Having famously stated “Debt is the road to ruin” David Gill was once a staunch opponent of the Glazer take over of Manchester United. In August 2004 the American family's financial state and proposed business model was put to the sword in rather public fashion much to the delight of the United faithful. Over $850m of debt was to be put upon the club, a huge outlay that was to be backed by seemingly never ending debt repayments. It was an investment strategy widely panned in and outside the club, and Gill as finance director had the best position to see the damage that it could cause. Then something changed.
In 2005, Gill was appointed Chief Executive of the Glazer's new private limited company 'Manchester United ltd'. All of a sudden on board with the vessel he had so vehemently damned. The Glazer family had not rid themselves of debt, nor revised their investment strategy greatly before this appointment. Gill did however receive a 60% pay rise in the three years following the takeover though, but surely that wasn't a factor.
Much is made of the relationship between Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson, a Caymen Island double act that has overseen four Premier League titles, three League Cups, one European Cup, one Club World Cup and an FA Cup since 2003. Fergie's touching admiration for a man he refereed to as his boss on a number of occasions has thankfully born some rare positive PR for the Scot in light of recent indiscretions. Then again, If a man can't be positive about he who facilitated the purchases of Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and the summer coup of Robin van Persie then when can he?
Fergie was suitably saddened by the loss of Gill as the realisation sunk in that he may no longer be allowed to get what he wants, when he wants it. “We have had a million arguments, but I have always enjoyed them because I know that David has two great qualities: he is straight and he always puts Manchester United first." It is not much of a stretch to believe that the 42% increase in ticket pricing since the Glazer take over and international banking methods didn't fall into those arguments.
Both issues are somewhat hard to play off as putting the club first. Punishing the fans for the financial burden welcomed in 2005 while filling your pockets at the same time. Gill has been facilitating a morally ambiguous ownership structure that has seen repayment of an American family's debt a priority and the fans as a source of income.
Gill was an excellent middle man between a fiercely competitive manager and the clubs distant owners. Shown in no more telling circumstance than the rapid movement of funds needed to facilitate the deadline day moves for Rooney in 2004 and Berbatov in 2008. He was the stable half of a double act that was crucial to the survival of the United brand. Whereas the Mayfair based offices of the club's commercial branch readied successions of lucrative contracts in order to levy the Glazers burden, Gill was always to be based in Manchester. It was a task of making sure the success on the field continued in such a way that outside investment in the brand seemed as risk free as possible for investors. Success as an investment showcase for a brand more than a club.
“Him stepping down is a big loss to me but the fact that he is staying on the board encourages me that the reason for his departure is heartfelt, that he believes it is time for the club to move on. If I could have found a way of persuading him to stay I would love to have done that.”
Thankfully all is not lost for Ferguson as Gill is remaining on the board of the club while running for a post on UEFA's executive committee. Working to improve the world status of a club while distancing yourself from the actual game of football of course being the most ethical decision available it would seem. Gill was no doubt successful, and no doubt the right man to be behind Fergie the last 10 years. He was however a man that never won back the Manchester United Supports Trust group after the U-turn of 2005 and a man that accepted crippling debt being laid on the club for a lucrative job offer. Gill indeed has always put United first as Fergie has commented, it is just unfortunate that since 2005 it has always been Manchester United the private limited company and not Manchester United Football Club.