Some will view Manchester United Football Club's announcement of the takeover offer from Malcolm Glazer as confirmation of the sickness at the heart of football. That an American tycoon, who has shown little interest in United's matches, could acquire one of the world's most distinguished clubs has led to laments in some quarters for a simpler era when clubs were kept afloat by fans and local benefactors, and commercialisation was unheard of.
A group of United fans who own shares in the club has vowed to see off Mr Glazer, just as they saw off Rupert Murdoch's advances five years ago. This time, though, they are unlikely to be helped by the Monopolies Commission. The biggest difficulty for Mr Glazer, who already owns almost 20 per cent of the club, will be to persuade other major shareholders to sell up.
United's fans have a right to question whether Mr Glazer is right for their club, but it is naive of them to reject commercialisation. Manchester United has been a public limited company since 1991. In that time, it has ruthlessly exploited its brand name and business potential to become one of the wealthiest and most successful clubs in the world. But as a public limited company, owned by shareholders, it is liable to be taken over.
There are undoubtedly problems with the way football is run. Agents take suspiciously large sums from transfers. Clubs often accumulate irresponsible debts to pay players' inflated wages. But the commercialisation of football in the past 10 years has also delivered huge benefits. The English Premiership is immensely exciting and attracts some of the best players in Europe. Most cities boast a first-rate stadium and more people enjoy football than ever. That magnates like Roman Abramovich and Malcolm Glazer want to get involved is a testament to English football's success.
Traditionalists should not lose heart. Fans still retain a large degree of power. If they did not pass through the turnstiles, buy the replica shirts, or watch their team on television, the clubs would disintegrate. And there is a paradox at the heart of the modern game. Football is a rich man's sport, but money can never guarantee success. It is for that element of unpredictability that people will carry on watching, and continue to care about the result.
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