How has football has changed since Manchester United won the treble?

Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday night at Old Trafford earned them their 20th league title.

Many commentators still doubt to whether the current team will go down in history alongside the 1998/99 treble winners but whilst they argue amongst themselves football has changed almost beyond recognition since 1999.

Back in 1999, men sported curtain cuts, ‘Girl Power’ was at large, kids traded Pokémon cards, and we were all Livin’ la Vida Loca, despite our impending Y2K doom. How time distorts.

On May 16th 1999 Manchester United came back from 1-0 down against Tottenham at Old Trafford – David Beckham and Andy Cole scored a goal each to win the game 2-1 and secure the Premier League title on the final day of the season by one solitary point over the holders Arsenal.

Less than a week later on the 22nd May, the Red Devils beat Newcastle 2-0 at the old Wembley Stadium to lift the FA Cup and four days after that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side came back again from 1-0 down after 90 minutes played at the Camp Nou to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in injury time to lift the Champions League trophy for the first time.

That was 1999. Back then the fashions weren’t the only differences from present day. As United and Newcastle prepared for the FA Cup Final the commercialization of football were just beginning. Premier League clubs were preparing to turn into public companies, their shares to be floated on the stock market.

However, the industry wasn’t taking off as had been anticipated and stocks in football clubs were deemed an insecure and unwise investment. Arsenal had done the ‘double’ the previous season, yet their shares had halved over the year.

"Takeovers are the only thing that will boost prices," declared Stan Lock. "The only shares we sell at the moment are to supporters, and they are taking minimal amounts."

And so it began – the days when supporters invested and owned their local football clubs were drawing to a close. Clubs and their accountants soon recognized the commercial potential of their brands.

Where gate receipts had always accounted for the majority of a club’s revenue, merchandise and sponsorship, along with television rights would soon eclipse attendance-generated income by billions.

The first Sky television rights agreement with the Premier League in 1992 was worth £304 million – by 2001 Sky paid £1.024 billion for the same rights to broadcast games.

Sky’s parent company News Corporation’s owner Rupert Murdoch made a £623 million bid to buy Manchester United in 1998. The bid was unsuccessful but subsequently stock prices skyrocketed.

In 2003 Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea for £136 million (he has since invested over £1 billion in transfer fees and wages). A year later the Glazier family acquired United for £777 million in 2005, incurring gargantuan debt.

Liverpool were bought for £219 million and Manchester City bought for £82 million in 2007. One year later, City owner Thaksin Shinawatra sold the club at a profit to the Abu Dhabi United Group for £200 million. Football is now about enterprise and has been for the last decade.

Clubs are now brands - globalized commercial interests, no longer baring any real relation their original identities as local sports clubs with a fundamentally social functionality.

The huge debts incurred by owners like the Glaziers amongst numerous others have seen clubs destroyed – Portsmouth and Rangers, along with Malaga are recent ominous examples of a trend that has been building over a decade.

The impending introduction of Financial Fair Play regulations will likely see another huge wave of changes take place in their game – perhaps we are witnessing the dawn of a new era.

Currently the world’s richest clubs win titles – Real Madrid won La Liga last term, Barcelona will win it this term, Manchester United have won the Premier League and Bayern Munch will win the Bundesliga. They are the top four richest clubs in the world at present.

Where football goes from here on out is anyone’s guess but one thing’s for sure, Manchester United’s treble-winning season marked the end of an era. In years to come, their 20th league title may well mark the end of another.

image: © edwin11

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