It has been two long and challenging years since the stars and stripes were raised above Tannadice.
On December 19, 2018, United fans got an early Christmas present when it was confirmed their club’s destiny was now controlled by new American owner Mark Ogren.
The Minnesota-based businessman had deep pockets in which to put those safe pair of hands but his bank balance has been stretched almost as much as his patience ever since he dabbled in Scottish football.
Indeed, United’s latest set of accounts – due out any time soon – will make for grim reading for a man who admitted just a couple of months ago that “it could get messy” when asked about the financial threats his club is facing.
Marriage made in heaven?
As he marks his second anniversary, it is perhaps time to see if this is still a marriage made in heaven.
When Ogren first assumed control, he used upbeat buzzwords like “delighted,” “excited,” “vision” and “success.”
Just four weeks later, he was there in person, beaming from ear to ear on the pitch and lifting the scarf above his head in the traditional style.
By then the focus was on gaining promotion as he encountered for the first time a media that was, collectively, wondering how he expected to make money out of purchasing a Scottish football club.
After all, his compatriot Tim Keyes down the road at Dundee had already been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.
You could sense the yawning gap in the room between homegrown scepticism and imported optimism.
That’s not to say Ogren was wrong to bring some stateside sunshine into that bleak winter’s day. You could say United needed to hear it.
On January 16, 2019, he faced the cameras and mics to proclaim: “We expect to make money at United but we are not going to make money with this size of club in the Championship.
“We need to spend money in order to get promoted.
“Then, more importantly, we need to stay up in the Premiership when we get there.
“We need sustained success here in the long term in order to be profitable.
“We have modelled it and we have a plan.
“It starts with putting the right people in the right places that have had success in their positions. We absolutely feel we have the right people.
“Then we need to make an investment but in order to make money we need to get into the Premiership.
“If we can get there and stay there, we feel we can be successful.
“United have a rich history but have fallen back from where they had been and where the expectation is for this club.
“So we just felt like we could come in, make a difference to get the team promoted and help them be successful.”
All about the Premiership
There you have it: it was all about the Premiership.
As Ogren sat chatting, the Tangerines were sitting in third spot in the Championship table but they were only three points behind leaders Ross County following a fine 1-0 home win over Dunfermline earned by Nicky Clark’s winner.
Fast forward to the final fixture of the regulation season – a 1-0 loss to Morton at Cappielow – and they finished six adrift of the Staggies in second place.
The resultant play-offs would prove painful for everyone connected with the Tangerines but especially so for Ogren, who travelled over to Scotland to be there in person.
After easing past Inverness in the semi-final, Robbie Neilson’s men took on the top-flight’s 11th-placed team St Mirren.
Their spotkick agony in the return game in Paisley – all four penalties were missed – will go down as one of the worst experiences the United fans have endured in recent years and Ogren was one of those supporters.
He had provided Neilson with a safety net in the build-up to that decider against the Buddies, saying the manager would stay on regardless of the outcome, but the result meant it was back to the drawing board for the owner.
The moral of the story was clear – to guarantee promotion they had to be champions.
Ogren stayed true to his word by investing in the squad and United pulled off arguably the greatest Scottish signing coup of that summer when in-demand striker Lawrence Shankland joined them from Ayr United.
That, of course, fitted with Ogren’s business model for United and worked a treat as Shankland’s 24 league goals blasted them to a commanding lead at the top of the Championship.
Legal fight and a bombshell statement
There was trouble ahead, though.
On March 7, 2020, United played out a disappointing 1-1 home draw with bottom club Partick Thistle and it would turn out to be the end of their season.
Life – not just football – was now all about the coronavirus, and it still is as we approach Christmas.
The curtain came down on the campaign and after much wrangling the Tangerines were recognised as title winners.
It was a strange way to get there but they had reached the destination Ogren had dreamed about in those enthusiastic early days.
Then, almost cruelly for the American, he had to look on from afar – the pandemic meant he was stuck in the States – as United’s promotion was endangered by the legal action being pursued by Hearts and Partick Thistle.
It worked out in the end but it was another stress that he could have done without.
With the virus suffocating the club, there were other bumps in the road.
On April 14, Ogren released a bombshell statement that put him at odds with the Dundee United Supporters’ Foundation. The words stung.
He said: “Financially, this is an extremely difficult time for our club. With that in mind and with great disappointment, I would like to state that recent talks between Dundee United FC and the Dundee United Supporters’ Foundation (DUSF) have now come to an end.
“After initially being told the organisation was there to assist our club with monies which have been raised throughout their membership, we as a board were not willing to fulfil the unreasonable demands of DUSF encompassing a requirement for shares and thereafter a secured loan.
“This is particularly troublesome to us considering the size of the overall investment Scott (his son) and I have put into Dundee United FC and quite frankly goes against all the values that we have as owners and as a club.
“Therefore, we are formally announcing that Dundee United FC will no longer recognise DUSF as a partner moving forward.”
That wound would eventually heal, with talks between Ogren and the foundation resuming after a month.
However, another eyebrow-raiser was the departure of United’s managing director Mal Brannigan on May 1. It never was made clear whether or not his exit was linked to the DUSF fallout.
Confirming Brannigan was on his way, Ogren said: “Since taking over the club, we have seen extremely positive changes of which Mal has been at the forefront.
“We would like to thank Mal for his work during his time as managing director and we wish him the very best.”
The Tangerines have not, as yet, appointed another managing director, with sporting director Tony Asghar at the forefront of the big decisions like replacing Neilson with Micky Mellon.
By late October, the Covid-19 cloud loomed ever larger over Tannadice.
Ogren, of course, didn’t get a title party or a flag-unfurling to enjoy.
Instead, he joined thousands of United fans in only being able to access the Premiership matches via streaming, stuck as he was on the other side of the pond.
His silence was broken that month, however, when he spoke exclusively to The Courier to warn of the economic damage being done to his club in particular and Scottish football in general by the shutdown.
Most worryingly of all, wage-cut negotiations – which are still unresolved – were confirmed by United’s owner.
Pulling no punches, Ogren said: “The process of consulting employees has begun – with only one red line.
“I’d like to think that redundancies are off the table.
“We want to do everything we can to protect people and their jobs. But we just don’t know how bad this is going to be.
“This will impact everybody, no matter who you are and what position you have in the club. We appreciate you and thank you for your understanding in what will be your personal sacrifice.”
Ogren, while stressing he remained committed to the club, added: “I’ve got limited funds. We need to figure this out.
“But I don’t want to scare people into thinking we’re going away because that is not the case.
“There were a lot of concerns about what the future was going to look like before I got involved.
“We’re going to figure this out but we’ll need help from the government, our fans and everybody at the club.”
Ogren concluded: “Is Dundee United going to survive? Yes it’s going to survive, but it could get messy.
“I didn’t invest in this club to see it go away. We’re going to do what we have to do to survive this.”
In the US, despite the damage done to that country’s international reputation by outgoing President Donald Trump, they still like to talk of America acting as “a city upon the hill” that offers a shining light of hope to the world.
Ogren was a bright beacon for many United fans when he lit up the scene and they can only hope that, given all the dark times he has suffered in his two years, he remains optimistic about the club’s future in the face of such adversity.
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