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Man United thriving under US owners?

12 May 2015, 10:03

London - The 10th anniversary of Manchester United being bought up by American investors will pass on Tuesday without champagne corks popping at the club or fan protests on the streets. The mood in the boardroom is one of relief: Champions League revenue will flow into Old Trafford once again in 2015-16 after this season's absence from Europe's top competition.

The Glazer family's financial blueprint for English football's biggest club has succeeded on and off the field following a takeover that burdened the club with debt and was contingent on ongoing success.

But foreign ownership has been a more sobering experience for the other Premier League teams bought by American investors in the last decade, with scrapes against relegation or unfulfilled aspirations at upper echelons of the Premier League.

- Arsenal is without a Premier League title after four years under Stan Kroenke, with only one FA Cup trophy collected in a decade of mediocrity by recent standards.

- Derby and Fulham were both relegated in the first season under American ownership and have yet to return to the Premier League.

- At Aston Villa and Sunderland, cash has been hemorrhaged with little to show for it, as both are fighting to avoid dropping into the second tier.

- And perhaps the most tumultuous team run by Americans, Liverpool, has gone through two sets of owners since 2007.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. came close to bankrupting Liverpool but also came close to winning the Premier League and Champions League. John Henry's Fenway Sports Group did rescue Liverpool in 2010 and stabilized its finances, but the little-regarded League Cup in 2012 has been the only addition to the trophy cabinet.

A runner-up finish in 2014 and the return to the Champions League was followed by a letdown and a likely fifth-place finish this season. The latest published accounts revealed a 50 million-pound (then $83 million) loss in 2013-14, and the transfer market has proved challenging for Fenway, also the parent company of the Boston Red Sox.

On Henry's watch, the 19-time champion's place at the top of English football has been surrendered to United, which won a record 20th title in 2013 before Alex Ferguson's retirement.

United is set to generate around $600 million in revenue this financial year, and the business is now valued at more than $3 billion - about double what Malcolm Glazer paid for it in 2005. The team, though, is not for sale - unlike Aston Villa which was put on the market in a highly-public manner by Randy Lerner.

Villa had the eighth-highest wage bill in the topflight last year while losing more than $75 million. It is currently 14th, only four points above the drop zone with two games to go, and the search for a new buyer has floundered.

At Sunderland, Ellis Short's seven-year reign has seen seven different managers in the Stadium of Light dugout and little to show for the $300 million-plus spent on players.

"We have not made the progress that any of us had hoped for," Short said after firing Gus Poyet in March. The northeast club's Premier League status remains in jeopardy with only a two-point cushion from the relegation zone.

Returning to the elite has proved challenging for Fulham and Derby.

Derby already was heading for the drop when a Detroit consortium bought the central England team in 2008. It finally looked poised to gain promotion back to the topflight this month before a late-season collapse left the club facing another year in the second tier.

Shad Khan arrived in a blaze of publicity at Fulham in July 2013, but the owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars has found it tough running an English football team.

After 16 years on the rise under Mohamed Al Fayed - from gaining promotion to the topflight to reaching a European Cup final - the London club plummeted into the League Championship before Khan reached his first anniversary.

It's a stark contrast to the success of the Glazers, who have seen United collect every major title in club football and seen the club stabilize its finances as well.

Even the Manchester United Supporters' Trust begrudging acknowledged on Monday: "Things are undoubtedly beginning to look positive again in 2015 ... it's just a shame we had to go through all the pain and waste of the last decade."

- AP


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