Bidders for Manchester United will have until 9pm tonight (Wednesday 22nd March) to submit their second offers for the club. The only public parties so far are INEOS founder and Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, son of the former Emir of Qatar.
Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim’s initial offers came in beneath the asking price of the Glazer family, the club’s present owners. The highest offer in the first round of bidding was reported as around £4.5 billion. The American owners are understood to be looking for a figure closer to £6 billion to part with the club they have owned since 2005.
Anyone who has been following the process online over the last few weeks could be forgiven for thinking the bidding process is a two-horse race between Ratcliffe and the Qatari bid fronted by Sheikh Jassim. United’s fanbase has certainly been divided across those lines.
The match-going fanbase egregiously packaged as “legacy fans” during the ESL debacle have misgivings about gulf state ownership while the younger, more international demographic seem to favour the boundless riches on offer from Jassim’s side to Ratcliffe’s more complicated bid. There are nuances here, such as Qatar’s human rights abuses and Ratcliffe’s unwillingness to purchase 100% of the club. But whatever side fans have landed on, they agree on one thing. None of them want the widely-reported third option of continued Glazer ownership.
Elliott Investment Management’s involvement in the talks has not been obsessed over to the same degree as Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim’s bids. That is likely because they are proposing a more esoteric arrangement. The US-based hedge fund is not offering to takeover the club themselves, but rather to provide financing to the successful party in negotiations. As well as extending that offer to the two public bidders they have also made it clear they would finance the Glazers should they decide to stay on.
Elliott’s services being employed in this way is not a far-fetched possibility. It is well known that Joel and Avram Glazer are not as determined to leave Old Trafford as their other siblings. With the hedge fund’s help, they could buy out Darcie, Edward, Kevin and Bryan’s stakes and remain in control of the club.
The effect of this move could be catastrophic for the club. United are enjoying their best season on the pitch in many years. The club has recruited exceptionally well both on the pitch and in the dugout. New manager Erik ten Hag has led the Red Devils to their first trophy since 2017, winning the Carabao Cup last month. They are third in the Premier League table with a Europa League quarter final and an FA Cup semi final to look forward to. Meanwhile, the likes of Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez have excelled while addressing long-term problem positions.
Of course, this resurgence has taken place on the Glazers’ watch. They installed Ten Hag, despite pressure to recruit a more proven Premier League manager like Antonio Conte or Mauricio Pochettinho. The struggles of the former in particular have retroactively shown that to be a wise move. The American owners also promoted Richard Arnold to the position of CEO, a role he is performing successfully. John Murtough has grown into his position as football director. The club is functioning more smoothly than it has in a long time.
But how much of this resurgence has been down to the light at the end of the tunnel fans have been presented? The Glazer family were open about their intention to pursue “strategic alternatives” for United, essentially making public their intention to sell the club. It is this factor that has eased tensions at Old Trafford among a fanbase who have spent much of the last few years actively protesting.
Lazy pundits have taken the fans to task for not protesting because United are winning. This click-driving, talk radio ignorance is mainly done to create viral buzz. It also discounts the fact that anyone who has attended a game at Old Trafford this season will have heard the dissent verbalised towards the Glazers. But the reason there has been less in the way of the stadium break-ins and smoke-bomb inflected dissent outside the ground is simply because the fans have been led to believe the Glazers are leaving. It is an uneasy truce helped by an improvement in the football, but largely born out of the fact that there is no point protesting against owners who are leaving anyway.
It is for this reason that the Glazers doing an about-face on their decision could prove disastrous. If the family make it clear they are staying, the unrest could reach new levels. While the Glazers never made an express promise to sell, it is clear that most fans have taken “strategic alternatives” and the current sale process to mean they will be gone in short order. The glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel being snuffed out would be too much for many fans to take.
If there is one thing the competing sides of the United fanbase agree on, it is that they want an end to the Glazers ownership. The resulting bad feeling if that doesn’t happen could consume the good work being done under Ten Hag. No amount of trophies will paper over the cracks. United fans protested when they were winning Premier Leagues and Champions Leagues under Sir Alex Ferguson. They won’t hesitate to man the barricades if they end this season with a mantle full of cups. Elliott have offered the Glazers a path to continued control at Old Trafford. But Joel and Avram must realise that if they take it, they would not be in charge of the harmonious club they are now. The Glazers would find themselves at the head of an organisation in turmoil once again.
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