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Manchester United protest highlighted major flaw in European football that affects Man City

Manchester Evening News logo Manchester Evening News 03/05/2021 Stuart Brennan

Two weeks after the announcement of The Super League, and 12 days after its collapse, the mood at Manchester United remains ugly.

By stark contrast, while Manchester City fans remain bruised and hurt by the hasty, ill-judged actions of the club hierarchy, and remain on alert for any more such horrible miscalculations, the prospect of another Premier League win and the possibility of a Champions League final, has occupied their minds.

In many ways, the Super League abomination was more of a shock to City fans.

United fans expect - or should expect - their owners to chase the dollars, regardless of whether that pursuit tramples all over the history and heritage of their own club, or football in general.

The shrewder United fans are the ones who walked away 16 years ago, declaring that while the Glazers could clearly buy enough shares to take control of the PLC, they as supporters were strictly Not for Sale.

Some stopped a lifelong addiction by refusing to go to Old Trafford again, and some even set up their own football club - the stance they took has been hugely justified.

Once that fight was lost, the distant Glazers were never going to care about a few green-and-gold scarves worn by match-going fans who had just handed over forty quid towards paying down the Glazer debt or towards their hefty dividend payments.

United fans should have expected their club to be at the heart of the Super League machinations - it is what money-chasing owners do.

City fans were shocked that their owners, who have usually - not always - been sensitive to the club’s traditional support, would be involved in something so seedy and greedy.

Their response, apart from an avalanche of anger and outrage on social media, has been limited to a few banners at Wembley during the Carabao Cup final.

The only fan gatherings planned for the Etihad Stadium are to show their support for the team ahead of the Champions League semi-final second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, and on Saturday, ahead of a Chelsea game in which a win would make them champions.

The way The Super League unravelled was important in the contrast, as was the fact that City fans have, in stark contrast, been largely content with their owners.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez admitted that City had “never been interested”, and it quickly became apparent that they were the last club to sign up, and the first to leave.

All of those things spoke of a club which was clearly reluctant to be involved and which had little to gain from The Super League and, while the top brass took a horrendously bad decision, they took it for what they believed was the good of the club, and not to make a few more bucks.

Given all that, City's apology and regret for the episode has a ring of believability. United's statements have done nothing to dissuade anyone that they would be straight back in the European Super League tomorrow if they felt they could get away with it.

None of that excuses the bad decision by City, but it certainly mitigates it. Making a bad decision in haste, and out of fear that not doing so might make your club irrelevant on the European stage is not as bad as plotting a greedy grab for years, out of a love for money.

In his role as a frustrated Sky Sports pundit, Graeme Souness was dismissive of the United protest, claiming that United fans would not be so angry if they had been about to win the title.

He was right about some of those fans. Since 2005, the anger with the owners has ebbed and flowed depending on the fortunes of the team.

If City were at the tail-end of a bad season, rather than chasing a treble, it is likely that their anger about The Super League would have been amplified.

But the real anomaly in all this lies in the fact that, while City’s ownership model has clearly been targeted by the financial fair play rules of both Uefa and the Premier League, United’s has not.

Not only have City’s owners invested heavily in the club and surrounding community, they have brought unprecedented success on and off the field, made the club debt-free and set the Blues up for a golden future, no matter how long they stay in charge.

More importantly, they have developed a trust and faith which is robust enough to have ridden the shock of the Super League episode.

That is not because City fans don’t care about, or were not deeply hurt by, the Super League business.

It is because they are prepared to accept a mistake that flies in the face of almost everything else the owners have done for the last 12 years.

United fans have been fundamentally unhappy with the Glazers for 16 years, even if the intensity of that unhappiness ebbs and flows depending on the team’s success.

And yet the financial fair play rules are aimed squarely at the City/Chelsea/PSG ownership and allow the Glazers - and the owners of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona - to continue on their merry way, loading their clubs with debt, and pursuing stark self-interest, at odds with the spirit and fabric of football itself.

Benevolent ownership models, whether it be German-style fan ownership or the “sugar daddy” type, are targeted, while owners who stack debt against clubs in order to buy them, and take hard-nosed business decisions which are at odds with the interests of both the support and wider football - and in this case the players and manager too - are allowed to go on their merry way.

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