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Senegal through but lose pair to suspension

By ESPN Staff

Glazers have been 'excellent', says Sir Alex

Malcolm Glazer's contentious ownership of Manchester United has received the full support of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The first seven months of Glazer's stewardship has been anything but smooth, bringing with it the loss of major shirt sponsors Vodafone and a financially-damaging early exit from the Champions League.

On the plus side, the widespread revulsion expressed by some sections of the Red Devils' support at Glazer's £790million buyout has largely been quelled, with the £540million debt taken on to complete the deal pushed firmly to the back of many supporters' minds.

After being forced to flee Old Trafford in the back of a police van on their first visit to the ground in the summer, Glazer's sons Joel, Avi and Bryan were greeted with autograph hunters and well-wishers eager to shake their hands when they turned up in an official capacity for the first time ahead of the Champions League qualifier with Debrecen in August.

The anti-Glazer protests which were so prominent at many United games last season have mostly ceased, even if the breakaway club FC United - set up as a direct result of the American's buyout - is continuing to thrive spectacularly in the North West Counties League.

With David Gill remaining as chief executive, life has appeared to carry on as normal at Old Trafford, with none of the expected major changes in club policy, no threat to TV rights and limited, if large in some instances, ticket price rises.

Other than one lengthy interview with United's in-house television station MUTV, the Glazer family have been totally silent on Red Devils matters and even the announcement of annual results due later this month will not shed too much light on the new owner's plans given the period only covers 11 months, most of which were before the takeover.

Ferguson, who has previously claimed he thought of himself as a bridge between the club and its vast army of supporters, annoyed many fans groups by remaining in post after the change of ownership.

In his now infamous `discussion' with an aggrieved fan at Budapest airport in August, the Scot claimed one of the major reasons he stayed at Old Trafford after Glazer's takeover was out of duty to his staff.

But now, after a £12million outlay on defensive duo Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, money many thought would not have been available if the club had remained a PLC, Ferguson has declared his satisfaction with the Glazer connection.

'Without question, I have found the owners excellent,' he said.

'They have never failed in their promises and they have been very supportive in everything we have done.

'That is demonstrated by their commitment in signing both players this week.'

Ferguson's statement is a fairly obvious one given the former Aberdeen boss' phenomenal success has brought with it wealth which would have allowed him simply to walk away from United had he been unhappy with the situation.

Yet it has been greeted with amazement by some, who feel the more negative aspects of Glazer's involvement are being totally ignored.

'It is as though £500million of debt is just being airbrushed out of history,' said Mark Longden, chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association.

'The figure is so vast, most fans have decided not to think about it. But it is still there and no-one has a clue what the Glazers are going to do about it.

'In some senses, it is not an issue for today. But in two years' time, when they have to start paying it back, it will be a pretty big issue.

'It is sad that people such as Sir Alex Ferguson are taking a short-sighted view like this.

'Signing players has never been a problem for Manchester United in the past so it is difficult to see why spending this kind of money should be seen as a positive move on Glazer's behalf.'

Glazer's PR advisors have continued to stress the American's involvement in United is long-term as seasoned sports owners are aware of the wild fluctuations in fortune.

However, everyone connected with the club is aware that a winning team will relieve many of the external pressures, so they will hope Ferguson's confidence in Evra - initially a replacement and eventually a competitor - for injured full-back Gabriel Heinze is not mis-placed.

'We have been searching for cover ever since Gaby got his injury,' said Ferguson.

'Over the last couple of years, Patrice has emerged as one of the best full-backs in Europe.

'He is a great attacking player and provides a great option for us.'

Those opposed to Glazer privately question how much the club have paid up front to Spartak Moscow and Monaco respectively to secure Vidic and Evra.

And they also point to savings made through the recent departures of Roy Keane and Phil Neville, plus a dozen youngsters on various loan deals as evidence of the £12million being clawed back in other areas.

'Sir Alex has shown himself to be not only an exceptional football manager but also a very shrewd man,' said a statement released by the Manchester United Supporters' Trust (formerly Shareholders United).

'It would be an extremely foolish (and short-lived) employee who does anything other than praise his employer in public.

'We welcome the fact that some money has been made available and no doubt all Manchester United supporters would like to see a lot more than that.

'Many feel the squad is in dire need of strengthening and a cash injection of £100million might be required if we are serious about challenging for the top honours as we have done so successfully until recently during Sir Alex's reign.

'Unfortunately, until there is a change in ownership that kind of major squad investment will remain impossible due to the huge debt the current owners have saddled us with.

'Any squad investment is not coming from the Glazers own pockets but is simply adding to the huge debt, which must now be approaching £700million with the interest that is racking up.

'The only long-term solution for Manchester United is a club owned by supporters because there are no other owners who would allow 100% of the profits to be reinvested in the club.'