which has persevered and won through, despite everything. Sir Alex Ferguson’s own story also fitted that narrative in the late 1980s, before the glories came. Ask Manchester United’s supporters what single word defines their club and some will tell you: ‘Defiance.’
All of which is why its soul hangs in the balance, 48 hours out from Raine Group’s deadline for bids to buy the club.
Qatar is already putting lawyers to work, as Manchester City’s always do: combing through the rulebook, asking its extremely well-remunerated hotshots to find a way of arguing black is white and that it’s actually fine to own two European clubs at once.
And if they succeed – as they no doubt will – Qatar will find ways to dress up United as its own. Perhaps Marcus Rashford in a bisht robe after Qatar-owned United claim the Premier League.
Qatari investors could be closing in on buying Manchester United as the bid deadline looms
Gary Neville has suggested it is now too late to stop state ownership of British clubs
Some, like Gary Neville, argue that the horse has already bolted when it comes to British football’s appropriation by Middle Eastern states, whose treatment of their workers and their women does not seem to elicit a mention. The priority, Neville said on his own podcast this week, is ‘making sure the sporting project is absolutely top class.’
The ‘right owner of Manchester United’, Neville declared, would be the one which took the debt load off the club, rebuild the stadium, re-engaged with the community.’ All of which would be pocket money for Qatar.
If Qatar is handed the Old Trafford keys, some of us will offer written reminders of lives routinely lost and broken in that Godforsaken place. The latest depressing despatch is a painstaking report by the Josimar website. It relates how World Cup security guards who worked at the tournament’s Stadium 974 last November have received no pay and are being asked to leave Doha.
Those who highlight this will be castigated as United-haters by some, in the same way that a section of Newcastle United’s contingent take to Twitter to abuse anyone holding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record to the light. But whatever the deniers say, a little of the soul will have been extinguished at United if Qatar is the next chapter, just as it has been on Tyneside, where Saudi Arabia is always the elephant in the room.
Reviled Avram Glazer might be, with his ridiculous ponytail, his garish Aston Martin and its orange leather trim seats, but this is a case of better the devil you know. The Glazer family have bled United of dividends, feathered their own nest and loaded up the debt, yet they would be a preferable owner to the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) – or whatever iteration of ‘Qatar’ the bidders choose, to get a takeover across the line.
Are the Premier League and the Champions League actually beyond United without the intervention of a Gulf state? No. The club would have actually come a lot closer to both in the decade since Ferguson walked away, had they not blown £1billion so recklessly.
Where along the line did the deception take hold that Qatar equates to success in club football? It’s 12 years since QSI bought Paris Saint Germain and they’ve still not won a Champions League.
And where along the line did the deception take hold that Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the English chemical engineer and chief executive of the INEOS group, is in some way a poor relation in this pursuit of United?
The Glazer family, despite loading the club with debt, would be more preferable to Qatar
Qatar’s bid for the club should remind fans of the lives lost and broken by the 2022 World Cup
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is among the confirmed bidders seeking to buy the club from the Glazers
Ratcliffe might not match naked Qatari wealth or the resources of the lunatic member of this conversation, Elon Musk, but he would be a proprietor who understands what defines United. He knows about the significance of the clock and the statue and the plaque on the railway bridge where the Old Trafford fanzine sellers stand. Would the Premier League and the Champions League be beyond United under Ratcliffe’s ownership? No.
In the lee of the old stadium on Monday, running repairs were being undertaken by a firm whose vans’ livery promised ‘smart and secure access solutions.’ It was a pretty good summation of what this great club is crying out for now.
‘They’re going to sell to the people who give them the highest penny,’ Neville told his own podcast, appearing to savour that prospect greatly, but neglecting to mention that a club with its soul intact is inestimably preferable to one which is richer than God.
MY MATE MAC IS ANOTHER SILENT VICTIM OF HILLSBOROUGH COVER-UP
It is because the pursuit of answers about Hillsborough has gone on for 34 years that I can call some of those caught up in it my friends. Mac McLoughlin is certainly one of them.
He was a South Yorkshire street copper on duty that fateful day, who witnessed the incompetence of his superiors and the devastation which unfolded, faithfully wrote it all down in his pocket book, and only discovered years later that his statement had been deliberately doctored to shift blame on to fans.
Mac never recovered from the sense that he should have done more for those who died and was suffering a breakdown when he left the force, a year or so later. I attended his Independent Police Complaints Commission hearing with him 10 years ago because he had asked for some moral support. He told the Commission all that his superiors had tried to hide.
Now he has been told to prepare for a letter about the Independent Office for Police Conduct review of that day, which will be published next year. He wonders: how will he be judged? Could he have done more? What have his superiors said about him? They are the questions that have always consumed Mac, another silent victim of institutional cover-up and back-sliding which is so unceasing.
UEFA HAVE TO WIELD THE AXE
Thank you, UEFA, for the weasel statement in which you ‘welcome’ the report into your own disgraceful mismanagement of the Paris Champions League final and the subsequent blame you placed on Liverpool supporters for your own incompetence.
Your 340-word statement commits to ‘learning’ but does not actually appear to specify who you intend to sack.
A review showed organisers were to blame for mismanagement of the Champions League final
I was standing in the rain on a filthy Elland Road day, a year ago, reporting on the policing of Leeds v Manchester United, when dozens of young men, barely old enough to know the significance of their words, sang about ‘the runway’ and ‘the snow’, after pouring out of the stadium.
It was the older men among them whom I was most struck by, not these stupid, callow juveniles singing about Munich.
The fathers, the uncles and the older companions were the ones who could – and can – shut down this abomination.
But they did not. My two boys would not sing in that way but I like to think I would be capable of having something to say if they did.
Leeds and Manchester United condemned chanting from fans regarding tragedies on Sunday
Kevin Keegan, one of football’s most engaging individuals, was 72 on Monday. He was a trailblazer who played and managed from the heart and has always had something original to impart.
We do not hear from him now because he has departed the game utterly. What a loss.
Kevin Keegan, who turned 72, is a huge loss for the game he has completely departed