Manchester United is a club stuck in limbo, while the takeover saga drags on and on

Every day, Manchester United’s many followers wait for an update on the takeover situation at Old Trafford. And every day there are plenty.

Many are inaccurate and poorly sourced, but fans still click to read, usually in the hope of several things: primarily that the Glazer family, who took over the club in a controversial highly leveraged buyout in 2005, will no longer be in control.

Then there is the small matter of what comes next and a club under new ownership, be it from one of the two confirmed bidders: British chemical company INEOS, headed by Britain’s richest man, Manchester-born Sir Jim Ratcliffe , or a bid led by Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Who fans want depends on who you ask and where you ask. On Twitter’s social media platform, support overwhelmingly favors the Qatari bid.

On polls conducted behind paywalls for The athletic, that We stand together fanzine (71.94 per cent, last poll on Friday) or the club’s large Scandinavian supporters’ club, the support is strongly in favor of the INEOS bid. Fans don’t know the details of what any of the bidders are planning beyond a flashy one-episode statement.

United fans have become even more divided (in 2005 a few thousand fans created a breakaway club FC United of Manchester) and entrenched in their positions, the online atmosphere toxic and intolerant. Protagonists are abused, falsehoods pedaled.

The atmosphere is completely different in real life at games, but all 99 percent of fans agree on one thing they want to see back from the Glazers. That the Glazers are taking so long to decide who to sell the club to only adds to the frustration.

Both bidding parties have signed a non-disclosure agreement, which gives even more space in the vacuum of idle chatter. Both have hired London PR agencies to do their bidding and briefing, but even they can’t say anything on the record, allowing for more misinformation.

Both sides have grown frustrated with the bidding process, which started after the announcement in November that the Glazers were considering selling the club and were trying to “explore strategic alternatives”. And both agree that the process is deeply frustrating and should never have taken this long.

Both have also expected to hear news of their bids at various stages, only for nothing to happen. Last week was supposed to be momentous, yet Ratcliffe clearly thought otherwise and took a trekking holiday. Next week never comes.

Man United player ratings for the 2022/23 season

The Glazers can afford it to take as long as there are still people willing to pay billions for their shares, but it is not infinite. United shouldn’t do that but now need capital.

The irony is that United are the only club that shouldn’t need an owner with deep pockets. The business supports the club (which is what made it so attractive to the Glazers) and the investment costs of the stadium can be spread over several years and meet the rules of Financial Fair Play.

United need a new stadium or redevelopment of Old Trafford plus the training ground. Both are excellent facilities, they are just not the best anymore and Old Trafford in particular has not been developed as it should have been since the Glazers took over. United, for so long, England’s biggest club, needs investment to remain so.

Fake news thrives when there is no news. Add in the end of the football season, when nothing is happening on the pitch or when the club can confirm or deny stories as usual and tweaks to social media algorithms that amplify the most engaged posts – whether they are true or not.

Anonymous aggregator accounts catch fire – and do so again when various “updates” are dismissed as untrue. It’s all about commitment, a bluffer’s bliss. And if they are wrong? Well, nobody took them seriously anyway; they just wanted to.

Journalists go rogue if they bring news that different groups of fans don’t want to hear and are accused of being part of the rival bid, but it’s not just United fans who want clarity.

United’s 1,000 full-time employees do that. Imaginary deadlines come and go. Fans who would otherwise obsess over possible player transfers are now trying to decipher financial information from the New York Stock Exchange, where United’s shares are publicly listed.

Actual bid deadlines don’t mean much beyond initiating a new bidding round. This is the auction the Glazers wanted to maximize their sale price.

They are tough decision makers at the best of times. There are decisions regarding mid-level employees that must be approved by the Glazers. These processes have deeply frustrated former United managers; it is not a dynamic business.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is trying to plan for next season without knowing who the club's owners will be.  Reuters

Witness how long it took United to establish a women’s team, to fund the youth system properly, to make some piecemeal improvements at Old Trafford – and the Glazers have no reason to rush as the price on offer remains with rising.

It makes United more attractive that Erik ten Hag’s team will play Champions League football next season, but still the Dutch coach has to plan for that season. United insist it is business as usual in their recruitment of players in the summer transfer window, but how can it be business as usual with the club’s big future pupil in the room?

The Glazers would like more bidders, but two genuine ones are enough to play one off against the other. The gatekeepers for the bidding are Raine Group. One person familiar with the bidding process described it as: “Tacky. Unfortunate.”

There are six Glazer siblings eligible for what would be a huge profit from the sale of a club that cost £790m – and is now attracting bids of around £5bn 18 years on.

The INEOS position has not changed for several months. They are quietly confident. Qatar’s position is the same. One group will be disappointed. But not as disappointed and frustrated as the United fans who deserve much better are right now because after the Glazers United need an owner who buys the club for the right reasons and who understands and respects the fan culture and history.

Updated: June 18, 2023, at 18.43

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