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Why the marriage between the ‘chippy leprechaun’ and Manchester United was a terrible mismatch

Even by the low standards of football singing, a song that often reverberate around Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground is downright vile and cruel.

“He’s going to die, he’s going to die, Joel Glazer is going to die. We don’t know how we kill him. Cut him up from head to toe. All I know is that Glazer is going to die.”

It would be shocking enough if this mantra were directed at an opposing player or manager. But the object of the fans’ hatred is a member of the family who owns their club.

No wonder Mr Glazer, 55, and his 62-year-old brother Avram, his co-chairman, almost always watch the team from the safety of their mansions in America rather than risk venturing into the stadium.

Their decision, announced on Tuesday, to consider the sale of the third most valuable football club in the world (after Real Madrid and Barcelona) is undoubtedly primarily financially motivated. Its value is estimated at £3.8 billion but could reach as high as £5 billion.

In a clan of entrepreneurs with profit margins etched into their DNA, this is usually the case.

But the shame heaped on the Glazers – from the day they first set foot in Old Trafford 17 years ago and were met with such vicious protest they had to be smuggled out in the back of a police van – is certain a contributing factor.

As English football becomes less of a sport and more of a global business, where success usually comes with investment, disgruntled fans often turn against their mega-rich owners. Consider Sports Direct mogul Mike Ashley, thick-skinned enough to endure years of booing and jeering before selling Newcastle United to the Saudis.

However, no Premier League owner has been despised for as long and as long as the Glazers. When the story was presented on BBC Radio 4’s Today program yesterday, even the show’s supposedly impartial host Nick Robinson, a self-confessed United fan, expressed his dissatisfaction.

“For sale: a football club, probably the most famous in the world. Condition: urgently needs love and attention. A carefree American family of owners,’ he said in a contemptuous tone. While the financial details are complex, the fundamental reasons why so many United fans despise the Glazers can be summed up succinctly.

To take full control of the club, once graced by Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law and so many other legendary names, they paid £790million. But once the deal was in place, backers were upset to learn it was a leveraged buyout – made with loans backing the Glazers against United’s assets.

Loans that left a huge debt burden on a club that had prided itself on being financially independent and had not had to borrow from creditors since 1931. Today that debt amounts to £500m, which consumes tens of millions of dollars in annual interest repayments.

In addition, the Glazers are being chastised for paying themselves too much dividends (they took out £11m last June, three months before United declared an annual loss of £115.5m), while praising those who own the club love, refuse to share in his future.

They are also accused of failing to upgrade the training facilities and 74,000-capacity stadium, parts of which are said to be leaking; and underspend on signing new players. In truth, some of this criticism is unfair. Although the Glazers have recently been estimated to have stolen more than £1billion from United during their tenure, for example, they have paid out at least that amount on new players – beating most of their rivals.

And although the team haven’t won a trophy in five long years, they were by far the most decorated member of the Premier League’s elite until Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager in 2013. But as is so often the case when it comes to England’s new national religion, the Glazers’ tarnished image often clouds reality.

Seen from the stands, they are seen as greedy, remote, profit-seeking Americans who have hijacked a club steeped in honor and tradition for their own ends. Losing United’s place at the top of the English game to local rivals Manchester City has further tarnished the owners’ reputation.

As the first British journalist to research the Glazers’ background, I quickly concluded that the marriage between the powerful Man United and this eccentric US family was a terrible disparity.

It was an insight based on the observations of those who knew Glazer’s history inside out.

Take for example Marcia Shapiro, a late sister of patriarch Malcolm Glazer, who carried out the takeover and ran the club until he had a stroke and ceded control to his sons.

Looking ahead, she warned that her brother would have little respect for United’s legacy, let alone the fans, telling me he would “buy players, sell players, raise ticket prices and do whatever makes him money”.

She warned that even the fearsome Ferguson would be taken down, adding, “There’s always been an expression in our family, ‘It’s Malcolm’s way or the highway. He can take on the world.’

With his spiky auburn beard, scruffy clothes and habit of tying his pants high up at the waist, Malcolm Glazer, who died in 2014 at the age of 85, was the most unlikely football mogul imaginable.

In the city of Rochester, New York, where he grew up, he earned the nickname Leprechaun because of his gimpy looks.

The fifth of seven children born to a Lithuanian-Jewish couple who emigrated to the United States, his father was a small-town jeweler and watchmaker.

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