When Manchester United’s owners revealed on Tuesday night that they were “exploring strategic possibilities,” which may include selling the club, the news sent shockwaves throughout the world.
This is the moment United’s fans have been waiting for since the Glazers took possession in 2005 after a leveraged buyout left the club with a £514.9 million debt and over £600 million in interest and dividend payments to shareholders.
However, the future holds no guarantees.
Big money has been spent on transfers and salaries, but United still hasn’t been able to challenge for major titles since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
United had already spent a lot of money on Old Trafford and planned to keep doing so. They hired master planners back in April, but they haven’t decided how extensive the changes will be just yet. The club’s executive, Richard Arnold, emphasized the importance of being “disciplined in our capital planning” in September.
This means that, whether a new stadium is built or the existing one is modified, money will be needed from somewhere else to make the necessary improvements.
As a result of the club’s financial situation, the extra perspective of increased competition from cash-rich Newcastle, the finances needed to invest in manager Erik ten Hag’s team, Chelsea being sold in the summer for significantly more than anticipated, and the inability of the European Super League to get off the ground, it does appear like an ideal time for the Glazer family to test the water regarding what they may earn by selling the club.
For a while, it was thought that offering the Glazers £4 billion would be enough to get them to the bargaining table. They are the ones who have come to the table first and are currently waiting to be presented with offers.
In reality, there are not many places to turn to for a sum of money that sizable. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s government policy, there is zero possibility of involvement from any country.
The Saudis have a vested interest in Newcastle, the Qataris would have to unload PSG, and their Gulf neighbors Dubai and Bahrain have made no such investments.
Despite missing out on an India Premier League franchise last year, the Glazers have apparently made connections in India. With an estimated 35 million fans, United was scheduled to visit India as part of their 2020-21 pre-season tour until the trip was canceled owing to the coronavirus outbreak.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos, has been a lifelong fan of United and has previously expressed openness to meeting with the Glazers. The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that the 70-year-old is gearing up for a run.
While Ratcliffe is quite wealthy, he probably won’t be able to close this purchase on his own.
More money from the United States of America will probably be needed. If the Chelsea sale is any indication, a private equity firm will be engaged because of the large sums of money required.
David Beckham, a former winger for United, “is open to holding negotiations with possible bidders,” according to the Financial Times.
United supporters have been vocal in their displeasure with the club’s most recent ownership group, the Glazers, whom they accuse of draining the club’s coffers at a time when its crosstown rivals, Manchester City, have profited from enormous owner investment.
Jim O’Neill, a prominent economist and lifelong United fan who played a major role in the Red Knights group that attempted to acquire the club in 2010, told BBC Sport, “Two of my longest Manchester United mates say ‘careful what you ask for.”
“Two of my longest Manchester United pals say ‘careful what you wish for’,” Jim O’Neill, a respected economist and lifelong United fan who was a significant presence in the Red Knights group who tried to buy the club in 2010, told BBC Sport.
“They point out that many people have never liked any owner that United have had.
“One has to be really careful, but it is very complex. United’s brand is seemingly never-ending. It has remarkable prestige and someone out there might be prepared to pay the sort of crazy price that will probably get them to sell.”
However, the Manchester United Supporters Trust know what they don’t want: “The last 17 years has been characterised by debt and decline – on-the-field and off it.
“The vast majority of United fans will agree with the conclusion you [the Glazers] appear to have also reached – it’s time for change.
“Fans will want to carefully scrutinise any new prospective owner – most of all we implore them not to repeat the mistakes you did – of alienating the fans that represent the greatest asset of Manchester United.”
Simply stating “for as long as it takes” is sufficient. But unfortunately, that’s the way things really are.
Getting to the end of this quickly would be much appreciated. As with any sale of this size and complexity, however, the time it will take to close is anyone’s guess until offers are received.
It’s tough to picture many people forking out serious cash to join a club if they have little to no input in management. However, they may exist, which is why fresh investment rather than a sale is still being considered.
Do the Glazers want to sell to the highest bidder, or will they consider the possible buyers’ histories? Do they require an upfront payment? Or would they accept payments in installments?
The speed with which a contract is finalized can be affected by all of these variables.
How much money will be made available to Ten Hag in the meantime? United clearly need to bolster their forward line after the confirmation of Cristiano Ronaldo’s immediate departure hours before the Glazer announcement on Tuesday night.
Still, it’s obvious that there aren’t many strikers available, especially in January.
Ten Hag may need to bolster his team, but without ownership stability, he has nowhere to turn for funding.
MUST, who only successfully concluded exhaustive negotiations with the United owners over a Fans Share Scheme in August, have made their position clear: “We implore you to move with speed. In football, any sort of hiatus or uncertainty is disastrous.
“If you have decided to sell, we urge you to do it quickly to allow the club to move on without any delay.”
Thomas Tuchel didn’t last long at Chelsea after the summer upheaval and most new owners like to have a change of manager at some point.
However, the Glazer family did not change Sir Alex Ferguson even though, by his standards, United were not in good shape when they took over in 2005.
In Ronaldo’s exit, the club have given Ten Hag massive backing. It would be strange for his status to be questioned in the short term.
And MUST says: “We have a terrific new manager and we can all see recent progress on the field. So, conclude your review process as quickly as possible, identify the best new ownership for the football club.
“Now is the time for change in the best interests of Manchester United.”