Ahead of Manchester United’s home game to Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League – a competition manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is determined to win –an in-depth survey of United supporters has revealed a deep level of dissatisfaction with the club’s owners.
Almost 10,000 United fans – both match-going and non match-going fans – were surveyed over a six week period until late-September by MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust).
According to the survey, 86 per cent of respondents were "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the team’s performance since 2013, when Alex Ferguson left the club, though there was more qualified satisfaction with performances under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This was done before September’s downturn in results.
Over 91 per cent were "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the management of the club by the Glazers and their staff, while 70 per cent were "dissatisfied" with investment in the squad (either net spend or quality) in the six-year period, though satisfaction improved in the last transfer window when United signed Aaron Wan Bissaka, Daniel James and Harry Maguire.
The levels of dissatisfaction were noticeably higher for younger respondents aged below 40. A 40-year-old fan would have been aged 14 when United won the league title in 1993 after a 26-year wait. For younger fans, success was largely sustained until 2013.
Looking ahead at the likelihood of positive action, 72 per cent have some level of confidence that there is a clear vision and strategy after a "culture reset" at the club.
That has seen a change in recruitment and increased funding of the youth system, though less than 40 per cent of fans surveyed are confident that the required changes will be fully funded.
Meanwhile, less than 25 per cent are confident that the football operation will be led by qualified football appointees with the authority to deliver. This relates to whether United will appoint a director of football.
Fans are also concerned that there will be no significant investment in the stadium and the infrastructure in the next two to three years following a decline in the stadium and infrastructure.
The stock of the Glazer family has never been high among fans but it is especially low when performances and results are poor as they have been for much of 2019. Those fans surveyed cited concerns of the owners taking money out of the in debt club.
United are adamant that the debt levels are manageable and that the focus is success in football with everything else coming second. But there is a feeling among respondents that the club is run on commercial and business priorities rather than the football operation and fan-focused issues.
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MUST are independent of the club but have a strategy to engage with club directors to address the concerns and needs of supporters. In a recent interview, the club’s deputy vice chairman Ed Woodward stressed the need to improve communication with supporters.
The fans surveyed wanted the creation of a collective supporter share in the club which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
There are non-United specific angles to the survey with strong opposition to early proposals from Uefa for the European Clubs Association (ECA) for the creation of a European Super League. United are understood not to be in favour of anything which fundamentally damages the Premier League.
The MUST survey notes that “since the survey was conducted there has been a series of media and other briefings including the recent detailed and challenging (Ed Woodward) interview with the United We Stand fanzine.
"Through those channels there has been a clearer articulation of the vision, the ‘culture reset’ and the changes in the structure of the football operations relating to transfers to help deliver it, as well as some acknowledgement of past mistakes and commitments to improve communications with supporters. Many supporters have not seen these – we will press for mechanisms to share the key messages more widely.
“Clearly many supporters will remain to be convinced but on balance we think the changes that have been put in place must be given some time to deliver.
"The owners and the club must then be held to account for the structural changes and appointments that have been made and will be judged by progress and results over the rest of this season and in particular by the outcome of the January transfer window. The manager has to be backed by both club and supporters to deliver with a strengthened squad.
“However, the underlying issue that concerns supporters most is the ownership structure of the club and the money that has been systematically removed both directly (through fees and dividends) and indirectly (through the earlier imposition and subsequent servicing of debt).
"Without those burdens, the long and painful decline of the team and our club would never have happened. Critically for the future, we have yet to see formal assurances on necessary funding to deliver the vision for either the playing squad or the stadium.”