BIRKENHEAD, England — Even on a good day for Manchester United, the storm clouds are never far away.
For the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May 2013, the team hit six goals in a game by coasting to an FA Cup fourth-round victory at Tranmere Rovers, but there was only acrimony in the air as the United supporters once again vented their fury at the club’s owners, the Glazer family, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Anti-Glazer chants — “Love United, Hate Glazers” and “We Want Glazers Out” — have been aired sporadically ever since the Florida-based owners bought United in 2005, but those directed at Woodward — “He’s gonna die, Ed Woodward’s gonna die” — have taken the fury and anger to a whole new level.
“We’re just going to try and get the results right and keep working, move the club forward,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the game, when asked about the chanting. “Supporters are always happier when you’re winning games and when you’re successful, so we’ll just keep on working to get results.”
Neither the Glazers nor Woodward were at Prenton Park to witness Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players avoid a potential embarrassment against third-tier Tranmere by claiming an emphatic victory that secured a place in Monday’s fifth-round draw.
United had six different goal scorers, with two (Harry Maguire and Diogo Dalot) registering their first goals for the club. Phil Jones, meanwhile, added his name to the scoresheet for the first time since March 2014 when he headed Andreas Pereira‘s corner into the Tranmere net on 41 minutes.
But while this was a day of positives on the pitch — United were ruthlessly professional against their lowly opponents — it was one that also emphasised the growing discord in and around the club.
Beating Tranmere 6-0 may have offered a respite from the club’s recent form slump in the Premier League, where United have crashed to successive 2-0 defeats against Liverpool and Burnley, but nobody in the away end at Prenton Park (known locally as the Cowshed) was fooled into believing that a win against a team in the League One relegation zone offered a cure for all the club’s ills.
The fans who turned on Woodward and the Glazers during the recent home win against Norwich and the midweek defeat against Burnley at Old Trafford have not gone away. The Burnley result, when fans left in droves before the final whistle, was a tipping point for many, who blame the owners and Woodward for United’s post-Ferguson demise.
There are many reasons why. By borrowing against the club to complete their leveraged takeover of United, the Glazers plunged the club into over £350 million of debt and in excess of £800m has been spent on interest fees and dividends in the intervening 15 years.
Those numbers are the root cause of the ill feeling toward the Glazers, with fans seeing the money going out of the club as proof of the Americans’ desire merely to use United as a cash cow rather than a football club with the ambition to dominate domestically and in Europe.
Meanwhile, Woodward, who advised the Glazers on their takeover while working as an investment banker, has now become a lightning rod for the fans hostility, because he runs the club for the owners and United have, quite simply, been in a tailspin ever since he was promoted to that position in the summer of 2013.
United have spent almost £800m on new players on Woodward’s watch, but poor investment and the lack of a clear strategy has seen the club sack three managers since 2014. At the same time, United’s two bitter rivals, Manchester City and Liverpool, have become the powerhouses of English football, so it has become the perfect storm for Woodward and the Glazers.
The lack of incoming transfers in January, despite United announcing turnover of £630m in the last financial year, has lit the fuse of supporter anger and that will not melt away on the back of a comfortable win at Tranmere.
Back in 2010, when the so-called Green and Gold campaign against the Glazers reached its peak, the owners rode out the storm and there is no suggestion that there will be a different outcome 10 years on.
Insulated from the antipathy by being based in Tampa, Florida, the Glazers do not communicate with the United fan base or the media, so their intentions remain shrouded in mystery. Woodward is a more accessible target, with the director present at most games, but he is ultimately only answerable to the Glazers.
Words from the Glazers and/or Woodward are unlikely to make any difference to a group of supporters who have entrenched opinions of the men who run the club.
The only way the mood will change is if results improve on the pitch and, if United fail to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit against City in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semifinal second leg, the air of crisis will return.
Which is why winning at Tranmere offers nothing more than paper over the cracks.