The billionaire Glazer family is considering putting Manchester United up for sale.
For many fans of Man United, there could hardly be more welcome news.
Ownership of the Premier League club by the Glazers was extremely unpopular from the start. The Florida family’s 17-year reign was marred by fan protests, huge debts, and falling performance on the pitch.
“It’s an understatement to say the fans will be happy — the disdain for the Glazers is deep,” Ahmed Bilal, editor of soccer blog Man Utd News, told CNN Breaking News.
Why was the Glazers’ ownership of Man United so controversial?
After starting his investment in Man United with the purchase of a 2.9 percent stake in 2003, the late real estate mogul Malcolm Glazer took over the club in 2005.
The leveraged buyout, which cost 790 million British pounds ($955 million), was based on a significant amount of borrowed money that was secured against the club’s own assets.
The deal immediately sparked turmoil among fans, who beat up the club’s new owners for burdening the then extremely profitable team with huge debts.
Although it has paid an estimated 743 million pounds ($898 million) in interest payments since then, Man United today has outstanding debts of around 500 million pounds ($604 million) — almost as much as in 2005.
Fans were also upset that the club was paying out dividends — an average of around 22 million pounds ($266 million) per season — to shareholders, of whom the Glazers themselves are the largest groups.
To make the injury even worse, Man United, once one of the most successful clubs in the world, hasn’t made it onto the pitch in recent years despite the huge sums of money swirling around in the team.
The club hasn’t won a cup since 2017 — a weak performance for a team with 20 league titles, more than any other club, and the distinction of being the only English team to have taken home three times the European Cup, the national league and the domestic cup.
“All of this has led United from England’s leading club to now play up to five or six other big teams in the league,” said Bilal.
“There is a lot of anger among fans about the extent of United’s financial outflow towards the Glazers, with little to show in terms of improving the club or its future.”
Tensions reached a new peak last year when hundreds of Man United fans broke into the club’s home stadium, Old Trafford, to protest plans to join a planned European Super League that critics described as elitist and anti-competitive.
In an interview with TV host Piers Morgan earlier this month, Star Play Cristiano Ronaldo, who left the club “amicably” this week, joined the criticism of the Glazers and claimed they had no interest in the club’s well-being.
“They’re going to get money from marketing — sports… in my opinion, they don’t care,” Ronaldo said.
Scott Patterson, editor of the soccer blog Republic Of Mancunia, said the Glazers had invested little in the club as the stadium and training ground had fallen into disrepair.
“They have no idea about soccer and have employed too many people who share their lack of knowledge, who have made bad soccer decisions that set us back years,” Patterson told CNN Breaking News.
“It wasn’t until our fans broke into the stadium, which led to the end of plans for the European Super League, that the Glazers began all dialogue with the fans. There is no relationship.”
Who will take over the new owner of Man United?
Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, the club’s executive co-chairs and directors, said this week that they are looking for “strategic alternatives” to best serve the club and its fans, including a potential sale.
“We will review all options to ensure we serve our fans in the best possible way and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future,” it said in a statement.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the 27th richest person in the UK according to the Sunday Times Rich List, has openly expressed interest in buying the club.
Ratcliffe, a lifelong fan of Man United, said through a spokesperson in August that he was “definitely a potential buyer” when the team is put up for sale.
Lord Jim O’Neill, a former Goldman Sachs chairman who led efforts to buy the club in 2010, has also signaled his potential interest in the team.
In an interview with Manchester Evening News on Wednesday, O’Neill said he would consider making an offer if the Glazers lowered their “unrealistic” demands, as the family could reportedly apply for up to 5 billion pounds ($6 billion) for the club. O’Neil, however, acknowledged that it was “very, very difficult” to find another path.
Other potential buyers in the media and among fans included private equity investors in the United States and government-backed investors in the Middle East, who have founded a number of European clubs, including cross-city competitor Manchester City, which was bought by Emirati royal Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2008.
However, a sale is not guaranteed.
And while Man United fans wouldn’t be sad to see the Glazers’ back, there’s also fear of the possibility of the club falling into the wrong hands.
According to Patterson, fans are paying attention to the opportunity to get out of the frying pan and into the fire.
“We just want an owner who invests the money the club generates in training facilities, improves the stadium, employs soccer staff, hires the right players and promotes youth,” he said. “We don’t need a rich sugar daddy and we don’t want human rights abusers to own the club.”
Dale O’Donnell, the editor of soccer blog Stretty News, said fans should be cautiously optimistic after the prospect of the Glazers leaving proved that fans are the “life and soul of soccer.”
“Anything can happen and we don’t want the club to fall into the wrong hands — a human-rights violating despotic state, for example, or something like that,” O’Donnell said.
“We are urging the UK government to protect our soccer club because they didn’t listen to us when fans raised concerns about the Glazers.