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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Man United gearing up for sale of the century

In the space of four hours and eight minutes on Tuesday, Manchester United put out two statements that will surely go down in the club’s history.

irst, the mutual termination of Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract was announced at 5.30pm and it was later confirmed the Glazer family were open to selling up. Most United fans welcomed the news. Their ageing prima donna was heading for the exit and there was renewed hope the unpopular American owners might pack up.

It had taken fewer than 10 days from Ronaldo’s melodramatic broadside at United, delivered via Piers Morgan’s knockabout questioning, to the No 7 shirt being vacated. Those in the firing line included the owners, coaches past and present and the club’s training facilities. There was no way back for Ronaldo, not that he wanted one. When his contract was ripped up, the club and player got what they desired.

Whereas the writing was on the wall from the moment the first interview snippet was released, the announcement that the Glazers were seeking a buyer for the club came out of the blue. It has taken 17 years for the Glazers — who bought United in a controversial £790m leveraged buyout in 2005 — to accept the turning of the tide at Old Trafford but it will be a little while before they hand over the keys.

Due to the coincidental timings, fans will hope the sale of the club might follow in the same speedy manner as Ronaldo’s shooing out the door or the collapse of the European Super League. That, however, is unlikely to be the case.

The confirmation that the Glazers are willing to depart in exchange for billions was day one of a lengthy process. When it became public knowledge that Fenway Sports Group was, at minimum, seeking outside investment at Liverpool, it was eight months into the process.

Raine Group, which brokered the Chelsea sale and has the same role at United, had the mandate for three years before Roman Abramovich was forced to sell up. Takeovers are a complicated business and the sale of Manchester United will be the biggest in football history.

Americans are showing the most interest in Liverpool and we can expect the same at Old Trafford, although the British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is widely reported to be keen to acquire the club. Ratcliffe’s Ineos group already owns Nice in France and the Swiss club Lausanne. There is also Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, saying his country would support any private sector bids.

Where the problems lie, unsurprisingly, are the costs involved in buying such an entity. The asking price is around £3.7bn (€4.3bn), which rules out most home-grown investors and others will be put off by the poor state of Old Trafford. It could cost up to £1bn to renovate the stadium and that is a hefty add-on.

Following an unsuccessful bid to buy Chelsea, Ratcliffe has said he had a meeting with the Glazers in the summer and they told him the club was not for sale, but months later it is on the market. It is not an overnight decision to sell a business of this size. Did Ratcliffe’s interest make the Glazers contemplate the sale or were their minds already made up and they prefer to not sell to the Ineos founder?

There will need to be in-depth due diligence and that will just be working through the list of Ronaldo’s gripes. There is plenty to be done at United to modernise a club built on Alex Ferguson’s foundations. From business to football, if they want to continue as the behemoth created alongside the Premier League, changes will have to be made on many levels. A new training ground is one necessity and an overhaul of the commercial operations another.

​An optimistic scenario would see a takeover completed next summer in time for the opening of the transfer window. Any incoming owners would want to spend on new players for an early popularity boost, although purely by not being the Glazers they would be one step ahead.

Meanwhile, Ronaldo’s departure will have both a short and long-term impact. His absence at Fulham allowed Alejandro Garnacho more minutes, before he scored the late winner. If United decide against signing a replacement in January, it would be a boost for youngsters such as the Argentinian.

While most of the first team squad are away at the World Cup in Qatar, the remaining players are training with the under-21s, allowing Erik ten Hag the chance to evaluate his young charges and see who could be worthy of a chance when the Premier League season restarts. The head coach now has the opportunity to look forward, no longer forced to deal with Ronaldo’s disruptive presence.

Thanks to the World Cup, there will be time for the dust to settle at Old Trafford. Fans will not attend a home match until late December, allowing them to absorb the shifting of the sands at United.

There is reason for optimism at United after frustration with owners and a club legend but it will take time for the impact of the past seven days to fully take hold. Good things, hopefully, come to those who wait.

© Observer

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