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The Glazers at Man Utd: The story of their turbulent tenure so far

2022-23: Ratcliffe’s personal touch the difference

Once the Glazers opened the door to offers, Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s interest was no surprise. One of Britain’s richest men, the 71-year-old is a lifelong United supporter and was born fewer than 10 miles from Old Trafford.

A proven investor in sport through his chemicals company INEOS, Ratcliffe tried to buy Chelsea last year but had already expressed an interest in purchasing United before his boyhood club was even officially on the market.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe owns the chemicals company INEOS

Sir Jim Ratcliffe owns the chemicals company INEOS

The softening of the Glazers’ stance was no shock either. In August 2022, days before a more peaceful protest took place ahead of United’s home fixture with Liverpool, Bloomberg reported the Glazers were considering selling a minority stake in the club and preliminary discussions had been held about bringing in a new investor. This was Ratcliffe’s opportunity.

In October 2022, Ratcliffe revealed he had met the Glazers and was told they were not interested in selling. “They are the nicest people,” he said of the family. Perhaps this was a telling sign of what would unfold a year later.

“I’ve never been fully convinced that the Glazers have wanted to sell Manchester United,” says Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol. “There are six of them and they all have different opinions.”

United employed the Raine Group, which oversaw Chelsea’s takeover the previous year, to take charge of the bidding process. In February 2023, the same month United’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney risked the wrath of fans by claiming the Glazers have done a “fantastic job” at the club, several offers were made but it soon became clear the two frontrunners for a complete takeover were Ratcliffe and somewhat of an unfamiliar figure – Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Apart from being the son of the former Qatar prime minister, so little was known publicly about Sheikh Jassim that newsrooms were frantically scrambling around for information, while even basic tasks such as finding authentic photos proved difficult. Almost overnight, he’d become the talk of United’s worldwide fanbase and the focus of the media, with everyone equally intrigued about what his vision for the club entailed.

When it emerged Sheikh Jassim wanted to own 100 per cent of United, was willing to clear the club’s existing debt, and spend £1.4bn on infrastructure and transfers, the possibilities under a Qatari regime seemed limitless.

There were of course important ethical and moral issues to address, but from a pure footballing perspective, United fans only needed to look four miles across town at the Etihad to see how quickly a transformation can take place under similar circumstances. This offered genuine hope and was a chance for a fresh start, but it almost seemed too good to be true. And so it proved.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his representatives visited Old Trafford in March

Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his representatives visited Old Trafford in March

Over several months, Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe submitted multiple improved bids but neither were prepared to meet the Glazers’ £6bn-plus valuation. Representatives from both parties visited Old Trafford and Carrington in March to meet United officials and discuss their proposals in detail. While Ratcliffe showed up in person, Sheikh Jassim stayed away.

“Paying a personal visit was not relevant as far as Sheikh Jassim was concerned. He didn’t want the publicity,” says Solhekol. “Ratcliffe’s attitude has been much more flexible.”

Having previously made a world-record bid, Sheikh Jassim made a final take-it-or-leave-it offer in June, widely suggested to be more than £5bn but still below the Glazers’ asking price. At this point, Ratcliffe’s proposal valued United at a higher price but was not for the whole club and would give the Americans the chance to stay. Everything was beginning to point towards one outcome.

After more fan protests outside – and inside – Old Trafford at the start of the 2023/24 season, the thick skins of the Glazers came to the fore once more when reports emerged in September that they were considering taking United off the market – almost 10 months after the announcement of a potential sale. All that fuss, seemingly for nothing.

As a result of those reports, United’s share price dropped by 18 per cent in one day and reduced the club’s value by more than £600m. It was the biggest drop since the club was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012.

As the weeks continued to pass with no finish line in sight, Sheikh Jassim – like most of the football world – had grown tired of the saga. On October 14, he withdrew from the process because, according to some sources, he “wasn’t willing to dance to the Glazers’ tune”. That could well be the case, but perhaps his bid was always destined to fail.

“Sheikh Jassim and the Qataris never really engaged with the Glazers,” Solhekol says. “Ratcliffe has tried to have a relationship with them. He’s described them as nice people and been clever with the personal touch. That’s been the difference.”

Sheikh Jassim’s withdrawal paved the way for Ratcliffe to pay more than £1.25bn for a 25 per cent minority stake in United and take control of football operations, the first step in what many hope will be a full takeover.

After more than 20 controversial years, this could be the beginning of the end for the Glazers, but right now there are still more questions than answers. What is clear, however, is that the Americans will be staying for a while yet – and that is highly unlikely to go down well.

Man Utd fans protesting in the stands at Old Trafford in April 2023

Man Utd fans protesting in the stands at Old Trafford in April 2023

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