The Glazer family have finally relented and are ready to listen to offers for Manchester United, considering bids for partial or full takeovers.
The Americans have run things since 2005 when a controversial leveraged buyout plunged the Old Trafford club into debt for the first time in seven decades. That debt, as well as interest payments and a parasitic ownership model have hamstrung United ever since.
A statement confirmed that United are ‘commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives for the club’ and will consider ‘all strategic alternatives, including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the Company’.
Ownership of Manchester United has so rarely changed hands that if a sale is completed now it will be just the fifth time in the club’s 144-year history that a takeover has gone through after previous buyouts in 1902, 1931, 1964 and 2005.
Petrochemicals billionaire and INEOS chief Sir Jim Ratcliffe is expected to launch a takeover bid. The 70-year-old grew up a United fan and his interest in buying the club was previously confirmed by a spokesperson during the summer. He appeared to back away upon being rebuffed with an initial approach but is back on the scene now that the Glazers are ready to listen.
Ratcliffe, commonly referred to as Britain’s richest man, tried to buy Chelsea in the summer but his £4.25bn bid was submitted after the deadline. His firm already have experience in sports, having invested in cycling and F1, as well as owning OGC Nice and Swiss club Lausanne.
Elon Musk has joked in the past that he is ‘buying Manchester United’, with that tweet in August 2022 garnering nearly 900,000 likes.
The South African-born entrepreneur made his fortune through online services and was involved in the early days of PayPal before he turned 30. Since then, his wealth has snowballed, including ventures like Tesla and SpaceX, to a point where, as of November 2022, Musk has an estimated net worth of $181bn to make him the richest person on earth.
He has also proven very recently that he is more than happy to take on potentially risky new deals. A Manchester United takeover would be a drop in the ocean compared to his $44bn Twitter deal.
If we’re talking insanely rich people with a LOT of money at their fingertips, the name Jeff Bezos may as well be added to the pile.
The Amazon founder and executive chairman is no longer vying with Musk for the title of ‘world’s richest person’ on account of a divorce settlement that saw his ex-wife become one of the richest people on the planet in her own right. But he still has an estimated net worth of around $113bn.
Apple have conquered the tech world and could now move into the sporting world following claims that the California-based giant have an interest in buying United – potentially for around £5.8bn.
It has been claimed that chief executive Tim Cook, who took over from the late Steve Jobs on his death in 2014, wants to explore the opportunities that owning United could create for Apple – annual revenue exceeds £300bn and company as a whole is worth £2tn, so money isn’t an issue.
Even though Apple haven’t been down this road before, Cook has actually been a director at sportswear behemoth Nike since 2005 and lead independent director of the board since 2016.
Apollo Global Management was linked with a potential United takeover bid in August, although nothing ultimately came of it.
The New York-based firm or others like it are among the few that might have the kind of capital to mount a bid that would be appealing to the Glazers.
But there is an immediate red flag from the perspective of fans with any such companies getting involved in the club. Private equity firms are in the business of making profits, which might not be much of a change from the current situation.
Gary Neville has even previously claimed that “US money is a bigger danger to that than any other international money.”
Abu Dhabi has Manchester City, Qatar has Paris Saint-Germain and Saudi Arabia has Newcastle. But Dubai is a bit of an outlier among super rich Gulf states in that its sovereign wealth fund doesn’t own a major European club.
A Dubai approach might be popular with United fans expecting enormous investment in the club, but in wider circles it would draw criticism similar to that directed at City and Newcastle on the subject of sportswashing, the illegality of homosexuality in UAE and the country’s record on human rights.
David Beckham is increasingly being linked with bids for the club.
90min understands that the United legend is attracting interest from several potential bidders to get involved and endorse their approach. That could essentially end up making him the face of a possible takeover.
Beckham is already part of the Inter Miami ownership group, having triggered the option of a discounted MLS expansion franchise fee that was included in his 2007 contract upon moving to LA Galaxy. On top of that, he has a 10% stake in Salford City with several of his former teammates.
Gary Neville is also part of the Salford ownership group and plays an active role in the running of the club. He was part of the original takeover that saw him, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and younger brother Phil each buy a 10% stake, with Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, who also completed a takeover at Valencia around that time, taking the other 50%.
Beckham came aboard later, buying his 10% from Lim.
The Red Knights are a group of wealthy United fans who initially wanted to buy the club from the Glazer family in 2010 at the height of the first wave of green and gold protests against the unpopular owners.
There were plans to submit a £1.25bn bid, but it never came after the group claimed media reports had led to ‘inflated valuation aspirations’.
The Manchester-born economist Lord O’Neill, also a former chairman at Goldman Sachs, is part of that group and has already stated he would be interested in resurrecting a bid. However, he suggested the numbers being thrown about are unrealistic and suggested demands may need to be lowered.
“Anybody who has been in business and thinks of ownership of assets that people want, you don’t need to go to a public statement to attract buyers at a premium,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
Michael Knighton famously tried and failed to buy United in 1989 when he was the public face of a consortium that offered £20m to then chairman Martin Edwards, who accepted the bid.
Knighton even donned a United shirt and juggled the ball on the Old Trafford pitch in front of fans. However, key backers pulled out and the deal collapsed, leaving Knighton to concede and settle for a seat on the board.
He popped up again in August 2022, slamming the Glazer regime and claiming to have ‘good finance’ behind a hostile bid he was preparing, calling it ‘legitimate, potent and commercial’.
But Knighton later admitted his consortium wouldn’t have the resources to compete with the likes of Jim Ratcliffe or a sovereign wealth fund and more or less admitted the point of going public was to get Ratcliffe to the table.
“If we can smoke the great Sir Jim out to buy Manchester United my consortium will be punching the air because we’ve achieved what we want to do,” he revealed to ITV news in September.
UFC fighter Conor McGregor is known to be a United fan, but his dream to buy a football club is arguably more important to him because he very quickly went public with his excitement about the prospect of being involved in some kind of Liverpool takeover bid in early November 2022.
McGregor claimed at the time to have already requested information as soon as he heard that FSG were welcoming bids at Anfield. Whether United now being up for sale changes his thinking remains to be seen.
However, as wealthy as McGregor is – an estimated net worth of $230m – he alone has nowhere near enough capital to buy United. Instead, the Irishman would have to be part of a larger consortium.