If DeMbare were the Red Devils

With Darlington Majonga

HOW about Highlanders, or the financially crippled Dynamos for that matter, renaming themselves Manchester United?



-serif”>This has nothing to do with my passion for the Red Devils, but perchance American tycoon Malcolm Glazer might rather inject his fortune into the Zimbabwean football clubs.


Sorry folks, it’s only meant to be a joke though the self-inflicted desperation most Zimbabwean football clubs have plunged themselves into is no laughing matter.


The mogul they call Glazer (72) has got moolah, the English would say. In our vernacular, we would say ane zvinhu zvake. But the British are simply saying Glazer should keep his fortune to himself; he should, in simple terms, not be allowed to take control of Manchester United.


Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United has stirred a serious hubbub so much that the incensed Red Devils fans are planning to wear black to mourn what they see as the demise of the world’s richest club.


Some of us would wonder why the fans are so opposed to Glazer’s takeover of the English club at a time Russian Roman Abramovich’s oil money has seen Chelsea sending shivers down the spines at Old Trafford.

And thousands of miles away here in Zimbabwe, football clubs would just drool over the offer and wish they were the Red Devils.


There are grave concerns that Glazer would saddle United with debt, using the team to secure some £265 million of loans as part of his £790 million takeover price.


Most United supporters view the advent of Glazer as imperialist, for the American businessman is not a sport follower and has never attended a Red Devils match or any soccer fixture for that matter.


He is the same man who owns American football side Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but is said to have cheered for the opposing team during a rare match he attended.


Besides the Anglo xenophobia that Glazer is simply American, there are a lot of reasons the United fans don’t want Glazer, though it might sound trivial.

Glazer is said to have dubious personal qualities, which, according to various British papers, extend to rapaciousness, ruthlessness, meanness, megalomania, unflattering facial hair and a tendency to “wear his trouser waistband ludicrously high”.


Almost all of United’s over 50 million registered supporters simply hate Glazer, and they would do anything other than burning his effigy if that would reverse the deal in which the American now owns a controlling 75% stake.


One would wonder why Glazer is unperturbed by the resentment his takeover of United has elicited.


The reason is simple, and a pertinent lesson to all Zimbabwean football clubs.


There is no doubt the Manchester United brand is just irresistible. So luring is anything associated with the brand that Glazer won’t stop at anything that would derail his latest acquisition. Not even insults or violent protests.

How did the Red Devils do it?


Manchester United went public in the early 1990s, and investors scrambled for shares. Since then United have been a top-counter on the bourse.

While United benefited from their successful history and reputation on the pitch, sound management ensured the club’s commercialisation was successful. The club embarked on aggressive marketing tours to East Asia, selling more merchandise and courting lucrative deals with sponsors.


Today in all corners of Zimbabwe you would find a fan with a United jersey, while I have no doubt many of those who follow soccer in this country know more Red Devils players than they do Dynamos ones.


Although most local clubs might find the idea of listing on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange ludicrous, that is the right direction.


Dynamos seemed on the right track when Lloyd Hove and companys sought to list on the bourse just before the turn of the millennium. However, greed, selfishness and empty heads combined to scuttle that noble idea.

The main problem we have in this country is that most clubs are either community or individual-owned.


That is why we have witnessed resistance at clubs like Dynamos to move towards commercialisation because the protagonists would be more worried about who would line his pockets fatter.


Then we have individual owners like Delma Lupepe of Amazulu, Twine Phiri of Caps United and Eric Rosen of Motor Action. While their efforts are commendable, there is little doubt their coffers would dry soon if they don’t really commercialise their clubs in the true sense of the word.


The biggest problem with individual owners is that none of them has been willing to let other investors come on board, simply because they and themselves alone want to be known as the owner of such and such a club. It’s selfishness, or at worst misdirected greed.


It’s the same problems with the so-called community-owned clubs when not even anyone in Mbare or Mzilikazi benefits from the suburbs’ association with Dynamos and Highlanders respectively.


Simply playing football does not bring any returns, while gate-takings won’t even mean anything to the majority of premiership clubs because they don’t attract a substantial number of paying spectators.


Personal coffers like Lupepe might rely on will one day run dry, if that’s not already happening because Amazulu no longer have the flamboyance they had on their arrival in the premiership.


The other danger of individual owners can be best seen in the case of Hackney, formerly Mhangura, who died together with proprietor Cosmas Mudonga. It can happen to anyone, and we wouldn’t want to see Motor Action or Caps United collapsing in that fashion as well.


It would be refreshing to see Dynamos or Highlanders commercialising successfully on the strength of the clubs’ remarkable history. Why not have even Caps, Dynamos or Highlanders bottle stores, butcheries, salons or commuter omnibuses to start with?


With the popularity these clubs enjoy, honestly anyone would want to be associated with such brands. We can also talk of merchandise such as jerseys and other paraphernalia in the clubs’ colours.


This idea of going to the corporate world with begging bowls has got to stop forthwith. Instead, the big companies should literally beg to be associated with Highlanders, Dynamos or Njube Sundowns.


However, that just doesn’t happen with the kick of a ball.

All clubs ought to be run professionally, with clear structures in place. Every cent at the club has to be accounted for, while audited books have to be available at the end of each financial year.


Being professional doesn’t mean employing an unqualified person simply because of his association with the club, or worse still a specified person who hasn’t been rehabilitated.


The other important thing is for clubs such as Caps United and Motor Action to go beyond the “going professional” rhetoric and make their clubs self-sustainable. Let other investors come on board as well.


With professional, organised and clear structures no investor would doubt the potential returns a brand like Dynamos, Highlanders or Caps United would bring. An IPO from any such football club would surely create commotion on the stock market.


Then, maybe Glazer would also consider investing in Zimbabwean clubs. Or even Abramovich himself.


dmajonga@yahoo.com