Schmeichel, who now works on television and is part of CBS Sports’ coverage of the Champions League and European League on Paramount +, shared his thoughts on Sunday about the wild scenes outside Old Trafford where the fans invaded the pitch ahead of the United-Liverpool game at club property protest. The match was postponed accordingly. The club is owned by the Glazers, an American family that also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.
The protest came just two weeks after the club announced plans to join the European Super League, which has since collapsed. Here’s what Schmeichel, who has long been a global ambassador for the club, had to say on Sunday’s stage, the future of the club and more.
Q: What were your initial reactions to Sunday’s incident?
A: First of all, I knew there would be protests before the game. I was with all the fans. I think it was a good time to express their feelings about what is going on at the club, the way the leadership is taking it, the direction. And although he died in the water, their opposition to the European Super League. It was right. There was this peaceful protest, and then you had this young group of fans in their twenties that came through the Stretford End. This is where it went a little wrong for me. I think the message was very important. Football is played for the fans. The fans really need to have a voice and need to be able to express their opinions. They haven’t been able to attend a game for a long, long time. And there was an opportunity. But then a very, very small group of fans spoiled him for the real message. Hopefully that’s not what we’re going to be talking about in the time to come, the games to come, the fans coming into Old Trafford. I think they entered the locker room as well, which is one of the main reasons the game was postponed as they interfered with COVID protocols. Hope the real message is 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’s very complex. I don’t think there is a thing to change. What about now, 16 or 17 years ago, when the family took over the club? It was winning the Premier League. It was in the semi-finals and final of the Champions League, winning the Champions League. At the time, the training ground was brand new, state of the art. The stadium has been fully developed and accommodates 75,000 people. Everything was good, but if you move quickly, it’s still the status quo. They are all the same things. Clubs like Leicester, which currently sit third in the league, they probably have the best training ground in the world. It is a requirement. You need better facilities to attract players and also to develop players the way you want… You also need to attract better players. It’s not like the Glazer family hasn’t spent the money, it just isn’t being spent the right way. So it’s something inside the club. It can be a lot of things, maybe not big, massive things, but certainly things that need to be changed, adjusted and pointed in the right direction.
Q: Have you spoken with [United manager] Ole Gunnar Solskjaer today?
A: No, I haven’t spoken to him. I think he has more than enough on his plate. I think he was very silent today. Of course, he must have been extremely frustrated with this situation. Because obviously he is between two semi-finals. The result Thursday [6-2 over Roma in the Europa League semifinal first leg], there is no guarantee, but it’s as close to a guarantee as they will be in the final. They just have to go and play a really solid game in Rome to be there. So maybe if ever something like this were to happen, maybe this was the only right time, if you want to. But can you imagine? He’s got this huge game. It is the biggest club soccer match, individual club soccer match in the world. This is where the most viewers are, this is where the most interest is. It’s a huge game. It has caught the attention of everyone in football. It is not a game he would like to lose, but he is between two semi-finals. He must therefore mix his team to be able to create a competitive team and anticipate the next game.
Q: Some may have concerns about foreign ownership in Premier League clubs and a lack of understanding of the club’s history. Perhaps this could result in decisions that do not fully take into account the origin of the club. Do you think there is any truth in this?
A: I don’t want to dramatize it. We are very different in the way we perceive sport in Europe versus America, or from Europe to Asia. Each continent has its own way of seeing sport and of thinking about what is important. There is no doubt that this difference is a challenge for football. No doubt about it. What I will say about the Glazer family is that initially they didn’t understand it, they didn’t understand it. And I’m not saying they absolutely understand it now. But over the past few years, they’ve come to appreciate what Manchester United is much more. I think everyone thinks the Glazer family is a bit too detached from the club. They are there from time to time, 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 property, but from the outside it looks like the owners don’t care, that it’s all about the money. I don’t think that’s completely the case. I think they are very proud of their Manchester United ownership. I just think it is now necessary to restructure its operation. Ed Woodward leaves, the executive vice president. There will be changes. Now is the opportunity to make those changes which will meet the demands of the fans, attract more Manchester United to help the football department run into 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’s easy to say that the Manchester United environment should be a winning environment. Of course, this is absolutely a certainty. But how do you get there? What are the values that you must pose for the club to enter this field? I think it’s an opportunity now. I really hope the Glazer family take this opportunity. I absolutely hope they see the error in judgment as they called it two weeks ago, that they really misjudged the big picture, plus what happened [Sunday]I hope they see this as a signal to make these changes. Ultimately, commercially it is a success. If you’re on the other side of Manchester United, on the football side, you’re not going to lose money on it… It’s a question of mentality, I think. For what’s been going on in the last couple of weeks, hopefully the Glazer family will take a look at that and say, “Well, we’ve got to change, we’ve got to bring in the people who are closer to it. ‘There is a need for the family to come 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 has that kind of money to buy the football club? If you look at potential buyers, are they going to make things better? Is it going to be different. There are examples, but they never bought at this price. I would much prefer that we work with the Glazers because I think there is a will within the family. Work with the Glazers to make this soccer club what this soccer club is meant to be.
Q: What is your message to the dedicated fans of the club, to those who haven’t taken the stadium by storm?
A: I don’t think the die-hard fans were the ones inside the stadium. I think they are fools, troublemakers. None of them will remember the good times. Some of them weren’t even born when the Glazers took over the club. Die-hard fans, true fans, continue to voice your opinions. But keep it at an appropriate level. Do not be stupid. Don’t demand something unrealistic. But keep up the pressure, keep the ideas. What we’ve learned from the past two weeks is that if we’re united and express our opposition to ideas that we don’t agree with, as a massive group, it has an effect. I think football, not Manchester United, is now at a crossroads. Now there is this incredible opportunity to change direction. Something that I think he has needed for a long, long time. A reflection on how we restructure our tournaments and how we are in our national leagues. There is an opportunity now. I hope there is a will to do so. But we need the fans with us. At the end of the day, we play this game for them. So we have to understand what they want. So keep expressing your opinions. It is important. I’ve been to Manchester United [supporter] for all my life. Since I was a little child. It really means something to me. This football club really means something to me. I am absolutely with the fans. I understand precisely what they are feeling. I am one of the lucky fans. I had the opportunity to do something about it in the field. Few fans have this opportunity. And I appreciate having had this opportunity. I am very proud to have been part of what happened in the 90s. I am proud to be at the very beginning of Manchester United’s domination in England. It hurts, it really, really hurts when you’re not like that. Because I know how difficult it is to get to this position. I also know what it takes. It is taking a very clear direction… Hopefully for our club, but for football in general, all that has happened now is this opportunity that we have been waiting for. Hope we can change it to something better.