Manchester United chief executive David Gill today declared he would continue to snub fan groups who were “at war with the owners”.
Gill leapt to the defence the Glazer regime at Old Trafford, insisting the Americans had made United stronger since their 2005 takeover and claiming the debt they had saddled on the club had had “no impact” on lex Ferguson’s ability to buy players.
The United board have refused to enter into dialogue with groups such as the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA), who are fundamentally opposed to the Glazers’ ownership.
This policy was challenged today by a House of Commons Select Committee as part of a wider inquiry into football governance, with Gill asked whether he was simply avoiding engaging with those who disagreed with him.
But he was unmoved, saying: “If we’re going to be castigated for not speaking to one or two groups who have particular, very clear agendas, then so be it.
“We’ll take the castigation.”
Gill was adamant United did respect the opinions of their fans and held forums with them three to four times a year to gauge – and often act upon – their concerns.
“We’d be naive and stupid if we didn’t understand what the fans think, what they want, and reflect that in our business policy,” said Gill, who insisted he had no problem with MUST and IMUSA members attending such forums as individual United supporters.
But he added: “At the same time, we’re not going to engage in structured dialogue with organisations like that.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate or sensible.
“They’re at war with the owners.”
Dismissing the rebels as “domestic” supporters, Gill said: “We’ve done studies that show we have 333 million followers around the world.
“Not everyone hates the owners.
“When we first went public in 1991, a lot of fans didn’t like the club at that time.
“They loathed the Edwards family.”
Their current enmity is centred largely on the issue of United’s ownership being leveraged by debt, for which the club pay annual interest in the region of £45m (€52.2m).
Critics argue that is money which could otherwise be spent on players or reducing ticket prices at Old Trafford.
“There’s been no impact in terms of our transfers,” said Gill, who insisted any extra spending power United might have if debt-free was offset by the additional revenue streams the Glazers had tapped into.
Claiming United’s debts were perfectly serviceable, he added: “The £45m, if that wasn’t there, that would be better in some respects.
“But, at the same time, it’s not hampered us developing the club.
“Our net spend on players since the owners took over is greater than it was in the five or six years before that.”
Gill also defended the Glazers’ unwillingness to communicate directly with the fans, saying: “The owners have delegated that to myself, the team we have, Alex Ferguson.
“I can give you other examples where owners have not spoken directly to the fans.”
However, giving evidence at the same inquiry, Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn questioned whether a wall of silence from a foreign owner was productive.
He said: “People don’t know how the Glazers actually feel deep down in their hearts about when a referee makes a bad decision.
“Do they go home really fed up after a game like we all do? Or are they taking a call from the golf course wondering how the team got on today?”
Gill, who watched Barclays Premier League leaders United suffer hugely damaging defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool in the past week, retorted: “I can ensure the committee that our owners had a very bad week.”
Gill was also criticised for the club’s handling of Wayne Rooney’s transfer request earlier this season.
The United chief was accused of “rewarding bad behaviour” by handing the England striker a pay rise following his threat to quit the club.
“I don’t think it’s particularly outrageous,” said Gill, who insisted the saga had not served to encourage players and agents to demand ever-more astronomical wages.
“We’ve done deals with certain players recently and the impact of what we paid Wayne never came up.
“I don’t think we should hone in on Wayne Rooney is this particular situation.”