Playing the long game: will the Glazers sell Manchester United?

Supporters’ pain ‘might go on for some time yet’, but win over Liverpool has lifted spirits

United fans protest against the Glazers’ stewardship
United fans protest against the Glazers’ stewardship
(Image credit: Andy Barton/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“As the old football saying goes, it’s the hope that kills you,” said Gearoid Reidy on Bloomberg. Last week, fans of Manchester United, the once-invincible football club, were briefly buoyed by news that Elon Musk was considering a takeover bid. It soon emerged that the world’s richest man – a United fan since boyhood – was kidding, said Liam Proud on Breakingviews. But there is “serious money” to be made for a buyer focused on growth rather than extracting cash.

The inept current owners, the Florida-based Glazer family, have “saddled Man Utd with debt and taken cash out of the club”, with debt-servicing and dividend payments totalling $140m over the past three years, said Proud. But imagine that a “financially motivated buyer” paid a 30% premium to the current value, or $3.2bn including net debt. Assume they ran the club on a “break-even basis with the same 5% revenue growth that Man City achieved between 2017 and 2021”. The upshot? “Man Utd would be worth $6.7bn after five years”, using the seven-times revenue multiple that City’s valuation is based on. Result!

With the Glazers reportedly open to selling a stake, would-be buyers are going public, said Jamie Nimmo in The Sunday Times. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Manchester-born billionaire behind Ineos, is keen. Private equity group Apollo is another likely suitor. And the former Goldman Sachs economist Lord (Jim) O’Neill is open to reviving his “Red Knights” consortium that attempted a takeover in 2010. But would any potential buyer agree to a minority stake without the option of a full takeover? “And surely the Glazers would demand far more than the £2.5bn paid for Chelsea earlier this year.” A sale is possible, but “supporters’ pain might go on for some time yet”.

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‘A memorable night of sound and fury’

Ahead of the Premier League clash against Liverpool on Monday night, the United supporters staged a major protest against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club, said the Manchester Evening News. “Marching to Old Trafford”, there was a “huge crowd” at the protest, with an estimated 10,000 people participating.

Aside from the off-pitch matters, the on-field performances have also not given the United fans much to cheer about. Starting his tenure as the club’s new head coach, Erik ten Hag saw his side beaten 2-1 by Brighton and 4-0 by Brentford in his first two games in charge. At Old Trafford on Monday, however, the team secured their first victory of the season, 2-1 against their big rivals from Anfield.

The ten Hag era was “ignited on a memorable night of sound and fury”, said Phil McNulty on the BBC. Dropping captain Harry Maguire and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to the bench, the Dutchman was the “biggest winner” of the night, having made “big, brave calls” and producing a “tactical gameplan that worked to perfection”.

For new signing Casemiro, who was unveiled before the victory over Liverpool, it was a “most bewildering introduction to the often nonsensical world of Manchester United”, said Andy Hunter in The Guardian. First impressions will have included “a disenchanted fanbase”, a team in “urgent need of direction”, but also a team “willing to fight against their fiercest rivals and to implement the new manager’s instructions”. It was a “perfect education all the same” for the Brazilian midfielder.

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