Malcolm Glazer obituary: US billionaire businessman who led the controversial takeover of Manchester United in 2005

He was the antithesis of the high-profile modern US sports owner

In the first few months of 2005, it could safely be said that the most hated man in England – or at least among the sizeable part of the population that supports Manchester United – was a reclusive American businessman of whom a couple of years earlier nobody had ever heard. Malcolm Glazer’s sin, though he would never have considered it such, was to secure control of the country’s most famous football club.

At first, Glazer’s interest in United was not treated very seriously. No way, the general assumption was, would a national institution allow itself to fall prey to a self-made, rarely seen Yank from Palm Beach whose sporting interests were confined to the gridiron variety of football, beloved in the US but virtually nowhere else on Earth.

But not for the first time, his foes had underestimated Glazer’s determination. He first emerged as a United shareholder in late 2003, with a stake of 3 per cent. Thereafter, events moved rapidly. Within a year he had launched a first bid that was rejected by the board, but his shareholding had risen to well over 20 per cent.

In May 2005 he struck a deal to buy the 29 per cent in United owned by two Irish businessmen, giving him 57 per cent and outright control. Inside two months, Glazer had mopped up the remainder, in a series of transactions that ultimately valued the club at over £800m, or $1.4bn. He then appointed three of his sons to the club’s board: Avram, Bryan and Joel – the last named, apparently, a United supporter and widely believed to be the driving force behind the deal.

The once unthinkable had happened. An upstart outsider had bought the world’s most famous football club. Adding insult to injury, Glazer had borrowed $850m to finance the deal – money that would be partly repaid by increased revenues, generated in large part by higher prices for tickets, kit and United souvenirs.

In its way, his road to United was even stranger than the one that had led Roman Abramovich, the Russian oil tycoon, to purchase Chelsea, United’s domestic rival, two years before. Glazer was the son of a Lithuanian Jew who deserted from the Imperial Russian Army and set up a small watch-parts business in upstate New York. Malcolm was the oldest of seven children, who took over his family business at the age of 15, when Abraham Glazer died in 1943.

The first expansion was into property, when Glazer bought several trailer parks in the 1970s, mainly in Florida. In the succeeding years, he moved into new areas, including food processing and packaging, securities trading, oil and gas, and real estate – all controlled through the family holding company, First Allied Corporation. Among its interests was Zapata, the Texas oil and gas company founded in 1954 by the future President George H W Bush.

Glazer’s methods were not always pretty. He was said to be a brutal corporate raider; many critics pointed to his bitter, unseemly fight with his sisters over their mother’s $1m estate, when she died in 1980. Glazer himself put his achievements down to hard work: “Show me a successful businessman, and I’ll show you a person who works 80 hours a week.” In 2005, Forbes magazine listed him as America’s 258th richest man, with a net worth of $1.3bn.

Above all, perhaps, he abhorred publicity. His last interview was in the mid-1990s, after which he was rarely seen in the media. His diminutive stature and ginger beard earned him the nickname of The Leprechaun. One way and another, in short, Malcolm Glazer was the very antithesis of the high-profile modern American sports owner.

That, however, was what he was. In 1995 he bought the permanently underachieving Tampa Bay Buccaneers – popularly known as the “Yuccaneers” – for $192m, at the time the largest sum ever paid for a US sports team. Within eight years, the team had won the Super Bowl, and in 2005 Forbes put the Buccaneers’ worth at nearly $900m, making it the ninth most valuable franchise in the NFL. And even as he built up his stake in Manchester United, Glazer’s name was being linked with two baseball franchises, the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Those efforts failed, but the hugely controversial foray into English football did not.

In the event, the worst fears of his foes did not come to pass. In 2005/2006, the first season of the Glazer era, Manchester United finished second to Chelsea in the Premier League, while for all the threats of a fans’ boycott, attendances at Old Trafford broke new records. Moreover, despite the debt incurred through the takeover, the Glazer-controlled board seemed no less ready than its predecessor to spend money on the best players available.

And better was to come. In their second season under the ownership of the Glazer family, United reclaimed the title, finishing six points clear of Chelsea. With the redoubtable Alex Ferguson at the helm, they went on to dominate the domestic scene, taking the top spot for four of the five following seasons, despite the perennial challenge from Stamford Bridge – and the emergence of their freshly minted “noisy neighbours”, Manchester City. A Champions League title came in 2008, again at the expense of Chelsea.

Nevertheless, despite the team’s triumphs, Glazer never set foot inside Old Trafford – and the feeling persisted in many quarters that the club would be engaged in a battle for its soul so long as the Glazers remained. An early (and lasting) testament to this disaffection is the well-supported FC United of Manchester, a semi-professional club formed in 2005 by supporters opposed to the takeover. Seemingly, though, the most serious challenge to the Glazers’ tenure came in spring 2010, when a consortium of wealthy, well-connected Manchester United fans – going under the banner of the Red Knights and including the Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill – put together proposals for a takeover bid. Later that year, however, the plans were shelved.

Glazer had been ill for some time, after having suffered two strokes in 2006 which left him with limited mobility and impaired speech. It was at this point that Joel and Avram, as co-chairmen, took over the day-to-day running of the club – and so little is expected to change at Old Trafford, at least in the immediate future.

Malcolm Irving Glazer, businessman: born Rochester, New York 25 August 1928; married 1960 Linda (five sons, one daughter); died Rochester 28 May 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there