Ratcliffe’s public interest complicates the matter, although the biggest issue remains whether the Glazers really want to sell all of the club
Sir Jim Ratcliffe went public with his interest in Man Utd (Photo: Getty)
By Mark DouglasNorthern Football Correspondent
Sir Jim Ratcliffe might have fired the starting pistol in the race to be the next Manchester United owner this week, but anyone who thinks there will be a sprint finish to oust the unlamented Glazer family is living in dreamland.
Britain’s richest man – who has a net worth of more than £10bn – ticks so many boxes for fans who have rightly identified the Glazer family as the root cause of the club’s alarming slide. A Manchester United supporter and the owner of Ligue 1 club Nice, he possesses the wealth, desire and knowledge of football required to turn around a club in steep decline.
But Ratcliffe faces multiple hurdles if he is to close out a deal. He is not the only suitor, for a start. Thei has been told there is interest from all over the world, as well as Michael Knighton’s optimistic domestic consortium (which he hinted may have been a stalking horse to smoke out Ratcliffe).
“The next owner of Manchester United will be someone you have not heard of until the deal is virtually done,” one source with experience of multiple high-profile takeovers in the Premier League toldi.
They believe Ratcliffe made a tactical error revealing his interest. “It is in the Glazers’ interests to drive a bidding war. Doing anything in public makes things harder and is also likely to raise the price,” the source said.
If Ratcliffe has a plan, he will likely need patience and be prepared to pay big if he’s to complete football’s “deal of the century”.
Those excitedly planning for Ratcliffe’s coronation have probably jumped ahead of themselves. The biggest issue remains whether the Glazers really want to sell all of the club or are just interested in bringing on board an investor. Fans, understandably, reacted with outrage at the idea of a minority investor propping up the Glazers after the New York-based Apollo Group were linked with buying a stake in the club.
“Why would the Glazers sell?” football finance expert Kieran Maguire told i.
“I think they will be reluctant to sell the club. They have taken dividends out so the club is still financially very lucrative for them and they believe there is a lot of value that isn’t priced into the share price.
“Microsoft bought Activision, the games company, for £65bn a couple of months ago and Manchester United see themselves as a quasi-tech company. If you have 100 million people on your app, you have all that data about them.
“There is value in that club, they just don’t seem to be very good at extracting it right now. Nobody in football does, they’re all sitting around saying ‘There is a key to Pandora’s box and someone’s going to open it’. If they do, they want to be part of it. It’s why I do think they will be reluctant to sell.
“The fans are moaning, but they’re still buying the shirts.”
The Glazers would need an extraordinary bid to consider selling United (Photo: Getty)
i has been told the potential price for a total buy out of Manchester United that is being circulated by intermediaries is north of £5bn. But those familiar with takeovers believe that is probably a starting price which could be negotiated around.
Any buyers would need to have substantial capital to invest in infrastructure – Old Trafford is in desperate need of renovation, and the club’s training ground is no longer best in class – and to provide a transfer budget which could restock the club’s ailing squad. One source who spoke to i felt those figures could run to an additional £2bn, such is the work to be done at Manchester United.
“The accounts look reasonable. They do appear that following the failure of both Project Big Picture and the European Super League, both of which the Glazers were very keen on, that the big issue they’re going to have is that substantial investment is required in terms of infrastructure costs and how that’s going to be funded, we don’t know,” Maguire said. Loans are likely to be taken out.
Premier League rivals are shocked at the decline of the club, which is riven with dressing room factions and has had a desperate transfer window so far. The executives placed in charge are out of their depth and new manager Erik Ten Hag has endured a nightmare start that is hardly likely to improve with Liverpool up next.
Another year out of the Champions League would also hit the club’s bottom line. Their 10-year deal with Adidas includes a clause that will see the value of the sponsorship cut by 30 per cent – which works out as more than £20m – if they miss out on qualification for consecutive seasons.
Amid the maelstrom of speculation, Manchester United have offered no comment on Ratcliffe’s statement and the Glazers are unlikely to show their hand anytime soon. They will hunker down for the long run, interested in extracting maximum value if they decide to sell the club in its entirety.
Two things will ultimately decide whether they sell. The main thing is an offer that makes them take notice but also supporters making life uncomfortable for them will be a consideration.
Sensing an opportunity, the 1958 group of “underground Reds” will hold a protest ahead of the Liverpool game and are appealing for “fan unity” to drive the owners out of the club. “Monday we expect large numbers,” they wrote on Twitter.
“Time to unite and put all differences aside. Let’s get our club back.”