Manchester United could finally be sold by its 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 explore potential sources of outside investment which could include a full-fledged auction of arguably the world’s most famous football club.
Sources said on Tuesday that investment bankers were being instructed by Manchester United’s owners 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 come soon, one of them said.
Manchester United’s share price immediately rose 17 percent as a result, adding almost $400 million to the club’s market capitalization, according to soccer finance expert Kieran Maguire.
The announcement of a review of financial options which could include a sale process will mark an end to years of speculation over whether the Glazers might be persuaded to offload a club which has seen an almost unmitigated decline in the past decade experienced football sport.
United have not won the Premier League title since 2013, and have sacked a succession of managers in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit.
More recently, the club has been embroiled in a legal battle with Cristiano Ronaldo over an interview in which he questioned United’s ambition and criticized the Glazers’ approach to owning it.
United announced on Tuesday that Ronaldo had left “with immediate effect”.
What are the potential outcomes?
It remains possible that the family, which took control of United in 2005 in a £790m deal largely funded by debt, may choose not to sell.
A partial sale to new investors, with capital raised to fund an overdue redevelopment of Old Trafford, is one 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 funds are also needed to enable the men’s team to compete again at the top of the European game.
United’s valuation in a sale would inevitably exceed the market capitalization of about $2.15 billion 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 anywhere 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 share structure that means they hold almost all voting rights.
For more than 18 months, the club has promised to introduce a modestly sized fan ownership scheme that would give supporters shares with the same voting rights structure as the Glazers.
However, the initiative has yet to be launched, despite a promise to roll it out by the start of the 2021-22 season.
It was one of a number of commitments 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 teams to agree to join the project, which collapsed within hours of its official launch amid public and political exasperation.
In May 2021, United fans forced the postponement of a home game against rivals Liverpool after protesting against the ESL and the Glazer family.
‘Love United, hate Glazer’ has become a familiar refrain during their tenure, with supporters critical of a perceived lack of investment in the club’s infrastructure, while the owners have withdrawn hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends as a result of his continued commercial success.
If a formal sale process is initiated, attention will be directed to the identities of potential buyers.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Ineos billionaire who has supported United since childhood, said in August he was keen to buy the club but has since suggested English football’s elite names are overvalued.
Billionaires from around the world will be linked with bids, as will sovereign investors looking to emulate the kind of takeovers seen at Newcastle United – now owned by Saudi state-backed investors – and Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain .
There will also be speculation that the Red Knights, a consortium led by former United director and leading economist Lord O’Neill, could revive an attempt launched in 2010 to take control of the club.
It is significant that the prospective auction comes from Manchester United as Fenway Sports Group, the owner of Liverpool, is also considering selling all or part of the club.
Simultaneous sale 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, particularly against a backdrop of difficult global economic forecasts for the coming years.
United’s announcement is also likely to be made during a World Cup fueled by Gulf petrodollars, underscoring the shifting financing of the global soccer industry.
Manchester United declined to comment on Tuesday.
Analysis: ‘A big development at Manchester United’
Sky Sports News reporter Ben Ransom:
“It’s a huge development when you consider the fact that the Glazers, in their time since taking over in 2005, have always said when asked that they are completely committed to this Manchester United ownership model, and committed is to the future.
“When you consider that just up the M62 it’s a similar situation at Liverpool – two American ownership models potentially looking to move the clubs – it’s a pretty remarkable moment.
“And it’s a real insight, I think, into how they see the future and potential future problems of challenging at the top of the Premier League.”