Manchester United could finally be sold by their American owners after a 17-year reign dominated by fan protests and declining performance on the pitch.
Sky News can exclusively reveal that the Glazer family is preparing to formally announce its intention to look into potential sources of outside investment which could include a full-blown auction of arguably the world’s most famous football club.
Sources said investment bankers were being instructed by Manchester United owners on Tuesday to advise on the process, which is likely to include a full or partial sale or strategic partnership with third parties.
A statement confirming their intentions could be forthcoming, one of them said.
As a result, Manchester United’s share price immediately jumped 17%, adding nearly $400 million to the club’s market capitalisation, according to football finance expert Kieran Maguire.
The announcement of a review of financial options which could include a sale process would signal the end of years of speculation about whether the Glazers could be persuaded to offload a club which has experienced near-absolute footballing decline over the past decade.
United have not won the Premier League title since 2013 and have sacked a string of managers following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
More recently, the club was involved in a legal battle with Cristiano Ronaldo over an interview in which he questioned United’s ambition and criticized the Glazers’ approach to owning them.
United announced on Tuesday that Ronaldo had departed “with immediate effect”.
What are the potential outcomes?
It remains possible that the family, who took control of United in 2005 in a largely debt-financed £790m deal, choose not to sell.
A partial sale to new investors, with capital raised to finance a delayed redevelopment of Old Trafford, is a potential outcome of the process.
The Glazers have recognized the need for new infrastructure investment to transform the stadium into a truly world-class venue, while significant funding is also needed to enable the men’s team to once again compete at the pinnacle of European football.
United’s valuation in a sale would inevitably exceed the approximately $2.15 billion market capitalization implied by its share price during Tuesday’s trading session on the New York Stock Exchange.
Reports in recent months have speculated that any deal would need to value the club at between £5bn and £9bn to persuade the owners to sell.
The Glazers listed a minority stake in the company in 2012, but have retained overwhelming control through a dual-class shareholding structure, meaning they hold nearly all voting rights.
For more than 18 months, the club has promised to introduce a modestly sized fan ownership scheme that would give shares to fans with the same voting rights structure as the Glazers.
The initiative, however, has yet to be launched despite the commitment to have it operational by the start of the 2021-22 season.
It was one of several pledges made by United co-chairman Joel Glazer in the wake of the European Super League (ESL) debacle, in which the club played a pivotal role.
Manchester United were one of six Premier League sides to agree to join the project, which collapsed hours after its official launch amid public and political acrimony.
In May 2021, United fans forced the postponement of a home match against rivals Liverpool after protests against the ESL and the Glazer family.
‘Love United, hate Glazer’ became a familiar refrain during their tenure, with supporters critical of a perceived lack of investment in the club’s infrastructure as the owners extracted hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends following the his continued business success.
If a formal sales process is initiated, attention will turn to the identities of potential buyers.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Ineos billionaire who has supported United since childhood, said in August that he was keen to buy the club but has since suggested that English football’s elite names are overrated.
Billionaires from around the world will be linked to the deals, as will sovereign investors looking to emulate the kind of takeovers seen at Newcastle United – now owned by Saudi state-backed investors – and Paris Saint-Germain, which is owned of Qatar.
There will also be speculation that the Red Knights, a consortium led by former United director and leading economist Lord O’Neill, could revive a bid that began in 2010 to take control of the club.
Significantly, the potential Manchester United auction comes as Liverpool owner Fenway Sports Group also weighs in by selling all or part of the club.
The simultaneous sales processes for two of English football’s so-called ‘big six’ – the others being Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – would be unprecedented.
One analyst said the timing suggested some investors believed the value of top clubs could be nearing its peak, especially amid tough global economic forecasts for the next few years.
United’s announcement is also likely to be made during a World Cup fueled by Gulf petrodollars, underlining the shift in global football industry funding.
Manchester United declined to comment on Tuesday.
Analysis: ‘A huge development at Manchester United’
Sky Sports News reporter Ben Ransom:
“It’s a huge development when you consider the fact that the Glazers have, since taking over in 2005, always said when asked that they are fully committed to this model of Manchester United ownership and are committed to the future.
“When you consider that just above the M62 is a similar situation at Liverpool – two American-owned models potentially looking to move clubs – it’s a truly remarkable moment.
“And it’s a real insight, I guess, into how they perceive the future and the potential future difficulties of challenging at the top of the Premier League.”