The owners of Manchester United sent shockwaves around the world on Tuesday night when they announced they were “exploring strategic opportunities” for the club, which could include its sale.
For fans, who demanded the Glazers leave as soon as they arrived in 2005 in a leveraged buyout that still sees United struggling with a £514.9m debt – and says more than £600m come out of the club on interest and dividend payments. – this is what they have been waiting for for almost 20 years.
Still, there is no certainty about what will happen next.
United have spent big on transfers and wages but that hasn’t brought them any closer to competing for the top honours, something they have failed to do since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
BBC Sport assess what is happening now.
Why do they want to sell now?
United had already committed to making a large outlay on Old Trafford. In April they appointed lead planners but a decision has yet to be made on the extent of the changes. Then in September, chief executive Richard Arnold said the club needed to be “disciplined in our investment plans”.
In other words, any changes – which range from building an entirely new stadium to tinkering with the current structure – will require external funding.
Given the additional prospects – including increased competition from cash-rich Newcastle, the funds needed to invest in manager Erik ten Hag’s squad, the sale of Chelsea this summer for far more than expected and the failure of the European Super League to leave the field – it seems the time has come for the Glazer family to test the waters in terms of what they could receive from selling the club.
Who could buy Man Utd?
A figure of £4billion has been touted for some time as one that could bring the Glazers to the negotiating table. Turns out they came to the table first and are waiting for offers.
Realistically, there aren’t many funding sources of this size. There is no chance of Russian or Chinese involvement, due to the former’s invasion of Ukraine and the government policy.
Saudi Arabia are committed to Newcastle, Qatar Sports Investment are set to sell Paris St-Germain, while Dubai and Bahrain are neighbors in the Gulf region with no comparable investment.
The Glazers missed out on an Indian Premier League franchise last year but obviously now have contacts in India, a country where United have around 35 million followers and were due to visit as part of their 2020 pre-season tour- 21, only for the trip to get scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has been a United supporter since his youth and has previously indicated a willingness to speak with the Glazers. Wednesday, the Telegraph reported that the septuagenarian was preparing an offer.
However, despite being extremely wealthy, Ratcliffe probably won’t be able to strike a deal like this on his own.
Most likely, this will require more US investment. If selling Chelsea is any guide, given the sums likely to be required, a private equity group will be involved.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported Former United winger David Beckham is ‘open to talks with potential candidates’.
What type of owner would be acceptable to fans?
United fans have complained about former chairman Martin Edwards, they complained when he floated the club on the London Stock Exchange and they certainly complained about the Glazers, who they accuse of pulling out of huge sums of club money at a time when neighbors Manchester City benefited from massive investment from owners.
“Two of my oldest Manchester United friends say ‘be careful what you wish for,'” said Jim O’Neill, a respected economist and United fan who was a significant presence in the Red Knights group that tried to bought the club in 2010. BBC Sport.
“They point out that a lot of people have never liked any owner United have had.
“You have to be very careful, but it’s very complex. The United brand is seemingly endless. It has remarkable prestige and someone might be willing to pay the kind of crazy price that will probably sell them.”
However, the Manchester United Supporters Trust know what they don’t want: “The past 17 years have been characterized by debt and decline – on and off the pitch.
“The vast majority of United fans will agree with the conclusion that you [the Glazers] seem to have also achieved – it’s time for a change.
“Fans will want to carefully consider any potential new owners – above all we implore them not to repeat the mistakes you have made – to alienate the fans who are Manchester United’s greatest asset.”
How long will it take?
It is quite obvious to say ‘as long as it takes’. However, this is the reality.
A speedy conclusion to this process would no doubt be welcome. Yet, as with any sale of such magnitude and complexity, until the deals start rolling in, no one can tell how long it will take to fix the problem.
It’s hard to imagine many people being willing to pay huge sums of money without having a say in running the club. But they could exist, which is why additional new investments as opposed to an outright sale cannot yet be completely ruled out.
Does the Glazer family just want to offload to the highest bidder, or are they willing to consider the track record of potential buyers? Do they want payment in advance? Or would they accept installments?
All of these factors can affect the speed of closing a deal.
In the meantime, what funding will be made available to Ten Hag? After Cristiano Ronaldo the immediate release has been confirmed Hours before Glazer’s announcement on Tuesday night, it’s pretty obvious United need to strengthen their forward line.
Yet, it’s also clear that few attackers at the right level are available, let alone in January.
If Ten Hag is to strengthen his team, where will the money come from if there is no certainty of ownership?
MUST, who only successfully concluded comprehensive negotiations with United owners over a fan sharing scheme in August, made his position clear: “We implore you to act quickly. In football, any kind of pause or uncertainty is disastrous.
“If you have decided to sell, we urge you to do so quickly to enable the club to move on without delay.”
Will a sale definitely take place?
It is not absolutely certain. O’Neill thinks so. And if not, he thinks a transformation of the Glazer property will be necessary.
“I think change is now inevitable,” he said. “But given the publicity around that statement, if the Glazers can’t sell, they’re going to have to change quite dramatically the way they run United ownership going forward and introduce a common goal and culture that stretches to the whole club.
“The Ronaldo episode is another ridiculous example of how they wanted to run the club.”
What about Ten Hag?
Thomas Tuchel didn’t last long at Chelsea after the summer upheaval and most new owners like to have a manager change 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.
When Ronaldo exited, the club gave Ten Hag massive support. It would be strange if its status were called into question in the short term.
And MUST says: “We have a great new manager and we can all see the recent progress on the pitch. So complete your review process as soon as possible, identify the best new owner for the football club.
“Now is the time for change in the best interest of Manchester United.”