The billionaire Glazer family is considering putting Manchester United up for sale.
For many Man United fans, there could hardly be more welcome news.
Glazer’s ownership of the Premier League club has been deeply unpopular from the start, with the Florida-based family’s 17-year reign marred by fan protests, massive debt and declining performance on the pitch. .
“It’s an understatement to say that the fans will be happy: the contempt for the Glazers runs deep,” Ahmed Bilal, editor of the Man Utd News football blog, told Al Jazeera.
Why has Man United’s ownership of the Glazers been so controversial?
After beginning his investment in Man United with the purchase of a 2.9 per cent stake in 2003, the late property magnate Malcolm Glazer took over the club in 2005.
The leveraged buyout that cost £790 million ($955 million) was based on a significant amount of borrowed money that was secured against the club’s own assets.
The deal immediately sparked an uproar among fans, who criticized the club’s new owners for saddling the then hugely profitable side with huge levels of debt.
Despite having paid some 743 million pounds ($898 million) in interest since then, Man United has outstanding debts of about 500 million pounds ($604 million), almost as much as in 2005.
Fans have also been outraged by the club’s dividend payout, averaging around 22 million pounds ($266 million) a season, to shareholders, the largest group of which is Glazer themselves.
Adding insult to injury, Man United, once one of the most successful clubs in the world, have failed to deliver on the pitch in recent years despite the huge sums of money swirling around the team.
The club have not won a trophy since 2017, a weak performance for a side with 20 league titles, more than any other club, and the distinction of being the only English side to take home the European Cup treble , national league and domestic cup.
“All of this has taken United from being the leading club in England to now playing to catch up with five or six other top teams in the league,” Bilal said.
“There is a lot of anger amongst the fans over the scale of United’s financial outpouring towards the Glazers with nothing to show for it in terms of improving the club or its future.”
Tensions reached a new high last year when hundreds of Manchester United fans stormed the club’s Old Trafford stadium to protest plans to join a proposed European Super League, which critics have described as elitist and anti-competitive.
In an interview with TV presenter Piers Morgan earlier this month, star player Cristiano Ronaldo, who left the club by “mutual agreement” this week, joined the Glazers’ criticism, claiming they had no interest in the club welfare.
“They will get money from marketing, from sport…in my opinion, they don’t really care,” Ronaldo said.
Scott Patterson, editor of the soccer blog Republik Of Mancunia, said the Glazers have under-invested in the club, to the point that its stadium and training ground have fallen into disrepair.
“They have no idea about football and they have hired too many people who share their lack of knowledge, who have made bad football decisions that have set us back years,” Patterson told Al Jazeera.
“It was only after our fans stormed the stadium, leading to the end of the European Super League plans, that the Glazers opened any kind of dialogue with the fans. There is no relationship.”
Who will take over as the new owner of Man United?
Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, the club’s co-CEOs and directors, said this week that they are exploring “strategic alternatives” to better serve the club and its fans, including a possible sale.
“We will evaluate all options to ensure we better serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future,” they 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.
A lifelong Man United fan, Ratcliffe said in August through a spokesman that he is “definitely a potential buyer” if the team goes on sale.
Lord Jim O’Neill, a former Goldman Sachs chairman who led an effort to buy the club in 2010, has also signaled possible interest in the team.
In an interview with the Manchester Evening News on Wednesday, O’Neill said he would consider making an offer if the Glazers lowered their “unrealistic” demands amid reports the family could be seeking up to £5bn ($6bn). dollars) for the club. However, O’Neil admitted that it was “very, very difficult” to see a way forward.
Other potential buyers were floated in the media and among fans include private equity investors in the United States and state-backed investors in the Middle East, who have snapped up a number of European clubs, including Manchester City, who were bought by Emirati. Royal Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2008.
Still, a sale is not guaranteed.
And while Man United fans wouldn’t be sad to see the Glazers’ back, there’s also anxiety about the club falling into the wrong hands.
Patterson said fans are aware of the possibility of falling out of the frying pan and into the fire.
“We just want an owner who invests the money the club generates in the training facilities, improving the stadium, employing football people, signing the right players and developing the 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, editor of the soccer blog Stretty News, said fans should be cautiously optimistic after the prospect of the Glazers leaving has shown 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, for example some despotic state that abuses human rights or the like,” O’Donnell said.
“We urged the UK government to protect our football club because they didn’t listen to us when fans raised concerns about the Glazers.