Updated: Wednesday, 12th August 2020 @ 4:05pm

My Big Mouth: Should Manchester United fans care if the club lists in Singapore?

My Big Mouth: Should Manchester United fans care if the club lists in Singapore?

By Tom Midlane

This week news percolated through that the Glazer family have got the green light to float Manchester United on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Which begs the question: Is this something that should concern United fans? Or just an obscure financial transaction with no bearing on the playing side of the football club?

Sir Alex Ferguson has repeatedly praised the Glazers for letting him get on with the job and, for all the huff-and-puff of the green and gold brigade, for many fans the questions surrounding the ownership and governance of the club are an irrelevance. As long as United keep winning, the argument goes, does it matter who owns the clubs or what financial manoeuvres they pull?

But surely it does matter. The move to float 25-30% of the club on the Singapore Stock Exchange serves to underline what superclubs like United have become: a global commodity, to be leveraged, restructured and refloated according to the whims of their megrich owners. The Glazers bought United for one reason and one reason only: to make money.

Gone are the days of local owners, eccentric businessmen who had a foot in their community. The Glazer family, though, seem a different proposition to benefactors like Chelsea's Roman Abramovich and City's Sheikh Mansour, who have ploughed more money into their playthings than they could ever hope to get back.

What can't be argued with is how effectively the Glazers have turned an already highly-profitable United into a ruthless money-making machine. Monetising new areas, such as the recent £40m tie-up with DHL to sponsor their training kit, and a series of lucriative corporate "partnerships" helped the club record operating profits of £110.9m last year. According to the Deloitte Football Money League, United are the third-richest club in the world.

But a precursory look at United's books shows that this is still an operation built on a mountain of debt. The interest on the loans the Glazers used to buy the club still clocks in at over £50m per year, which hits United directly in the pocket. Although no-one could argue with Ferguson's shrewdness in acquiring Ashley Young and Phil Jones (both for fees in the region of £16m), United can no longer truly compete with City and Chelsea when it comes to paying transfer fees and wages.

Sir Alex assures fans that the Glazers have never said no when he's asked for a player, but United’s net spend compared to their rivals is miniscule. When it came to trying to sign Samir Nasri this summer, United's contract offer was simply blown out of the water by free-spending City.

So, why are United floating in Singapore? For all the talk of the modern-day United being a "global brand", the truth is likely more simple. Firstly, Singapore is far away enough to mean they'll be no protests, as there would be in London (the Glazers delisted from the London Stock Exchange in 2005), and secondly, they have an inkling they’ll get be able to command a higher share price there.

It's certainly not a risk-free strategy though, and Singapore's investors might well ask themselves why they are being sold an English football club. Yes, United flog a lot of shirts in Asia, but as Nils Pratley, financial editor of The Guardian, has pointed out: "Successful branded goods companies tend to retain, and nurture, strong roots at home – that's part of the brand's appeal.”

Will listing on the Singapore Stock Exchange water down United's English heritage? Probably not - the Busby Babes, the Munich Air Crash, Charlton, Best and Law ensure that United will forever be tied to Manchester. As long as United continue to perform on the pitch, the operation looks stable, but a couple of poor seasons following the retirement of Alex Ferguson, and the situation could get a whole lot stickier.