The Takeover: A Manchester United Story

At the time of writing, today is Monday, 16 October 2023. It has been almost a full year since the Glazer family announced in November 2022 that they were exploring ‘strategic alternatives’ for Manchester United. As a lifelong fan, as my father before me, and his father before him, I was overjoyed to hear this news.

Whilst I was barely a teenager when the Glazer family purchased my childhood club, I knew by the reactions of the footballing enthusiast grownups around me that it was a bad sign. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised the true extent of just how bad the buyout was. The wondrous efforts and trophy-laden years, given to us by a true master of his craft in Sir Alex Ferguson, papered over the foundational and flawed cracks that the Glazers would drill into the club in their desire to bleed the once magnificent Manchester United dry.

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There has always been discourse over the leveraged buy-out, beginning with immediate protests that led to the creation of FC United of Manchester, to attempted follow-up takeovers – but since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, the hatred and intolerance of the Glazers has only intensified. My club has gone through David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Ralf Rangnick and now the latest man tasked with restoring Manchester United to its former glory is Dutch manager Erik ten Hag.

It is safe to say that the club has been atrocious in its recruitment over the last decade, awash with marquee marketing-oriented signings seen as merchandising opportunities rather than players who will adapt to a style of play: a footballing identity and a tactical philosophy. Ralf Rangnick was the closest thing Manchester United had to someone who could restore the club to a modern and progressive football club, and what happened?

He publicly criticized the owners, the structure of the club, the overall transfer strategy and scouting. Ask many United fans and they will agree that Rangnick spoke a harsh truth – and whilst questions could ultimately be asked of his managerial prowess, there is no denying his capabilities of transforming clubs and assisting them implement a philosophy.

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Manchester United was once seen as a club where players went to build a career, achieve greatness and have their names etched along the legends of the game – but that changed. Yet the Theatre of Dreams has become home to a club that is known to overpay for transfers and offers absurd contract figures to quite frankly, mediocre players. This was unfortunately due to Ed Woodward and the total lack of a proper, structured footballing-led side of the club.

The entire European Super League debacle was the breaking point – combine the greed of the Glazers, the naivety of Woodward, the overall ridiculousness of the project and the total astonishment that this beloved club could be part of such a farce. Many fans believe that the full-frontal exposure of the greed that runs rampant within the club is what broke the back of diehard supporters.

A tumultuous and turbulent 19 months after the ESL debacle led to a massive sigh of relief. The Glazer family announced they were exploring a potential sale of the club – allowing Old Trafford to shed itself of the people who have dragged the club from being at the forefront of England.

But while I am not of the mindset that the Glazer family are directly responsible for the on-pitch results – they don’t select the starting lineup, they don’t influence how the players perform and they have no participation on the tactical aspect of the club – that does not absolve them of the blame.

Old Trafford is leaking and has become outdated. Manchester United lack a cohesive and coherent scouting, footballing & coaching department. The club’s training facilities were abysmal and Cristiano Ronaldo revealed that they had not changed since he had first left the club, more than a decade ago.

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This is simply the result of an ownership totally uninterested in the overall success of the club. A disillusioned and uncaring group of individuals who are only present for their dividends. True owners would have ensured that Manchester United had the best scouting department, the best sports scientists, the best physios, the best coaches – the best of the very best, but unfortunately, there appears to be nothing but disdain shown by the Glazer family to the long-term success of a club that for some people, is their life.

All of the above led fans to believe that the potential sale would be a done-deal once the bidding started – but unfortunately, nothing is ever simple with the Glazers. Rather than hand full control of the club over to proper owners who would have been keen to restore the footballing prestige that Manchester United once possessed, they bickered, they negotiated and they played hardball – all for a club that they bought with debt, and then proceeded to load with debt.

Perhaps United fans were fools to believe that the Glazers would let their cash-cow wander off to greener, better pastures. For almost a year, there were constant and consistent reports of lapses in negotiations – valuations not being met and structured takeover plans not being satisfactory. If the Glazers had an ounce of decorum, they would have ceded control once they received market valuation. That could have been in the form of a Qatari offering, or Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s bid – but they did not.

The news of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s new proposal is running rampant through the footballing world – and the news lies awash with Manchester United discussions and what this means for the club going forward. But there are many fans who will remain indifferent to the current ongoings, as the Glazers have seemingly sapped all hope for the future.

Will Sir Jim Ratcliffe have full ownership of footballing operations? Will he appoint the right people? Will his partial ownership finally transform Manchester United as a club, allowing it to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the ruins the Glazers have left?

Like many fans, I’d like to say that I hope so – but unfortunately, that remains to be seen.