Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe has indicated that he would be interested in buying Manchester United should the Glazer family be prepared to sell their entire controlling stake in the club – with suggestions that a sale of another part of their holding could be imminent.
A spokesman for Ratcliffe told Telegraph Sport: “We are definitely interested buyers but can only buy something that’s for sale”. The Ineos billionaire failed in a late attempt to buy Chelsea earlier this year having joined the process after the deadline set by the New York merchant bank for bids to be submitted by interested parties.
Potential investors in United are being sounded out by third parties with a connection to the club as to their interest in buying a part of the Glazer stake, in the latest hint that the 17-year ownership by the US-based family may yet be drawing to a close.
The Ineos spokesman told The Times that Ratcliffe would only be interested in “long-term ownership” and not sharing the decision-making process. He added that “the time was right for a reset”.
The Glazer ownership, despised by United’s match-going fans, has never been under greater pressure after two defeats at the start of this season following last year’s managerial chaos and a sixth-place finish that left them out of Champions League qualification.
In the midst of a dreadful start to 2022-2023 and chaos in the club’s transfer market dealings it has emerged that advisors with links to the Glazer family are contacting potential investors over interest - although it remains unclear whether any official appointment has been made to sell the club. Bloomberg News has reported that the Glazers are open to selling a minority stake in the club and also that the Florida-based family are not yet ready to give up control of their asset.
The value of the club’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange has plunged over the last year although they have rallied in the last 24 hours up more than five per cent during Wednesday. The market values the club at $2.2 billion currently although the Glazers have placed a much higher price on United with some estimating that it will take £5 billion to secure the wealthiest club – by revenue generation – in English football.
The family owns its stake in the club via six siblings of the late patriarch Malcolm Glazer – Joel, Kevin, Bryan, Darcie, Avram and Edward, all of whom are directors. While the 2012 flotation on the New York Stock Exchange reduced the family’s holding, the Class A shares issued then have a tenth of the voting power of the Class B shares, all of which are exclusively in the family’s possession.
As of the most recent annual financial results for last year, the six Glazer directors collectively controlled 96.7 per cent of the voting power through their Class A and Class B shareholdings. Each of the two largest shareholders of Class A shares, both of whom had a stake in excess of 26 per cent of the Class A issue, each exercised less than one per cent of voting power of Manchester United plc. The club’s ownership vehicle is registered in the Cayman Islands. It will be the six Glazer family directors who decide United’s future.
The sale of Chelsea for £4.25 billion to the Boehly-Clearlake Capital private equity consortium has demonstrated the immense value of the big six Premier League clubs to investors. A greater challenge will be finding a buyer capable of meeting the price and proving capable of investing in United’s squad and stadium to get the most successful club in domestic English football competing at the top of the Premier League and in Europe again. Ratcliffe is one of the few who may be able to finance a turnaround.
The football finance blogger known as “Swiss Ramble” estimated this week that over the course of their ownership the Glazers have “taken out” £1.1 billion from the club when interest payments, debt repayments, dividends, directors’ remuneration and management fees are considered. The club’s current debt stands at £495.7 million - less cash in the business and is only £100 million down from the £603 million the club owed in debt and interest - after one year of the Glazer ownership, 16 years earlier.
This week, following the crushing 4-0 defeat away to Brentford, has seen United once again embark on a desperate attempt to shore up a failing squad in the last few weeks of the transfer window. The new manager Erik ten Hag’s hopes of a well-planned and coordinated summer’s trading are in ruins as the club pursue a number of targets with sellers in a strong position to name a high price.
There are more protests planned against the Glazer ownership before United’s home game against their oldest and most bitter rivals Liverpool on Monday with security at Old Trafford set to be high.
The US tech billionaire Elon Musk tweeted overnight on Tuesday that he was going to buy United and later explained that it was a joke. Shares in the club were trading at around $13 on the New York Stock Exchange during Wednesday.
Glazer ownership Q&A: What is Manchester United's financial situation – and could a sale happen?
Why would the Glazers sell now?
Under the current administration, Manchester United has never strictly been off the market for potential investors with a big enough cheque. However, the recent £2.5bn Chelsea sale will have demonstrated to the Glazers that - 17 years after their £790m leveraged buyout - they would command a massive pay day, despite on-pitch turmoil.
The Premier League is now by far the most profitable domestic football competition in the world. The sale of Chelsea also proved there is no shortage of big club suitors, with values boosted by the explosion of interest in the American market. Presuming Elon Musk's takeover tweet pledge was tongue-in-cheek, it would appear Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire Ineos owner who failed with a late bid for Chelsea in May, is first out of the block to express serious interest in United.
He is a United fan and his spokesman has confirmed: “If the club is for sale, Jim is definitely a potential buyer."
Other billionaires would be certain to come forward in the coming days if United do go public in attracting investors.
Industry sources say another "feeding frenzy" - similar to the sale process at Chelsea - would be "all but guaranteed" among American consortiums. There are plenty more out there like Todd Boehly - investors in the NFL, NBA and MLB, who now see more potential for growth in domestic English football.
How have the Glazers' finances worked, and why are they so controversial?
Most of the capital used by the Glazer family to fully purchase United in 2005 came in the form of loans, the majority of which were secured against the club’s assets.
Ever since, they have been adding salt to the wound by also being the only ownership in the top tier to pay themselves significant shareholder dividends. According to figures from the football finance blogger Swiss Ramble, shareholders have received a total of £166m, averaging £22m a year, since 2016.
A perceived lack of investment in Manchester United’s infrastructure, including its Carrington training ground and Old Trafford stadium, and frustration over poor recruitment strategy have compounded ill will toward them over the past decade.
"We've always spent the money that's there to buy new players," said Avram Glazer recently, but much of the cash, in reality, has been eaten up by interest repayments. Calculations by Kieran Maguire, a football finance lecturer at Liverpool University, showed they even dwarf operating profits of £654m between 2006 and 2021. Over that same period, interest expense was £824m, he calculates.
"Glazers apologists will point to MUFC massive transfer spend, which is a meaty £1.4 bn since 2012," adds Swiss Ramble. "Furthermore, £850m in the last five years was only surpassed by MCFC and CFC (both £992m), but the point here is that this is money the club has generated, not provided by the owners."
Overall, in the family's 17 year era, the club's financial outlook has barely budged. An initial debt of around £600m was recorded at the end of their first year in charge. Yet despite all the refinancings, the club remains in almost exactly the same position today - with around £592m gross debt.
Do they really want to sell?
There has been little evidence to date that the level of vitriol aimed in their direction from fed-up fans is having much effect on the owners. But after a week in which Gary Neville and other leading club figures bemoaned an "all-time low", perhaps a tipping point has been reached.
Protests first intensified after the once debt-free club announced in 2010 that it owed £700m. The Super League furore also sparked another eruption, with the brothers doing little to subsequently express much remorse. Fan tensions, however, are now threatening to boil to unprecedented levels, with United losing the first two games of the new season, including a 4-0 drubbing by Brentford. At the opening home match of the new campaign - a 2-1 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion FC - a large group of devotees walked toward the stadium with banners that read: “Fight greed. Fight for United. Fight Glazers” and “We want our club back,”.