Hell has Frozen Over
Ladies and gentlemen, the impossible has happened. Manchester United is for sale. The Glazer family have finally decided to cash in on the club. After 18 years of heartless, soul sucking, leeching, ineptitude the Glazers appear ready to finally throw in the towel. Or so it would seem.
But, before we go too far over our skis, let me be clear about what the Glazers have actually said. In true fashion they have disingenuously stopped short of saying the club is absolutely, unequivocally up for sale. Instead, they chose their words more carefully by stating they would investigate “new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the company.”
The clubs full statement can be read here.
The Glazers, obviously can’t directly say that that Manchester United is for sale. It devalues the club and undercuts the their leverage in any negotiations. However, if rumors are correct, United is indeed for sale and the Glazers are looking for bids north of $7 billion. That is despite the club’s current market value being closer to $4.5 billion.
However, as United fans, we have been bitten in ass too many times by the Glazers for there not to be some skepticism around a potential sale.
How many times have the Glazers lied to the faces of the fans? How many times have they illuded to but, never followed through on changes and improvements needed at the club? And how long have they tried to defend a tenure riddled with rapacious and imprudent decisions?
The list is so long, it reads like a mafiosos rap sheet. However, we are meant to believe that this time it is going to be different. That this time they mean business. This time there are no smoke and mirrors.
And I for one, get the feeling this time it is indeed different.
Maybe United really is for sale
All of the signs are there. The media all agree the team is for sale. Interest from several parties has been officially and publicly registered. The board has authorized the opening of a data room containing a digital blueprint of the club and its finances for any prospective buyers to see. Additionally the club announced in November that the board did not approve dividends for the 2023 fiscal year.
While our January transfer window was dominated by bargain bin loan signings. In the face of over a billion dollars spent on players in January by teams like Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Arsenal, Bournmouth, Brentford, Southampton and Leeds, Manchester United chose to invest pennies by comparison on loanees Wout Weghorst, Jack Butland and Marcel Sabitzer.
Manchester United have also announced that they will be employing the Raine Group as “exclusive financial advisors.” The same Raine Group that managed the sale of Chelsea last year.
Each of these facts only reinforces reports of an immanent sale. So, if Manchester United really is for sale, who out there is a serious bidder? What is Manchester United worth? What will the team actually sell for? And, how long will it all take?
Club sale a complex process
Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. For instance, Manchester United is a publicly traded entity. Which means it’s overall worth and finances are publicly accessible information.
It’s current worth as of this week is just shy of $4 billion. So, any bidder can expect to pay at least that. However, it is rumored that the Glazer’s expect a record-breaking bid for a sports team to be persuaded to sell.
To date, the largest sports franchise sale in history was the Denver Broncos for $4.65 billion. So, it is unlikely that United will be sold for anything less. Despite this hefty price tag, it is rumored even further that the Glazers won’t stop there.
Though entirely speculation, a lot of fans, bloggers, and commentators all believe each of the six Glazer siblings who co-owns United wants to walk away with $1 billion. This bumps United’s price tag to a minimum of $6 billion. Even worse, there are even some corners of tabloid and social media that believe the Glazer’s have set an asking price closer to $8 billion.
How much is United really worth?
So, what will Manchester United actually sell for?
The global marketability of the club is second to none. Under the right ownership, the potential for success both on and off the pitch is so high, that I can see the club breaking a global sale record.
But, the Glazers are more mental than we all assumed if they think they are getting anything close $8 billion. Especially with United’s total worth, after their number of outstanding shares is factored into the clubs stock price, is $3.75 billion. In addition to the sale price, any potential buyer will have to sink billions into renovations and rebuilding.
No way, now how anyone is paying $8 billion for United given their current market value. Especially knowing that after purchasing the club, they need to invest $2.5-3 billion more.
While I don’t think the Glazer’s will get the minimum $6 billion that they want it is not outside of the realm of possibility that the club sells for between $4.75 billion and $5.25billion.
Who are the potential buyers?
Sir Jim Ratcliffe
At such a high price it is a little surprising that the papers have reported a host of potential buyers. The first and probably most likely is Sir Jim Ratcliffe, owner of Ineos. Sir Jim already owns two other football teams. While his company, Ineos is a sponsor of both the Mercedes F1 team and the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. Meaning, he and his company are not shy of investing in professional sports.
He is also reported to be a lifelong Manchester United fan. Not to mention he is the richest man in Britain, with a reported net worth north of $12 billion. Ratcliffe would seem an ideal owner. He has money and resources. He has an understanding of what is required to own a sports team. And most importantly he has a love for Manchester United. On the surface he would appear to be a modern incarnation of Mr. John Henry Davies himself.
Ratcliffe seems to be the closest to an indefectible potential buyer as it gets. Unfortunately, his initial interest in buying the club for around $4 billion has already been rebuffed by United. What’s more, regardless of his previous sporting endeavors, his money and his love for United, he may not be the best choice for the Red Devils if trophies are the benchmark for success.
Sir Jim’s track record in question
Sir Jim has pumped relatively ridiculous amounts of money into FC Lausanne-Sport, his Swiss Super League football team, and Nice who play in the French League 1. Despite his tens of millions in investment, neither team has had any definable success since he took them over. While the All Blacks and Mercedes F1 had a long-established track record of success well before Ineos began investing in them.
This might suggest that despite his clear passion for football, he lacks the ability to put together a front office that can guarantee success. Perhaps his love for the Red Devils will induce more involvement and smarter investment from Sir Jim, but we cant know for sure.
Can United bank on another owner who doesn’t appear to know how to run a successful football club? His fandom should not make up for poor decision making. That makes him little better than what we have now.
We can only hope, should Sir Jim take over, that his passion for the club will empower him to assemble a front office with greater potential for success than his previous footballing investments.
The Dubai Sovereign Wealth Fund
Other bidders include the investment branch of the Dubai Sovereign Wealth Fund. The tenth largest SWF in the world. This would make us a state-owned team like Manchester City, PSG and Newcastle. City being owned by the Abu Dhabi sovereign fund, Newcastle by the Saudi sovereign fund and PSG by the Qataris. This type of ownership has its benefits and drawbacks. Both of which are fairly obvious.
A sovereign wealth fund can provide the billions needed to completely overhaul Manchester United’s facilities, team and front office. It can also provide necessary funds to bolster a squad still needing reinforcement. We’d likely get a shiny, new, state of the art stadium and training facility. We might even get lucky and be able to finally pry Edwin Van der Sar away from Ajax to be our new CEO.
But could we, as United fans live with ourselves? For City, Newcastle and PSG fans, it might be easy to accept billions in blood money so that they can buy their success. But Manchester United has always represented virtues such as honor, respect, valor, courage, fair play and love of the game. We as United fans tend to hold ourselves to a higher standard. A standard that we believe should be represented in our ownership.
A question of religious and cultural beliefs
The human and equal rights atrocities in the Middle East and the overall lack of acceptance of non-confirmative lifestyles is well documented. We would be accepting money from a country that is not shy of committing acts and passing laws that are indicative of an antiquated and discriminatory global community that is rapidly being phased out.
The UAE is also country that is happy killing tens of thousands of immigrant workers by forcing them to work in dangerous work environments with little health care access. And they are happy to arbitrarily and indefinitely detain and torture foreign nationals, tourists, journalists and women.
The following infractions have been met with torture, extended jail time or even the death sentence. Gay marriage or any LGBTQ+ identification or relationship. Extramarital sex and adultery. And protesting of any kind
Drug use is strictly outlawed. Alcohol use for citizens or foreigners without a temporary license is punishable with jail time and minimum fine of $500k. As is, non-marital or non-familial cohabitation, public physical affection, women getting married without a guardian’s approval, wearing provocative clothing, bathing suits or lingerie, abortion, divorce, having children out of wedlock…and so on.
It is about identity
Considering the values that Manchester United and us fans by extension are meant to represent, I can’t in my right mind, or with any sense of morality, be ok with an Arab oil state sovereign fund owning our club. Though admittedly, if they did own United, shamefully, it would not stop most fans, myself included, from licking our lips at the prospects all that money would bring.
I hold no judgement or ill opinion towards these countries or their citizenry. I am merely trying to draw on the dramatic cultural differences between middle eastern countries and the western world.
Most of the laws and customs we as westerners disagree with are deeply rooted in the culture and religion in each respective area. In a global community, we are required to be accepting of other cultures’ ideals and customs.
However, as an individual guided by compassion, empathy and morality, I can only say that I personally don’t want a nation state who’s values are so drastically different from my own to be at the helm of our club. It is like choosing a president or prime minister. You want an owner that represents what the fans and the club identify with.
David Beckham in buying Manchester United
Moving on before I digress too much more. Another reported bidder is the one and only Mr. David Beckham. I see this as pure clickbait. Beckham’s net worth barely hits $500 million. On his own he couldn’t come close to affording United.
What’s more, rumors of a Beckham led consortium bid only began to surface after AFC Wrexham owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny were seen in their owners box at a Wrexham match with LAFC co-owner Will Farrell and Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham as their guests of honor. The images immediately sparked a theory that the four were meeting to discuss purchasing Manchester United.
He could conceivably be the face of a consortium such as the group he led to build Inter Miami. The rumors go further to say that he would either team up with Sir Jim Ratcliffe or a group of former United players and celebrity fans. But when asked directly, Beckham shies away from the suggestion, stating he is fully focused on his Inter Miami project.
I’d give this scenario about a 2% chance of coming to fruition.
The farfetched and fantastical
Other reported buyers, which are all about a farfetched as a Beckham led consortium, are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, the Red Knights, Amancio Ortega, Sixth Street, and Mukesh Ambani. But each has its own stumbling blocks and are highly unlikely.
For those who don’t know, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have been interested in snatching up streaming rights for various professional sports leagues. Each is attempting to compete with the larger streaming, cable and satellite services. This has led them down the path of investing into professional sports teams themselves.
However, this would seem to be a serious pipe dream, more so than Beckham taking over. To date, each mega company has expressed major interest in sports streaming, but none has inquired into or pursued purchasing a single team. Their interested seems to have been limited to exclusive streaming and tv rights for various sports leagues.
Only Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed mild public interest in investigating the benefits of owning a team like United. But, never has he pointed out United as a specific point of interest.
The Red Knights to enter bidding for Manchester United
The Red Knights are a consortium of private investors and Manchester United fans led by former Goldman Sachs CEO Lord Jim O’Neill. Over a decade ago Lord O’Neill tried to sway the Glazers to sell for close to $1.3 billion. An effort that was obviously unsuccessful. Additionally, Like Sir Ratcliffe, Lord O’Neill is a life long United fan.
Unfortunately, when publicly confronted about creating a new consortium, Lord O’Neill directly declined interest. His exact words when asked about the potential $5 billion price tag placed on United were, “I don’t think that’s realistic, especially as the few smart people that might be vaguely capable of putting those kinds of sums together can see the same information the Glazers can see.”
His quotes would suggest that when digging into the data room released by United, that the clubs’ finances proved to be in such a shambles that it would take a truly extraordinary individual or consortium to right the ship. It would simply take too much to reverse the damage and debt the Glazers have been all too happy to impose on the club over the last decade. And Lord O’Neill simply isn’t interested in being that person.
Sixth Street and the rest
There were brief rumors that the US based investment firm Sixth Street would also be interested in purchasing United. If you are unfamiliar with Sixth Street, they are the shady investment group that recently bailed out Barcelona from administration. To do so they purchased more than a quarter of the future tv and streaming rights for the Catalan giants.
This group is widely reported to have less than savory investors and have regularly been in and out of court due to high profile inquires into some of their business dealings. Though nothing has been substantiated and no charges have been established, there is a lot of smoke surrounding Sixth Street for there to be no fire.
Thankfully they have come out with a recent statement stating that they are ‘not interested nor are they in negotiations with the Red Devils.’
The last of the farfetched rumors are that of Amancio Ortega and Mukesh Ambani. Ortega is the 19th richest person in the world with a net worth of more than $61 billion. Ambani is India’s richest man with a net worth north of $76 billion.
There are reports that both billionaires have made inquiries into purchasing United, but both seem highly unlikely. Ambani was reported to have made an inquire into purchasing Liverpool recently, being a life long fan of the scousers. While Ortega has no sporting entities in his portfolio and has publicly expressed no interest in owning any sports team. Both have publicly denied any interested in purchasing United or being an investor in a consortium bid.
Who should we expect to buy United
In my opinion, one of two buyers will take over this summer. Either Sir Jim raises his offer to a number larger than $5 billion or we will be owned by an oil nation state sovereign wealth fund.
It is very possible that Sir Jim’s initial offer was a low ball to try to get the Glazers to the negotiating table. Because of his money, love for United and lack of ties to human rights violations or religiously guided political conservatism, on paper he would seem the most ideal potential owner.
However, criticize them as we may, the Glazer’s, through their actions, have shown that their bottom line is the almighty dollar. Their only concern seems to be how much money they can walk away with. And at the moment it would seem that the highest bid would come from Dubai.
If Manchester United are to be sold for $5 billion+ and need $2-3 billion in investment, a sovereign fund would certainly be the most likely and quickest way to getting the club to where it needs to be.
Still too early to tell
It is also worth noting that it is still too early to know who all the potential bidders are. United have only spent a few weeks advertising themselves to billionaires, investment funds, royalty and fortune 100 companies. It is going to take time for any interested parties to assess how valuable an asset United would be to their portfolio.
After all of that analysis and speculation, we are no closer to knowing who Manchester United’s next owners will be. But, given a healthy pool of probable and abeyant buyers it is easy for each of us to choose our ideal suiter.
For me that is David Beckham. I’d like to think my personal choice would be based on merit and a track record of success in owing sporting enterprises. However, the nostalgia around a Beckham led bid is inescapable
He knows the club and the fans inside and out. He has shown he knows how to run a football club, with Inter Miami gaining a lot of credibility in the MLS over the last year. His resources seem endless. He is a club legend. And he seems to command the respect of the sporting community. With the right front office and a lush consortium fund backing him, the sky would be the limit for United.
But, this seems unlikely as Beckham has repeatedly distanced himself from rumors over the last few months. Not to mention, most of the people linked with a consortium bid with Beckham all currently own other clubs and have also stated their dedication to their current projects. The only way I see Beckham as a United owner is if he joins with Sir Jim or Lord O’Neill. But, to date that all looks a bit fantastical.
Current signs point to Sir Jim Ratcliffe
As previously stated, my most likely new owner is Sir Jim Ratcliffe. He’s the only interested part so far to publicly announce his interest and has confirmed an initial asking price. I also believe that if Sir Jim is to be our next benevolent doyen than the Glazers will have to be willing to come to the negotiation table. Otherwise United fans and the Glazers may be stuck with each other for the conceivable future.
Not for the first time, United fans will simply have to wait and see, and cross our fingers that our next owner is, at the very least, an improvement on our current owners.
It should be noted, that despite our despise for the Glazers, they are not the worst owners we could have. There are a lot of arguments that being owned by a shady investment fund, or an oil state sovereign fund would be worse in so many ways.
Lets just hope that the Glazer’s can salvage even a modicum of their United legacy by, at the very least, leaving us with the owners we deserve, not the owners that leave them with the highest severance package.
Glory, Glory Man United.