Manchester United Football Club’s American owners may finally sell the club after a 17-year reign marked by fan protests and declining on-field performance.
The Glazer family is preparing to formally announce its intention to investigate potential sources of outside investment, which could include a full-fledged auction of arguably the world’s most famous football club, according to Sky News.
According to sources, Manchester United’s owners have instructed investment bankers to advise on the process, which is likely to include a full or partial sale or strategic partnership with third parties.
A statement confirming their intentions could come imminently, one of them said.
The announcement of a review of financial options that could include a sale process would signal an end to years of speculation over whether the Glazers might be persuaded to offload a club which for the past decade has experienced an almost-unmitigated footballing decline.
The club has not won the Premier League title since 2013, and has fired a number of managers since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
Recently, the club has been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with its most famous player, Cristiano Ronaldo, over an interview in which he questioned United’s ambition and slammed the Glazers’ approach to ownership.
United announced Mr Ronaldo’s departure “with immediate effect” on Tuesday.
It is still possible that the family, which acquired United in a £790 million debt-financed deal in 2005, will decide not to sell.
A partial sale to new investors, with capital being raised to fund an overdue redevelopment of Old Trafford, is one potential outcome from the process.
The Glazers have acknowledged the need for new infrastructure investment to transform the stadium into a truly world-class venue, as well as significant funds to allow the men’s team to compete at the top of the European game once more.
If United were to be sold outright, it would be the latest top-flight club to change hands, following the £2.5 billion sale of Chelsea to a consortium led by American businessman Todd Boehly earlier this year.
United’s valuation in a sale would inevitably exceed the roughly $2.15 billion market capitalisation implied by its share price on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
Reports in recent months have speculated that any transaction would need to value the club at anywhere between £5bn and £9bn to persuade the owners to sell.
The Glazers listed a minority stake in the company in 2012 but retained overwhelming control through a dual-class share structure which means they hold almost all voting rights.
For more than 18 months, the club has been promising to introduce a modestly sized supporter ownership scheme that would give fans shares with the same structure of voting rights as the Glazers.
The initiative has, however, yet to be launched despite a pledge to have it operational by the start of the 2021-22 season.
It was one of a number of commitments made by Joel Glazer, United’s co-chairman, in the wake of the European Super League (ESL) debacle, in which the club played a pivotal role.
Manchester United was one of six Premier League teams to agree to join the project, which collapsed within hours of its official launch amid public and political acrimony.
In May 2021, Red Devils fans forced the postponement of a home match against rivals Liverpool after protesting against the ESL and the Glazer family.
“Love United, Hate Glazers” has become a familiar refrain during their tenure, with supporters critical of a perceived lack of investment in the club’s infrastructure while the owners have extracted hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of dividends as a result of its continued commercial success.
If a formal sale process is initiated, attention will turn to the identities of potential buyers.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Ineos billionaire who has supported United since childhood, expressed interest in purchasing the club in August but has since suggested that English football’s elite names are overpriced.
Billionaires from around the world will be linked to bids, as will sovereign investors looking to replicate the types of takeovers seen at Newcastle United, which is now owned by Saudi state-backed investors, and Paris Saint-Germain, which is owned by Qatar.
There will also be speculation that the Red Knights, a consortium led by former United director and leading economist Lord O’Neill, may resurrect an attempt to take control of the club that was launched in 2010.
Significantly, the potential auction of Manchester United comes as Fenway Sports Group, the owner of Liverpool, considers selling all or part of the Anfield club.
The simultaneous sale of two of English football’s so-called “big six” clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur – would be unprecedented.
According to one analyst, the timing suggested that some investors believed the value of top clubs was approaching a peak, especially given the global economic forecasts for the coming years.
United’s announcement is also likely to come during a World Cup fueled by Gulf petrodollars, highlighting the shifting financing of the global football industry.