Brace yourself. A Yank has taken control of Manchester United, the richest, most storied football team not just in all of England but around the globe.
Yes, that kind of football, what we call soccer. And no, the Yankee owner in the middle of this increasingly hostile takeover is not George Steinbrenner, though right about now, the Brits would take King George in a New York minute. At least, they'd know what they were getting.
Instead, they're getting Malcolm Glazer, who already owns a football team in Tampa, Fla., even if few people on this side of the pond know it, and even fewer know much about him. Glazer was just another self-made millionaire when he paid $192 million to buy the Buccaneers in 1995, a record price for an NFL franchise at the time.
In the intervening years, he crossed the billion-dollar threshold Forbes magazine ranked Glazer as the 278th-richest American in 2004. But he's going to have to watch every penny after handing over $1.47 billion to get his arms around the 127-year-old institution that has become the most recognizable sports brand on the planet.
On Monday, Glazer informed the London Stock Exchange that he now owns 75 percent of the stock in Manchester United, a figure that enables him to take the fabled club private. Imagine some third-rate duke or earl buying the Yankees (for considerably less, it should be noted) and you get a sense of how the news is being received. During the 20 months Glazer spent amassing a controlling stake, he's been belittled in the media as a ''leprechaun,'' a ''know-nothing'' and the ''Great American Satan.''
Those references, however, sound positively glowing compared to the ones Glazer and his sons, who will oversee day-to-day operations at the club, have received from several of Manchester United's well-organized fan groups with the promise of more to come.
''I can't see that it's football to burn an effigy of a man that no one knows and has never met,'' said Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson, one of Glazer's few defenders.
Of course, the lack of familiarity hasn't stopped the campaign of intimidation, demonstrations and guerrilla tactics already under way, nor slowed a round of proposed boycotts already on the drawing board. They range from ridiculously polite, peculiarly English versions of a protest fans getting up repeatedly to use the bathrooms in the middle of home matches to threats of reprisal against any top United official who stays on to work for the Glazer family.
Exactly what Glazer has done to earn so much enmity is open to debate.
He's not the first foreigner to buy a Premier League team: Egyptian-born billionaire Mohammed Al Fayed, who owns Harrod's department store, also owns Fulham; and Russian oil baron Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea two years ago, and then, Steinbrenner-like, bought every player the Blues needed to win the league title in the season that ended Sunday. Besides, the coach of England's national team is Sven-Goran Eriksson, a Swede who made his mark in Italian football.
Glazer has done right by the Bucs. He turned the NFL's longest-running laughingstock into a Super Bowl champion in 2003, got a new stadium built in Tampa in 1998 and has sold every one of the 65,000-plus seats for every game since. He's also seen the value of his investment climb toward $700 million, six places below the NFL's most expensive franchise, the Washington Redskins, recently valued at $1.1 billion.
Those are hardly impressive credentials to supporters of a club that's won eight championships in the 13 seasons since the Premier League was formed, already boasts a sold-out stadium, a worldwide fan base upward of 50 million, and an annual balance sheet that would turn the Yankee pinstripes green with envy.
Therein lies the problem. By the time people over there are done doing the math, what they see is a club that was free from debt about to become heavily leveraged just to service its debt. Competing for players against Chelsea, backed by Abramovich's millions, and traditional rival Arsenal, whose revenues will skyrocket with a new stadium coming online, has become a problem. Doing it while burdened with the kind of debt Glazer is loading on the club has already loosened plenty of stiff upper lips.
''We don't want him here,'' said Sean Bones, speaking for a fans group called Shareholders United. ''He won't be given a chance. We don't like Malcolm Glazer, we don't like what he stands for.''
They have yet to find out exactly what that is, since the Glazers, in typical fashion, have divulged little about their plans. But no doubt they intend to earn a profit, which likely means applying the NFL's ruthlessly efficient management approach to find ways to squeeze more money from ticket, broadcasting and merchandising sales.
The Glazers will crush whatever remains of quaint English beliefs about football being ''the people's game.''
Even if they succeed, some Brits will be bothered by the fact that while Americans have yet to master their version of football, we're already better at running the front office.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.
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