Manchester United's legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel knows what it takes for the club to reach the summit European summit. He was there in 1999 when they won the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, starting in goal in one of the most dramatic finals we've ever seen. The 57-year-old Danish shotstopper played for the club from 1991-1999 and is regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play. Schmeichel won five Premier League titles and three FA Cups with United on top of the club's second ever European crown.
Schmeichel, who now works on television and is part of CBS Sports' coverage of the Champions League and Europe League on Paramount+, shared his thoughts on Sunday about the wild scenes outside of Old Trafford where fans invaded the pitch before the United-Liverpool game in protest of the ownership of the club. The match was postponed as a result. The club is owned by the Glazers, an American family who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.
The protest came just two weeks after the club's announced its intention to join the European Super League, which has since crumbled. Here's what Schmeichel, who has long been a global ambassador of the club, had to say about the scene on Sunday, the future of the club and more.
Q: What were your initial reactions to Sunday's incident?
A: First of all, I knew that there were going to be demonstrations before the game. I was with all of the fans. I think it was the right moment to express their feelings about what is happening at the club, the way the leadership it is taking it, the direction. And even though it is dead in the water, their opposition to the European Super League. That was only right. There was this peaceful demonstration, and then you had this younger group of fans in their 20s actually coming in through the Stretford End. This is where it kind of got a little bit wrong for me. I think the message was very important. Football is played for the fans. The fans should really have a voice and should be able to express their opinions. They haven't been able to come to any matches for a very, very long time. And there was an opportunity. But then a very, very small group of fans actually spoiled it for the real message. I hope this is not what we are going to talk about in the time to come, the games to come, the fans entering Old Trafford. I think they got into the dressing room as well, which is one of the main reasons for the game to be postponed because they interfered with the COVID protocols. I hope the real message will be in the headlines that something needs to change. Something definitely needs to be changed.
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Q: What needs to be changed?
A: I think it is very complex. I don't think there is one thing that needs to change. What is it now, 16 or 17 years ago when the family took over the club? It was winning the Premier League. It was in the semifinals and finals of the Champions League, winning the Champions League. Back then the training ground was brand new, state of the art. The stadium was fully developed and housing 75,000 people. Everything was good, but if you fast forward, it is still status quo. These are all the same things. Clubs like Leicester, sitting third in the league at the moment, they have probably the best training ground in the world. It's a requirement. You need better facilities to attract players and also to develop players in the way that you want ... You also need to attract better players. It's not like the Glazer family hasn't spent money, it's just not spent in the right way. So it is something inside the club. It might be a lot of things, maybe not major, massive things, but definitely things that needs to be changed, tweaked and pointed in the right direction.
Q: Did you speak with [United manager] Ole Gunnar Solskjaer today?
A: No, I haven't spoken to him. I think that he has more than enough on his plate. I think he kept very quiet today. Of course, he must have been extremely frustrated with this situation. Because obviously he is in between two semifinals. The result on Thursday [6-2 over Roma in the Europa League semifinal first leg], there is no guarantee, but it is as close to a guarantee that they will be in the final. They only have to go play a really solid game in Rome to be in there. So maybe, if ever something like this was supposed to happen, maybe this was the only good time, if you'd like. But can you imagine? He's got this massive game. This is the biggest game in club football, individual game in club football in the world. It is where the most viewers are, it is where the most interest is. This is a massive game. It's got the attention of everyone in football. It's not a game he would want to lose, but he is in between two semifinals. So he's got to mix his team up so he can put out a team that is competitive and look ahead to the next game.
Q: Some may have concerns about foreign ownership at Premier League clubs and a lack of understanding when it comes to the club's history. That, perhaps, could result in decisions being made that don't fully take into account where the club has come from. Do you think there there is any truth to that?
A: I don't want to dramatize over that. We are very different in how we perceive sport in Europe as opposed to America, or Europe to Asia. Every continent, they have their own way of viewing sport and thinking what is important. There is no doubt that this difference is a challenge for football. No doubt about that. What I will say about the Glazer family is, initially, they didn't get it, they didn't understand it. And I'm not saying that they absolutely understand it now. But in the last many years, they've been a lot better at appreciating what Manchester United is all about. I think everyone feels that the Glazer family is a little bit too detached from the club. They are there now and again, but they are not there every week. You never see Joel Glazer come out in front of the cameras and talk about the club, and I think that frustrates the fans a lot. We have this ownership, but from the outside, it looks like the owners don't care, that it is just about money. I don't think that's completely the case. I think they are very proud of their ownership of Manchester United. I just think there is a need now for a restructuring of how it's being operated. Ed Woodward is leaving, the executive vice chairman. There will be some changes. It is now an opportunity to make those changes that will meet the fans' requirements, bring in more Manchester United people to help the football department run within the history. People like to use the word culture.
I find culture very difficult to define. But at least to have the right environment. Of course it is easy to say Manchester United's environment should be a winning environment. Of course that is absolutely a certainty. But how do you get there? What are the values that you need to pose for the club to get into that? I think that is an opportunity now. I really hope the Glazer family will take this opportunity. I absolutely hope that they see the misjudgment as they called it two weeks ago, that they really misjudged the whole situation, plus what happened [Sunday], I hope they see that as a cue to make those changes. At the end of the day, commercially it is a success. If you do the other side of Manchester United, the football side, you aren't going to lose money on it... It is all about mentality, I think. For what has happened the last two or three weeks, I hope that the Glazer family will look at this and say, 'Well, there is a need for us to change, a need for us to bring people in that are closer to it.' There is a need for the family to get closer to the club.
It is easy to say that [we want the Glazers out]. But the club will be, I don't know, three, four, five billion dollars? Who's got that kind of money to buy the football club? If you look at potential buyers, are they going to make it much better? Is it going to be different. There are examples, but they never bought in at that price tag. I would much rather that we work with the Glazers, because I think there is a willingness within the family. Work with the Glazers to make this football club what this football club is supposed to be.
Q: What is your message to the dedicated fans of the club, those who weren't storming the stadium?
A: I don't think the diehard fans were the ones inside the stadium. I think they are idiot, troublemakers. None of them will remember the good times. Some of them weren't even born when the Glazers took over the club. The diehard fans, the true fans, keep voicing your opinions. But keep it at a proper level. Don't be stupid about it. Don't demand something which is unrealistic. But keep up the pressure, keep up the ideas. What we've learned from the last two weeks is, if we stand together and we show our opposition to ideas that we don't agree with, as a massive group, it does have an effect. I think football, not Manchester United, is at a crossroads now. There is this incredible opportunity now to change direction. Something that I think it has needed for a long, long, long time. A rethinking of how we are restructuring our tournaments, and how we are in our national leagues. There is an opportunity now. I hope there is a willingness to do it. But, we need the fans with us. At the end of the day, we play this game for them. So we need to understand what it is they want. So keep voicing your opinions. It's important. I've been a Manchester United [supporter] for all of my life. Since I was a small child. This really means something to me. This football club really means something to me. I am absolutely with the fans. I understand precisely what they feel. I am one of the lucky fans. I had an opportunity to do something about it on the pitch. Not many fans get that opportunity. And I appreciate that I got that opportunity. I'm very proud that I was a part of what happened in the 90s. I'm proud of being at the very beginning of the Manchester United dominance in England. It hurts, it really, really hurts when we are not like that. Because I know how difficult it is to get to that position. I also know what it takes. It takes a very clear direction ... Hopefully for our club, but for football in general, all this that has happened now is that opportunity we've been waiting for. Let's hope we can get it changed to something better.