Manchester United could finally be sold by their American owners after a 17-year reign dominated by fan protests and declining performances on the pitch.
Sky News can exclusively reveal the Glazer family is preparing to formally announce its intention to examine potential sources of outside investment which could include a full auction of arguably the world’s most famous football club.
Sources said on Tuesday the investment bank was instructed by Manchester United’s owners to advise on the process, which could include a full or partial sale, or a strategic partnership with a third party.
A statement confirming their intentions could come soon, one of them said.
Manchester United’s share price immediately rose by 17 percent as a result, adding almost $400 million to the club’s market capitalization, according to football finance expert Kieran Maguire.
The announcement of a review of financial options which may include a sale process will mark the end of years of speculation over whether the Glazers might be persuaded to offload a club that has for the past decade suffered an almost inevitable footballing decline.
United have not won the Premier League title since 2013, and have sacked a succession of managers following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
Recently, the club has been embroiled in a legal battle with Cristiano Ronaldo over an interview in which he questioned United’s ambitions and criticized the Glazers’ approach to owning him.
On Tuesday, United announced that Ronaldo had left “with immediate effect”.
What are the potential outcomes?
It is possible the family, which took control of United in 2005 in a £790m deal largely financed by debt, chose not to sell.
A partial sale to new investors, with capital raised to finance the overdue redevelopment of Old Trafford, is one potential outcome of the process.
The Glazers have acknowledged the need for new infrastructure investment to transform the stadium into a truly world-class venue, while significant funds are also needed to enable the men’s team to once again compete at the pinnacle of the European game.
United’s valuation in the sale is certain to exceed the roughly $2.15bn market capitalization implied by its share price during Tuesday’s trading session on the New York Stock Exchange.
Reports in recent months have speculated any transaction would need to value the club at anywhere between £5 billion and £9 billion to persuade the owners to sell.
The Glazers listed a minority stake in the company in 2012 but retain enormous control through a dual-class share structure that means they hold almost all voting rights.
For more than 18 months, the club has promised to introduce a medium-sized supporter ownership scheme that would give fans shares with the same voting rights structure as the Glazers.
The initiative, however, is yet to be launched despite promises to be operational at the start of the 2021-22 season.
It is one of several commitments made by Joel Glazer, United’s co-chairman, in the wake of the European Super League (ESL) crisis, in which the club plays a key role.
Manchester United were one of six Premier League teams to agree to join the project, which collapsed within hours of its official launch amid public and political uproar.
In May 2021, United supporters forced the postponement of a home game against rivals Liverpool after protesting against ESL and the Glazer family.
‘Love United, hate the Glazers’ has become the norm during their tenure, with supporters criticizing the lack of investment in the club’s infrastructure while the owners have forked out hundreds of millions of pounds worth of dividends as a result of its continued commercial success.
If the formal sales process begins, attention will shift to the identity of the potential buyer.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Ineos billionaire who has supported United since childhood, said in August he was interested in buying the club but has since suggested the name of English football’s elite is overvalued.
Billionaires from around the world will be linked with bids, as will sovereign investors looking to emulate the kind of takeovers seen at Newcastle United – now owned by Saudi state-backed investors – and Paris Saint-Germain, which is owned by Qatar.
There is also speculation the Red Knights, a consortium led by former United director and leading economist Lord O’Neill, could revive an attempt launched in 2010 to take control of the club.
Significantly, Manchester United’s prospective auction comes as Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owner, is also considering selling all or part of the club.
The simultaneous sale process for two of the so-called ‘big six’ English footballers – the others being Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – is unprecedented.
One analyst said the timing suggested some investors believed the value of the top club might be nearing its peak, especially against the backdrop of a tough global economic forecast for the coming years.
United’s announcement is also likely to come during a World Cup fueled by Gulf petrodollars, underscoring a shift in the funding of the global football industry.
Manchester United declined to comment on Tuesday.
Analysis: ‘Big development at Manchester United’
Sky Sports News reporter Ben Ransom:
“It’s a huge development when you consider the fact that the Glazers, in their time since they took over in 2005, have always said when asked that they are fully committed to this Manchester United ownership model, and committed to the future.
“When you consider that just up the M62, it’s the same situation in Liverpool – two American ownership models have the potential to move those clubs – it’s an incredible moment.
“And this is a true reflection, I think, of how they see the future and the potential difficulties of the future to challenge at the top of the Premier League”.