Glazers see firsthand at Manchester United that history wins nothing
November 27, 2006 6:50pm CST
Overcoming a poor history can be tough in sports. Keeping a strong team consistently on top might be even harder. Malcolm Glazer and his sons pushed aside a history of franchise mediocrity when their Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the 2003 Super Bowl, a first in the team's 30-year history. But on Sunday, Joel and Bryan Glazer got a firsthand look at how hard it will be for their Manchester United team to recapture the English soccer league title in a competition it had dominated before they came along. This lesson: History doesn't win anything. Glazer put his sons on the board of directors to run the finances of United -- one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world -- after buying up most of the shares last year. He then took the club off the stock market, angering many United fans by borrowing money to purchase the Red Devils and effectively put a profitable club heavily into debt. Thousands of anti-Glazer fans still boycott games, but the 76,000-capacity Old Trafford sells out week after week. The Glazers rarely set foot in England, however, conducting board meetings with the club's other directors by trans-Atlantic video link. Sunday's 1-1 tie with defending champion Chelsea was the family's first appearance of the season, with Joel and Bryan sitting in the VIP box and watching their team throw away a chance to move six points ahead in the Premier League. If the Glazers went to Old Trafford more often, they might get a better idea of just what a commodity they have and what more they need to do to get United back to the top of English and European soccer. A year and a day after the death of George Best, the greatest player to pull on a Manchester United shirt, the Glazer brothers saw Best's father and son, Dickie and Calum, stand on the Old Trafford turf to receive a replica of the European Player of the Year trophy he won in 1968. It was a poignant reminder of Manchester United's impressive history. Best played under manager Matt Busby when the team won the 1968 European Cup, later to become the Champions League. That triumph came 10 years after Busby survived a plane crash at Munich airport in which eight of his players -- nicknamed the "Busby Babes" -- were killed. That young United team seemed set to dominate English soccer for years and may well have stopped Real Madrid from winning its five European Cups in a row in 1956-60. With Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, Busby eventually guided United to domestic and European triumphs. Current manager Alex Ferguson, who has been in charge since 1986, has won 19 major trophies for the Red Devils. Chelsea's arrival at Old Trafford on Sunday gave the United fans a chance to put the history of each club into perspective. Rival fans continually taunt the Chelsea followers about their decades of failure, especially the team's 50 years without a league title before manager Jose Mourinho came along three seasons ago. But the Glazers can't help but notice that Chelsea is making history right now -- with two runaway league titles in a row -- and there is serious doubt whether United can master the Blues on or off the field. Having put the club into debt, the Glazers can't complete with Chelsea billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who has spent more than $775 million of his personal fortune on the west London club. Sunday's game gave United a great chance to show it is capable of matching the Blues on the field. By halftime, with their team leading 1-0, Glazer and the United followers had good reason to believe that they would end the game six points ahead of Chelsea. But United didn't follow up its first-half dominance, allowing Chelsea to take control of the game in the midfield and score its second-half goal. The result kept United three points ahead of its biggest rival and left Mourinho crowing again, confidently suggesting that margin was virtually nothing and that a third straight title would be on its way to Stamford Bridge. A glance at the players sitting on the bench for Sunday's game explains why Chelsea has the advantage. Mourinho had attacking midfielder Joe Cole and winger Arjen Robben to call on while United, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer injured, didn't have a single offensive player. That's the Glazers' problem. They have saddled the club with enormous debt, but United still has to spend big to match Chelsea on the field. United's history means nothing if it can't compete in the present.