Manchester United owners face stiff competition in bid to sell historic club

Glazer family looking for the exit as Red Devils fall further behind Premier League rivals

Old Trafford Stadium, the home of Manchester United Football Club. Getty
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Stand by for much shouting and wailing — and worse: The January football transfer window has not officially opened but already Manchester United supporters are up in arms.

After months of speculation that the club would land the PSV Eindhoven forward Cody Gakpo amid rumours that he wanted to play for United and be managed by fellow Dutchman Erik ten Hag, up popped a statement that PSV and Liverpool had reached an agreement on his transfer.

Instead of the red of United, it will be another red he dons — that of United’s loathed archrivals along the M62 motorway.

Liverpool appear to have swooped in with an offer of £45 million for the 23-year-old.

Reportedly part of the reason for United’s failure to land him is that, as the club’s owners the Glazer family are in the middle of selling Manchester United, purchases have been ruled out — it’s loan deals only.

But Liverpool is also up for sale, so how does that work?

Meanwhile, the media is full of United rumours and counter-rumours, saying that the club is keen to buy a new goalkeeper, that the priority is not a goalie but a right-back, that ten Hag has his sights on another striker, that the team must strengthen this January to secure a lucrative Champions league spot, that West Ham’s England star Declan Rice is in the frame, and on goes the gossip over the world’s biggest football club.

If there is a loser in this, it is the long-suffering United followers, who must try to make sense of what is actually occurring.

What is certain from their perspective is that, yet again, United have lost out to Liverpool in the race for a treasured signature, that other clubs seem more active transfer-wise and therefore more determined and passionate, that United under the Glazers is shrouded in fog and mystery, that the American proprietors cannot go soon enough

It’s an opaqueness that gets murkier by the day. One moment, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s wealthiest man, is thought to be interested; then Tottenham announce they’ve signed a multiyear deal for the Grenadier, the new off-road 4X4 manufactured by Ratcliffe's Ineos to be their official 4x4 Vehicle Partner.

More tie-ups between Ratcliffe and Tottenham reportedly could be in the pipeline, including the naming rights for the team's new stadium, meaning he could ditch United.

Manchester United fans wave banners saying 'Glazers Out' as the two teams walk out on to the pitch before the Carabao Cup fourth round match at Old Trafford, Manchester. PA

Again, that’s a blow to the United die-hards, who were taken by the idea of a Brit owning their club. Whether Ratcliffe had the money, or rather, was prepared to commit the sort of sum that the Glazers are seeking, was another matter.

Here, too, there are widely differing accounts of the price they’re after. Let’s attempt to steer a way through.

After 17 years, the Glazers have put United up for sale. Officially, they are seeking external investment but no investor worth their salt is likely to play patsy to them — it has to be control and therefore outright disposal.

During that period, they’ve endured a level of opprobrium including personal abuse, trespass of the Old Trafford ground, invasion of the club’s Megastore, protest marches and boycotts. Yet, not once have they flinched, at no time did they say “enough” and declare they were pulling out.

So, there must be another reason for going now. The late Malcolm Glazer, who bought United, had six children. For a while, four are thought to have wanted to cash in, having no interest in running a football club in England. Joel and Avram were resistant, though recently, Joel is believed to have come to toe the line.

The trigger would appear to be FSG saying it was prepared to offload Liverpool. No sooner did FSG reveal their hand, than the Glazers followed.

The reasoning is simple: Given the figure being sought, there are very few people with that sort of cash, and the Glazers would not want to see such a person buy Liverpool when they could have bought United.

There’s no doubt that Old Trafford has fallen behind and that other clubs, notably Manchester City and Tottenham, possess newer, smarter grounds. Likewise, United’s Carrington training complex could also do with some love and attention. Commercial revenue have also flattened.

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It’s no coincidence, though, that two of Britain’s biggest clubs are on the market simultaneously

It’s no coincidence, though, that two of Britain’s biggest clubs are on the market simultaneously. That’s down to other factors, beyond refurbishment plans.

This season, neither is a sure-fire winner of a coveted Champions League entry, the competition that yields the biggest proceeds in terms of TV rights.

As it happens, the competition for one of those four berths has become even tougher, with City, United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham being joined by a resurgent Newcastle. Perm four from seven does not have a smart ring to it — not if you’re a calculating billionaire.

The new European Super League was supposed to do away with that lottery and also make relegation an initial impossibility, but that project fell immediately, drowned in a furious sea of opposition.

You can take a punt on it being resurrected — unlikely in the short-term — and succeeding, though the anger it engenders has not vanished, or not wait and take the money now. FSG and the Glazers have plumped for the latter.

Again, it can’t be happenstance that the Liverpool and United moves came so soon after the forced sale of Chelsea.

Roman Abramovich’s London asset fetched a record for a football club of £2.5 billion, plus £1.75 billion to spend on infrastructure, academy and women’s football. Both Liverpool and United have much larger followings than Chelsea.

United, with the greatest reach of all, should command a premium. But how much?

Raine, the club’s advisers, are said to be looking for £6 billion to £7 billion. That is far in excess of the majority of valuations, which put United’s worth at around £3 billion — £4 billion.

There again, it’s Manchester United we’re talking about. It just needs one buyer to want it so badly to pay what it takes, and the Glazers have met their price tag.

Meanwhile, the Premier League fixtures have recommenced. Oh, did anyone mention the football?

Published: December 27, 2022, 7:52 PM