Last updated : 18 December 2006 By Ed
Nick Greenslade, for some reason, believes the Glazer's have been accepted at OT. From the Observer

After suffering a stroke in April, Malcolm Glazer may not yet be up to attending Manchester United's game at Aston Villa next Saturday. But if he were to make it to Villa Park, Glazer and his fellow American Randy Lerner, Villa's owner, might well allow themselves a private chuckle. Glazer's takeover of United in 2005 was, after all, greeted with widespread suspicion and his involvement was supposedly even more harmful than Roman Abramovich's annexation of Chelsea. Whereas the Russian would happily plunge many of his millions into the west London club to achieve glory, Glazer, we were told, came sidled with a mountain of debt and would not hesitate to milk the United 'brand' to clear that debt before moving on.

Lerner did not arouse the same sort of antipathy when he took up a majority shareholding at Villa in August, as he was buying out the unpopular Doug Ellis, but some still had their doubts about this second American takeover. Today it is difficult to see how either side could be faring better. While the Premiership is not yet what Glazer might call a done deal, United have opened up a clear lead over their rivals. The club still lack Chelsea's buying power but, with the signing of Michael Carrick and the extension to Wayne Rooney's contract, Sir Alex Ferguson can hardly complain that money has been tight.

Ernie Accorsi, who worked with Lerner when his family bought the Cleveland Browns in the NFL and is now general manager of the New York Giants, acquits Lerner of any financial cynicism. 'I don't believe he will treat the club as a cash cow. It's not as if he needs the money. You don't buy a team like the Cleveland Browns to make money. Randy would love the challenge of taking a traditional, historic club and trying to make it big again.'

In fact, the Browns have yet to win anything under Lerner's ownership. And, even if Villa's progress is stalled by defeat to United next weekend, Lerner will be more worried about the form of his American football team. This season, the Browns have lost nine of their 13 regular-season games. A day after the game at Villa Park, they meet another side with a losing record, Glazer's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

However controversial some of his business practices might have been, defenders of Glazer could always point out that he had brought success to the club, with their 2003 Super Bowl victory. This year, however, their record is even worse than that of the Browns and neither side can qualify for the play-offs. Yet while next Sunday's match-up between the Buccaneers and Browns is unlikely to attract much interest among United fans, those who run the NFL now see Glazer and Lerner as significant to its expansion. NFL executives still come over all misty-eyed when they think back to the late 1980s, a period when gridiron reached astonishing levels of popularity in this country.

Whatever profits Lerner and Glazer might contemplate exacting from English football, they may not match those the NFL accrued through UK TV rights and merchandise sales 20 years ago. In 1986, more than 80,000 packed Wembley Stadium to see the reigning Super Bowl champions Chicago Bears play the Dallas Cowboys in the first of the regularly sanctioned pre-season friendlies between NFL teams played outside the US.

Two decades on, the curiosity surrounding the two American billionaires may offer a chance to re-establish a foothold in the UK market. The last 'Wembley Bowl' took place in 1993 as interest in the game over here fizzled out. There is now serious talk of it being revived.

Moreover, the fixture would be a regular-season game. In October, the NFL's 32 team owners confirmed that, from 2007, as part of their relentless expansion plans, two games a year would be played outside the United States. Last month, Alastair Kirkwood, head of the NFL in this country, said it was a question of 'when, not if' the UK would host a game. Mark Waller, vice-president of marketing in the States, agrees. 'What happened with the building of Wembley didn't inspire much confidence, but it remains one of the world's most iconic stadiums, so it is one of the options we are examining. I think a game between Malcolm Glazer's Tampa Bay and Randy Lerner's Cleveland Browns would be the obvious choice because people in the UK know about them through their involvement in soccer.'

Glazer has, for the moment, silenced his critics. Persuading United fans to switch allegiance for a day and travel to Wembley to support the Buccaneers would be a sign that he has finally been welcomed into the fold.