Bet your bottom dollar there’s only 100 Uniteds

GREETINGS from a most agreeable sunny spot off the west African coast, to which I have retreated during this current international break, courtesy of my now-emptied BetFair account. (“Put your money where you mouth is,” sneered email critics: Well, glad that I did — see previous columns!).

No proper football to report, just the witless Farrago of Ingerlund, which doesn’t qualify. And let’s hope they don’t either. But nature abhors a vacuum, and so it was that politicians rushed to fill it over the weekend.

Ten million “News of the World” readers on Sunday were treated to a canny full-page assault on the Glazers, courtesy of the Supporters Trust, who cunningly have roped British government minister Gerry Sutcliffe into the everlasting battle with football’s exploitative, monopolising owners.

Across your newsagent’s counter, a couple of million “Sunday People” readers got the counter blast: an “exclusive” interview with Joel Glazer, promising all the usual guff. You might recall this is the man who assured MUTV viewers of constant attendance at Old Trafford in his now famous takeover-day interview, so pardon us if we stock up on the sea salt, Joel.

He did drop one tantalising hint of something substantial, however, when he made some enthusiastic comments about the future of “soccer” in the USA and particularly name-checked David Beckham for his contribution.

Well, clearly that’s a reference to his ticket-selling effect rather than any footballing impact which, of course, simply makes the alarms bells ring even louder.

For we have long since had our cards marked here. “Red Issue” Fanzine has been running admonitory articles about United/US tie-ups for years, and broke the story that Beckham would leave Madrid for LA. The second half of that exclusive also claimed that Beckham had already been earmarked by United as an eventual “Old Trafford” Ambassador to the States, helping MUFC to build its brand there and climaxing in some kind of American version of United which would play in the MLS. The London “Daily Mirror” at the time swiftly lifted the piece and headlined it: “Man USA”.

But what makes me resuscitate the story? Not just Joel’s comments, but the confirmed news that West Ham’s new owners are actively seeking to do just that and other clubs are sniffing too. Chelsea, who snugly cosied up to Yank behemoths Disney, the Yankees and AEG, are widely reported in City circles to be prime candidates too — and one business source this week told us more massive upheaval is planned by the Blues, culminating in a move away from the Bridge to a new Emirates-style stadium.

Lurking behind all this is the forthcoming greatest issue of them all: TV rights. In a little-noticed move, ITV sold its last bit of MUTV last week, a further sign that the future of United’s media lies with its website, manutd.com, not its crappy TV station.

Meaning? Clubs like United are preparing the ground to be able to broadcast their own games live via broadband to a world pay-per-view internet audience; the middlemen such as the broadcasters and the current collective-rights holders will be treated as parasites and excised from the process.

No matter how often people like David Gill and Peter Kenyon publicly deny it, everyone knows this is how it will have to be — including the Glazers. This, after all, is the only way the brothers can turn the takeover deal to profitable advantage. And if you really want to “maximise a brand value” as the loathsome market-speak has it, you franchise-out internationally too.

That is what “Man USA” will be about — and all its little brothers globally too. A “Man United” in every Asian city, playing in the local leagues, gathering up local talent for the Old Trafford parent club to peruse, and with its own local TV deals. “There’s only one United” goes the song. Ha! One day, there’ll be a hundred. I’d put money on it...

* Richard Kurt’s “Red Army Years” is available only via redissuebooks@hotmail.co.uk

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