Ian Herbert: Numbers coming out of Manchester United show landscape is changing under the Glazers' ownership. Maybe it's time for a truce?

The alternative course of non-engagement with the American owners is now hopeless

It requires a deep intake of breath to tell any Manchester United fans to put away their war with the Glazers. The loathing for those people is as indelible as the lamp post stickers on the approach roads to Old Trafford. "Love United, Hate Glazers," they state, in red and black ink, because the club's owners have bled the club of £600m, give or take a few million, in interest repayments, lawyers' fees and refinancing costs – the sum total of which has seen United disappear into the rear-view mirrors of Bayern Munich and Barcelona since they were crowned Champions League winners in Moscow five years ago.

The Glazers would have to answer for their sleight of hand, too, if a truth and reconciliation commission on their eight years at Old Trafford were held tomorrow. They have not submitted themselves to so much as a moment's personal accountability, so were able to backslide on the promise to put the proceeds of their putative Singapore Stock Exchange Initial Public Offering (IPO) into the club – a pledge which had mysteriously vanished when they repackaged the offer for the New York Stock Exchange two years back. One of the supporters who has led the battle to drive the Glazers out of the club once described competing with Manchester City whilst haemorrhaging debt payments as akin to driving a racing car full of concrete whilst up against a vehicle kitted out with extra powers of acceleration.

But the numbers coming out of United are telling us that the landscape is changing. The club's recent first quarter results confirmed the sense that the debt repayments are now manageable, with financial analyst Andy Green's typically shrewd reading of the figures charting the reduction in the annual cost of paying for the debt from £72m three years ago, to around £20m now. That's the equivalent to flogging off a Marouane Fellaini each season rather than a Cristiano Ronaldo, even though a residual debt of about £280m remains. The Glazers staked the club to buy the club and, somehow, have managed it. They have avoided the car-crash endgame of the Tom Hicks/George Gillett leveraged buyout at Liverpool, with chartered accountants' liquidity warnings and the Royal Bank of Scotland imposing executives to get them out in 2010.

The evidence grows that United have moved from a position of survival to one of expansion. This newspaper's revelation in August that they were seriously involved in an attempt to beat Real Madrid to buy Gareth Bale was one piece of that picture. United will seek to buy one of the world's top players next summer – a move which is based on the fact that winning the Premier League means far more than finishing third, when it comes to commercial deals, as well as broader merchandise and marketing spin-offs.

The club is also awakening to the value of engaging with supporters. This is not an altruistic exercise, it should be said. United's new chief executive, Ed Woodward, looks longingly at the Bundesliga match-day model, in which fans who love the club as well as the team flock to the stadium, buy far much more than their match ticket and generate an atmosphere he would die for. He wants the world to see that kind of compact between fans and club at Old Trafford, too, because of the picture it projects. How much superior a brand image than the perennial sense of suspicion and anti-corporatism that washes around social media every time a new high-profile United sponsorship deal is in the bag.

For those many fans set implacably against the owners who have stolen into their club and mortgaged it, the very idea of engagement is anathema – and that is why the Manchester United Supporters' Trust (Must) and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (Imusa) found themselves in complex territory, after Woodward sought meetings with them both, bringing an end to the ostracisation both groups faced during the David Gill/Sir Alex Ferguson years. Parties to both meetings have committed to confidentiality, though it is hard to avoid the impression that Woodward has given a deeply compelling sense of his own commitment to engage with them. Must argues that the ownership culture Woodward now seeks must be a two-way street, involving a component of fan ownership. It wants the Glazers' next share offering to include a component of shares that supporters may buy, with the proceeds ring-fenced for Bundesliga-style rail seats – a step towards an Old Trafford safe-standing section.

The understandable cynicism borne of the Glazer years led to criticism of Must's proposal from some quarters, when it was reported on these pages two weeks ago, and to observe the blizzard of hostility blowing the Trust's way was akin to viewing the response when the combatants of a war begin petitioning for peace. Must is too inured to the Glazers' ways to be too idealistic about this being anything other than a false dawn. The biggest unknown is how much sway Woodward actually has to persuade the Americans that fans should be permitted to own a share in the club. But the alternative course of non-engagement is, literally, hopeless. The Glazers will not be swept out of Old Trafford now. Their financial position is too secure to allow an insurrection to drive them away.

Week by week, we garner evidence of some extraordinarily disenfranchised supporters in Britain – forced by despotic foreign owners to swallow a change of colours, manager, name and, in the extraordinary case of Hull City's Assem Allam at the weekend, told that "they can die as soon as they want". Some of these proprietors actually make life with the Glazers look like a picnic. To begin engagement and secure minimal ownership at least creates the possibility of something meaningful happening at United. After a decade of nothing that must count for something.

Hearn seems to hold all the cards for Froch/Groves II

I didn't catch Garry Richardson's interview of Carl Froch on the BBC's Sportsweek until several days after the event. Froch's confident, isn't he? Not far away from Chris Eubank, as talkative boxers go, and to hear Richardson's typically adroit sparring with him – politely but deftly pushing things as far they would go – made for some more excellent sport.

It was when Richardson raised the prospect of a rematch with George Groves that Froch cut up rough, archly declaring that it was his promoter Eddie Hearn's decision whom and where he fought. Froch neglected to say that Hearn is Groves' promoter too – a fact that makes the controversy surrounding the way the last fight finished feel like a contrivance, whipping up the pay-day for a next contest.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little