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United CEO: Only small minority oppose Glazers

April 23, 2013

LONDON (AP) — As the trophies keep coming for Manchester United, including a record-extending 20th English league title, the green-and-gold protests have disappeared back into a sea of red.

Many United fans have opposed the Glazer family since they bought the club in 2005, for years showing their disdain for the Americans by wearing green-and-gold scarves in honor of the club’s original colors. But after five Premier League championships and one Champions League title, those angry voices are being silenced and the red is returning to Old Trafford.

And one of the biggest reasons for the change has been the arrival of Robin van Persie.

“It’s the quality of the owners (that matters),” Manchester United chief executive David Gill said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “And I think (the Glazers) have definitely demonstrated that since they have taken over, they have shown that what happens on the pitch is crucial to the club’s ambitions off it.”

Three years ago, many matches were marred by protests, mainly because of the club’s huge debt. But United has slashed the debt, brought in Van Persie from Arsenal and overcome defending champion Manchester City to win its 20th league title with four games to spare.

And on Monday, it was Van Persie that sealed the deal, scoring all three goals in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa to secure the title for the 13th time since manager Alex Ferguson joined the club.

Some fans, however, are still not satisfied with the Glazers, who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“There are still a small number of dissenters and they will always be there and they have had long held views which they are not going to change. We respect those,” Gill said. “Ultimately, someone has to own the club.”

Responding to criticism about their ability to spend heavily on players, the Glazers paid 24 million pounds ($36 million) to sign Van Persie last August despite being injury-prone.

Gill said the team has proved it can — and will — invest in new players.

“But having said that, there will be a very small minority, MUST (the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust), who will always retain their own views,” said Gill, who will be leaving his job as chief executive at the end of the season to try to win a vote on UEFA’s executive committee.

It’s not just on the field where United is thriving, with the team’s shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange at $17.73 on Tuesday after a lackluster opening on the market at $14 in August.

In part using the proceeds of the flotation, United’s debt has been cut in half in the past three years to 366.6 million pounds ($558 million), according to the latest financial results. United also recently forecast record revenue this season of at least 350 million pounds ($533 million) thanks largely to its ability to attract an array of global sponsors.

But the pockets of animosity in Manchester meant that the Glazers couldn’t celebrate the trophy success on Monday night with the fans, instead heading back to the United States.

“They get the personal enjoyment,” Gill said. “Are they going to drink or anything like that? I wouldn’t think they’d worry about that. The important thing is there’s really no ego about them. They operate behind the scenes here, they don’t walk around saying ‘We own the club.’

“They are very mindful of the traditions and the history of the club and people ... clearly if you own an asset and it comes up with winning a 20th title, it’s unbelievable.”

It’s a far cry from last May when United was denied the title on the final day of the season on goal difference by neighbor Manchester City, which has become a force since being taken over by the Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheik Mansour in 2008.

“I’m sure they’ll come back. They’ve got some ambitious plans on their investment and their academy,” Gill said of City. “That’s what the excitement of the Premier League is. I’m sure all the clubs who missed out this season will be doing business in the summer — as we will be — with a view to come back all guns blazing next year.”

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Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris

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