United traditions to survive in Glazer empire - at a price

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The Independent Football

After a week in which he and his brothers Bryan and Avi have had to be escorted from Old Trafford under police protection, Joel Glazer, 38, finally spoke to the people who have opposed his family's acquisition of United most vociferously. His 36-minute interview with MUTV was the first serious attempt by the family to make peace with militant supporters and he admitted the Glazers had been "embarrassed" by the turmoil their £790m takeover had caused.

But first there was a charge-sheet to answer about the American's plans for United. While he denied many of the charges, there was little - other than the raising of ticket prices - to explain how he expected to raise profits to meet a debt of at least £540m. Ticket prices, he conceded, were "never a good situation" but he did not answer in detail suggestions that they would rise by 54 per cent by 2010.

"This club's ticket prices will always be competitive with other ticket prices in the Premier League," the American said. "We are not looking to out-price the supporters because if you do that you have lost the life blood of this club."

On transfer budgets, Joel rejected claims that United would be limited to £20m a year and cited the whirlwind £27m signing of Wayne Rooney last summer as the kind of flexibility that United would employ. Sources at United have suggested that money would be made available for at least one more big transfer after the arrival of Edwin van der Sar and Park Ji-Sung. "Nobody was more excited last year when the club signed Wayne Rooney than us but if that situation arises again this club will be in a position to go after that player," Joel said. "We know players love to play here and this club will be in a position to do that absolutely."

Joel also brushed aside allegations that Old Trafford would be sold and leased back as "absolutely ridiculous" and used the same phrase to dismiss any change in the United badge or colours. He laughed off suggestions that Sir Bobby Charlton, a member of the club's honorary board, would be dismissed, and repeated what he had told the Premier League that there would be no change in the collective television rights selling. However, Joel's declaration that "nothing will change" along with his faith in "the most wonderful" Sir Alex Ferguson and the "tremendous" chief executive David Gill will puzzle those who want to know how the Glazers will drive up profits to meet debt repayments. The brothers met Ferguson at the club's training camp in Portugal on Thursday although the Scot has already spoken to them by telephone more than once before this week.

After they were chased out of Old Trafford in a police van on Wednesday it will come as a surprise to many supporters that the Glazers, Joel said, regard themselves as the "stewards" of United while the "owners" are the supporters. "The fans are the owners of the club and we are restorers of the club and it's great history and tradition."

If Joel had stretched the credulity with remarks about the "goosebumps" he felt walking round United's museum - not to mention the power of the club to bring "tears" to people's eyes - then it was his attitude towards the fans' protests that seemed most unlikely. "That's what part of the attraction is, the passion, how much people care about. While it's frustrating to see and it's difficult to see - and I encourage my wife not to read the newspapers - it's what comes along with it.

"We are traditionalists, we like to carry on traditions and we will continue to do that. We don't like what's happened over the last several months and we are embarrassed that we have caused a lot of this to happen and we apologise for that and apologise that we haven't been able to communicate directly. But within time people will realise that our interests are the same as their interests."

Apart from the ambushing of the Glazer visit by United fans, their introduction into the life of the club has been tightly controlled, right down to the official release of a picture of the brothers with Ferguson on Thursday night. Joel even went as far as to suggest that supporters would be "forgiving" of the new regime once they recognised that they were delivering a successful team.

Joel was clear that the £272m of their own money the Glazers have sunk into United on top of their original share-buying showed their commitment to the club they bought with £540m of debt. "A lot of businesses have debt," he said. "I can assure everybody that the [debt] structure that was put in place is a structure we're extremely comfortable with."

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