Old Trafford: the gleaming jewel in the crown that is Manchester United. A destination venue with a wow factor that teems heritage, culture, modernity, warmth, light and vision. The ground revamped and overhauled or even downsized for the club’s vaunted youth teams to finally have a permanent home while a fresh 110,000-capacity stadium – perhaps named New Old Trafford – is built for the successors of Billy Meredith, George Best, Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney to grace. All of this part of a Manchester United HQ that develops the vast plot of land owned at M16 0RA.
With the Glazers offering notice they may sell, an architect is hardly required to see how a new owner could transform a crumbling and patched-up Old Trafford that has had zero fresh structural redevelopment since Malcolm Glazer bought the club in 2005.
An illustration of what can be achieved is found at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which took three years to build and cost £1bn and is a shiny testament to vision and ambition. For the 62,000 fans who can attend there is a Michelin star restaurant, numerous bars for home and away fans, a Grade II-listed building, an art gallery, Europe’s largest club shop and, generally, a sense that all was constructed with care and attention.
The finance required for an analogous site would surely start at £2bn but United, even more than Tottenham, have a proud history that could be drawn upon to create a forward-thinking monument to England’s record title-winners that would, in time, show the proprietor a nice profit.
The club was recently valued at about £3.75bn but Ed Woodward, the former chief executive, believed so vast are the revenue streams yet to be tapped that it could easily be raised to north of £10bn.
An example: the official tour of Old Trafford lacks imagination, the highlight being the trumpeted access given to the “actual changing rooms” used by the team during what feels like a bolted-on walkabout. Imagine instead a Manchester United virtual reality palace where, via goggles, you live the fantasy of any United player in any legacy triumph – say Ole Gunnar Solskjær in the 1999 Champions League final – and try to score a famous goal.
Or a bespoke Manchester United museum that allows an in-depth, immersive journey from the Newton Heath LYR Football Club of 1878 to the current Manchester United. Or, why not out-Michelin Tottenham and have a two-star rated restaurant that is open not only on match days and sits along side mid-range priced eateries that can be enjoyed after shopping at boutiques, working out at the Manchester United gym, watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster at the Manchester United cinema or a youth production at the Manchester United community theatre?
There is more than enough acreage to achieve all of this and more but instead the Glazers lacked any real desire: a neat shorthand for their 17-year ownership.
This year the Glazers appointed two master planners, Legends International and Populous, with a view to finally redeveloping the club’s home. Then, a spokesperson said: “Manchester United has appointed a team of leading consultants to begin work on creating a master plan for the redevelopment of Old Trafford. Work will begin immediately on developing options for Old Trafford and studying their feasibility, with the aim of significantly enhancing the fan experience.” This appears to have been abandoned.
What the considerable number of United fans will hope is that if they do sell whoever buys does not prove to be the Glazers MK II.