Manchester Uncertain: Explaining The United Takeover Process

Inside football's most drawn-out bidding process
13:00, 16 Jul 2023

Manchester United’s takeover process seems to have hit a roadblock. There has been no movement for weeks now. The situation is very much the same as it has been all along. The messaging from incumbent owners the Glazers is that a bid of £6.1 billion should just about do it. Meanwhile, neither participant in the two-horse race has hit that magic number. Ineos chief Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation are yet to hit that valuation.

The two bids are structured differently. Ratcliffe’s would see the 70-year-old buy only the Glazer’s 69% stake in the club. Jassim’s preference is a full purchase, including the 31% that is spread among various other shareholders.


Ratcliffe’s bid proposes time-sensitive involvement from the Glazers before a full handover in a few years. This is reportedly a play towards Joel and Avram Glazer’s preference to remain involved. The other Glazer siblings, namely Bryan, Darcie, Edward and Kevin, are said to be keen to put this chapter behind them. Jassim’s bid meanwhile would provide a clean break with the contentious American regime.

There are countless other facets involved, not least the human rights record of Qatar and the fact that Ratcliffe owns Nice in Ligue 1. As football club sales go, this one is as complicated as it gets. Frustrations are beginning to spill over on all sides. Those bidding are annoyed by the lack of clarity as doubts creep in over whether the Glazers want to sell at all. Some see the public announcement that the family were seeking “strategic alternatives” to the way the club was run as a way to deflect from the then-ongoing Cristiano Ronaldo drama and to swerve further protests and criticism over their ownership.

There is frustration on the side of the fans most prevalently. Civil war has broken out amongst the fanbase, with battle lines being drawn. Some fans are concerned over Qatar’s human rights record and are alienated about being owned by a royal from a country where homosexuality is illegal. Others are besotted with the idea of gulf riches and the transformative effect they would provide. A section of supporters argue United generate enough revenue that they just need their debt clearing and the club could effectively fund itself. Many simply want the sale which would eradicate the Glazers' rule in the quickest and most effective way. There are many nuances to the debate, even if they sometimes get lost in the echo chamber of social media vitriol.


The frustration is surely being keenly felt within the football department too. Manager Erik ten Hag reportedly had West Ham United’s Declan Rice and Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane on his shopping list this summer. Those targets were quickly dismissed as pie-in-the-sky when it became clear the takeover would not be done in a timely manner. 

After a mammoth spend well over £200 million last summer, United have had to cut their cloth accordingly this term. There will be no big cash injection and instead the budget is thought to be between £100m and £120m. A nice problem to have for some teams, but United come into preseason with just one centre forward in the senior squad and without a first-choice goalkeeper.

A deal for Mason Mount from Chelsea has eaten half of that stated budget already while there have been no big-money sales as of yet. Takeover uncertainty is one thing when it’s muddying matters in the boardroom or among the fanbase, but now it is impacting what United can do in the market and, by extension, on the pitch.

This feels like a story that is likely to run and run. We could be deep into the season before we even know if the Glazers are genuinely up for selling. “Strategic alternatives” always felt like a more translucent phrase than “we are selling the club” would have been. Right now it feels like there is some reluctance somewhere along the line. Whether it is a reluctance to accept offers below asking price or a reluctance to sell at all, uncertainty has prevailed thus far. If United come out of this summer without badly-needed reinforcements in key positions, it is reluctance that could cost them dearly. Finish outside the top four and suddenly that £6.1bn valuation starts to look even more lofty.

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