Familiar faces and vibes: tournament life is a better fit for Harry Maguire | World Cup 2022

Harry Maguire was just finishing a training session this year when he received an anonymous email, sent via his agent. The email explained that three bombs had been planted at his house in Wilmslow and that he was being given 72 hours to leave Manchester United before they would be detonated.

Naturally the police were called immediately, a sniffer dog was dispatched to conduct a thorough search of Maguire’s house and garden, and no explosives were found. Maguire rushed home from Carrington to be with his family, and while his fiancée and children were moved to a safehouse, Maguire moved in with a teammate for a few days. Nobody was arrested.

There is, of course, plenty to be said here about the increasingly sinister tone of online discourse, football’s relationship with fame, perhaps even the role of the media in anointing heroes and villains. But I’m more interested in examining how an experience such as that might shape Maguire himself. How do you deal with the brief and distressing possibility that your football career – the very thing upon which you have built your life and livelihood, your identity and your joy – could ultimately culminate in your whole family being murdered? What does that do to you? How does it affect your relationship to football?

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In many ways, the bomb threat was perhaps the logical culmination of what we might describe as English football’s Maguire-industrial complex: an industry that grew up around his towering performances in the 2018 World Cup before juddering violently in the other direction. Just as Maguire became the face and the forehead of a new, humbler and more relatable England side, so he would become the face and flailing limbs of their regression, the emblem of a United team struggling to define their identity under four successive managers.

Why Maguire? There were other flatlining players around him, and yet nobody – as far as we know – ever sent a bomb threat to Paul Pogba or threatened to kill the family of John Stones. Perhaps, on some level, the same qualities that fleetingly made Maguire a cult hero also made him a target: his visibility and thinly veiled eagerness, his willingness to put himself out there, to keep trying things, to keep volunteering for post-match interview duties. If you’re angry enough to swing a punch, you’re probably just going to punch the first face you see.

The point here is not to launch an impassioned defence of Maguire’s football ability, a topic upon which you will almost certainly have made up your mind already. But there is an unsolved mystery here. At United Maguire is now the fourth-choice centre-half under Erik ten Hag, having made just one league start in three months. With England he remains as vital as ever: player of the tournament at Euro 2020 and a certainty to start his third successive game, against Wales on Tuesday night. What might explain the disparity? A glance at Maguire’s data for club and country offers a little illumination. At Leicester City in 2017-18, perhaps his last season of relative anonymity, he completed 51 successful dribbles and made 115 progressive passes (defined as moving the ball forward at least 10 yards).

Harry Maguire during England training at the Al Wakrah Sports Complex.
Harry Maguire’s progressive passing and dribbling statistics are much improved when playing for England. Photograph: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

This was the classic early Maguire: enterprising on the ball, a springboard for attack, a defender of pure vibes. Gradually, those numbers have gone into decline. So far this season at United he has made four progressive passes. Most tellingly of all, he is yet to complete a dribble.

You might be tempted to conclude, then, that Maguire has become a more limited, less ambitious player over time. And yet in England colours, the very opposite process seems to have occurred. If you take his three tournaments (with the caveat that he has played only two games here), his dribbling and progressive passes have increased from 2018 to 2022.

Against the USA he provided perhaps the game’s finest piece of skill, an outrageous slalom near the left byline that very nearly produced a shot on goal.

So what’s happening here? Well, let’s say you’ve received an anonymous email threatening to blow up your family. In the short term, you beef up your home security systems, hold your loved ones tight, turn your world inwards. Perhaps you even become a little colder, a little less available, a little more suspicious. But ultimately, this is not who you are. This is not the guy who travelled to Euro 2016 as a paying spectator and was playing for them a year later.

And so it is not possible that over time you begin to mourn that simpler version of life? A time before you were an £85m defender being dissected and menaced every weekend. A time when you could make a mistake and receive a valuable lesson instead of a death threat. A time when you still had room to grow and improve, to find the size and shape of your game.

United can never offer that to him, which is probably why he should leave as soon as is feasible. But on some level, England still can. On England duty he is no longer a world-record signing, no longer the public face of a listing hulk. He has a manager who trusts and values him, a system he knows and recognises, more time on the ball and more licence to use it. The fans, for all their occasional foibles, are usually more generous. There are familiar faces, happy memories, good vibes.

Perhaps, temperamentally, tournament life seems to suit Maguire. Watch him on the pitch and what you see above all is a search for hard feelings: the crunch of a well-timed defensive header, the thrill of a surging dribble, the goal that will change everything. None of this is really a predictor of success or failure. But it may just explain why he seems happier here than anywhere else.

Manchester United fans must wait: football’s biggest sale will take time | Manchester United

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. First, 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.

Money taking and bad decision-making: the Glazers’ legacy at Manchester United – explainer video

Americans are showing the most interest in Liverpool and we can expect the same at Old Trafford, although the British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is widely reported 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, which rules out most homegrown 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?

Cristiano Ronaldo.
Manchester United are free of the disruptive influence of Cristiano Ronaldo. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

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 Sir 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 would be 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.

Saudi government would back private bids for Manchester United or Liverpool | Premier League

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, has said his government would definitely support any private sector bids from the country for Manchester United or Liverpool.

While the Saudi Public Investment Fund backed the purchase of Newcastle United last winter, Prince Abdulaziz said private businesses in his country have a strong interest in English football’s most successful clubs, with both instructing banks regarding potential investment or sale.

“From the private sector, I can’t speak on their behalf, but there is a lot of interest and appetite and passion about football,” he told BBC Sport. “It’s the most-watched league in Saudi and the region and you have a lot of fans of the Premier League. We will definitely support it if any [Saudi] private sector comes in, because we know that’s going to reflect positively on sports within the kingdom. If there’s an investor willing to do so and the numbers add up, why not?”

The prince also stated a wish to see Cristiano Ronaldo play in Saudi. The 37-year-old is a free agent after leaving United by mutual agreement this week and he recently stated that he turned down a two-year deal in the summer worth more than £300m a year from a Saudi club.

“I would love to see Ronaldo play in the Saudi league,” said Prince Abdulaziz. “It would benefit the league, the sports eco-system in Saudi and will inspire the youth for the future. He’s a role model to a lot of kids and has a big fanbase in Saudi.”

Ronaldo scored in Portugal’s 3-2 win over Ghana at the Qatar World Cup on Thursday and Saudi may make its own bid to host the tournament. “Who wouldn’t want to host the World Cup?” the prince said. “Any country in the world would love to host the World Cup.”

In hosting major sporting events including boxing world title fights Saudi has been accused of sportwashing to deflect criticism of its record on human rights. But Prince Abdulaziz claimed doing so has been positive for his nation’s people.

“The numbers don’t lie – when you look at participation in boxing, from six gyms in 2018 to 57 gyms today. A 300% participation increase, 60% are women, which was a shock for us. When you see appetite from the youth, men and women, they learned from it. If it’s making the country better and fixing a lot of the social issues we have in terms of participation then that’s a benefit for us,” he said.

We love Brazilian skill, so why do we criticise their flair players so much? | World Cup 2022

The World Cup has finally started and, for some Brazil players, representing their national team may prove a welcome break from the day job. Manager Tite included 12 players from the Premier League in his 26-man squad – second only to England – and 22 in total from European clubs. Brazilian players have increasingly made home in Europe but their style is not always feted. At least once a month this season a young, skilful Brazilian has been criticised for doing what they do best: entertaining fans, expressing themselves and exhibiting their art.

Most recently, it was Antony’s turn to suffer a media pile-on in his adopted home. The São Paulo product was one of new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag’s marquee signings in the summer. The Dutchman convinced the club to pay Ajax £82m – an Eredivisie record – for the 22-year-old. The forward has enjoyed a strong start in England, setting a record as the first United player to score in his first three Premier League games. He was generally well received by fans and the media. Until he did the unthinkable and tried to pull off a trick during a 3-0 win over Sheriff in the Europa League.

Former United player Paul Scholes called the youngster a “clown” after he span 720 degrees with the ball glued to his feet and then misplaced a forward pass. “That’s the way he plays,” said Scholes. “I’ve seen him do it many a time at Ajax as well and that’s just the way he is, but I think he needs that knocking out of him.” Robbie Savage called Antony “embarrassing”, adding: “If I was the manager and he did that again, I would drag him off.”

Savage’s wish was granted when Ten Hag replaced Antony with Marcus Rashford at half-time. The manager said after the match that he would “correct” his player, explaining: “When there is a trick like that, it’s nice as long as it’s functional. If you’re not losing the ball, then it’s OK – but if it’s a trick because of a trick, then I will correct him.”

Antony, meanwhile, was defiant. “We’re known for our art and I’m not going to stop doing what got me where I am,” he said on Instagram.

Antony in action for Manchester United against Sheriff in the Europa League.
Antony in action for Manchester United against Sheriff in the Europa League. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

The hugely popular Brazilian football pundit Paulo Vinicius Coelho sees both sides of the argument. “Like everything in the world, there’s reason in the middle of it,” says Coelho. “Brazil still sees football as if it were a team sport won by individuals when it is increasingly a collective game that is resolved by collective aspects. From this point of view, the English are correct and Paul Scholes was right to criticise him. Dribbling and tricks need to have an objective.

“There is also a certain contempt in Europe for the dribble, as if it wasn’t a beautiful thing. I think there’s an exaggeration in Brazil about the aesthetics of the dribble and an exaggeration in some parts of Europe in the contempt there is for these aesthetics. But there’s a place in the middle of this. Dribbling and tricks are some of the beauties of football, but they need to lead to a chance or a goal. From this last point of view, Antony can improve how he uses tricks – tricks that aren’t to promote himself but to advance his own team.”

If footballers face a battle between aesthetics and results, Brazilians have always tended to be more artful than pragmatic. But their choices have not always been appreciated in Europe. When Tottenham Hotspur forward Richarlison indulged in a few keepy-ups against Nottingham Forest earlier this season, Forest manager Steve Cooper was appalled, saying: “I wouldn’t want my players to do what Richarlison did. It wouldn’t be accepted here.”

Vinicius Jr has also been criticised for doing the samba after he scores for Real Madrid, which leads to the question of just how much these Brazilian players are appreciated in Europe. Why buy skilful Brazilian wingers for their craft and then chide them for doing skilful Brazilian winger things? Would they even bother leaving home if – and this is a big if – they weren’t guaranteed higher wages and the chance to play in the Champions League? Would staying in Brazil be more fulfilling than moving to Europe, being chastised for entertaining and made to play in rigid, mechanical systems that offer little room for creativity.

Moments like Antony’s are no longer allowed to pass by fleetingly, raising a smile from supporters. They are scrutinised to their limit by commentators and pundits, and used by rival fans to attack players. This feels like something new. Players such as Ronaldinho and Garrincha, artists with the ball, were lauded for their skills. Not everything they tried came off. Zico and Sócrates wowed the planet at the 1982 World Cup, but would they be branded show ponies today for crashing out of the tournament before the semi-finals?

As Neymar said last year when his Brazil teammate Lucas Paquetá was booked for attempting a rainbow flick while playing for Lyon against Troyes – something that Neymar himself has been cautioned for in Ligue 1 – “joga bonito is over”.

Perhaps the World Cup will give Brazilians a chance to be themselves and charm a generation of fans who have become obsessed with results over aesthetics. Maybe the current crop of players, who refined their art on muddy pitches and concrete favela courts, can win over hearts and minds by winning a sixth World Cup – and doing it in style.

Fans can celebrate Glazers’ sale of Manchester United as ownership tide turns | Manchester United

How can you sell something you never actually paid for? How is it possible to make profit without risk or jeopardy, or indeed any sign of expertise along the way? What is this miracle commodity, this blend of metal, plastic, turf and other people’s monetised joy?

Welcome to football capitalism 101 and the metaphysical puzzle of the Glazer ownership of Manchester United. No wonder they call leveraged buy-outs the beautiful game. It is, in the end, one you just can’t lose.

More to the point, what does it mean when not one but two members of English football’s US billionaires’ club announce they have decided to cut and run, the Glazers midway through a Gulf‑powered World Cup that has, just because it can, cut a hole in the decadent old European club season?

For now, most United supporters will have only one response to the news that the club is, probably, possibly up for sale. That response is unfettered celebration, and rightly so. It will be tempting at this point to say things like: be careful what you wish for, beware what lies beneath, there are no clean hands here, and all the rest. This is undoubtedly true. Newcastle supporters, for example, are currently required to wrestle with the contradictions of being “given back their club” by generous and competent owners; who wish, simultaneously, to use that precious entity as an amplifier for a repressive regime, something that sounds like giving back, but also like taking away.

Just wait until Bahrain gets wind of this, or the Mongol empire (Manchester thanks you, Genghis) or General Zod of the Krypton military command. For now such contortions can wait. In the meantime, why not kick back and enjoy the moment. Because whatever lies in store, at least it won’t be this.

How to summarise the Glazer era? Firstly, it’s not an era. Eras contain events, structure and achievements. This has been something else, a kind of staged congealment, with the sense of an object being expertly hollowed out from the inside.

The Glazers have been terrible football club owners. At the same time they have been very good at being terrible owners. Expertly parasitical, beautifully slick at turning Manchester United into an Avanti trains kind of club: something fundamentally shabby and grudging, all cut corners, blocked toilets, skeleton staff, the natural monopoly on their fans’ footballing loyalties stretched thin for a quick buck.

A mask of co-owner Joel Glazer is on the ground during protests in August 2022
A mask of co-owner Joel Glazer is on the ground during protests against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club in August 2022. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images/Reuters

There have been three broad stages to this. The first was the late-Ferguson plateau, when momentum and managerial will allowed the ship to keep drifting forward. This was followed by the post-Ferguson chaos, during which the club spent (other people’s) money incoherently, appointed pliant placemen to key roles, and still rinsed the brand for all it’s worth with genuine skill and care.

The last year has seen a third stage, a panicked attempt to rescue a little gloss, with money spent in a rush and the disastrous celebrity-influencer partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Through this, the dominant note of Glazer-ism has been that branded emptiness, part haunted medieval hall, in thrall to its own ghosts, part celebrity waxwork museum, a grand old club reduced to something resembling a market stall sale of remaindered Gary Pallister dolls (may have been damaged in transit). It is entirely natural United would want to move on from that version of itself. Whatever comes next will be different. Sometimes you just want to feel something again.

Although what happens next will, as ever, be dictated by larger tides. Because something does seem to be happening here, and it’s not just a Manchester story. The usual suspects will enter the takeover chat. An ambitious nation-state. A consortium headed by a showy US billionaire. Jim Ratcliffe, who sounds acceptable because he’s called Jim and is a genuine home-loving Englishman from Monaco.

The wider note in this story, a little overlooked to now, is the fact Liverpool are also up for sale. Is this starting to seem strange yet? Are the rabbits rustling in the treeline? The two most valuable privately owned properties in English football are put up for sale within a month of one another. The key US billionaires, boarding group one, are cashing out simultaneously. This is significant enough as a standalone event. But there are no coincidences. And as ever, always follow the money.

It is hard not to conclude that this is related to the failure of the Super League. The prospect of fresh growth under that model was clearly a major part of the strategy. Many people think it will still happen in some form, but perhaps not in that same blunt and brutal way the Glazers and Fenway Sports Group had aggressively championed.

It does also feel oddly poignant that this should emerge during the Qatar World Cup. The split in European club football’s power-players has on one side loosely aligned, the nation-state clubs (Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Chelsea for two decades, Newcastle United for the next two) driven by political and soft power aims; and on the other clubs owned by private bodies interested in making a profit, along with others under some more bespoke form of ownership, chiefly Bayern Munich and the Spanish clásico clubs.

A Glazers Out protest poster inside Old Trafford
A Glazers Out protest poster inside Old Trafford. Photograph: PA Wire/PA

The real driver behind the ESL was the prospect of capping the power of nation-state clubs, of finding a way to compete with an entity that has no commercial jeopardy, where simply keeping up – and most football clubs are horribly reckless – means killing yourself. Its collapse, and the likely departures of FSG and the Glazers, are all signs that the nation-state clubs are winning this. The cartel is, frankly, in disarray. Barcelona have sold their future in return for a wonky version of the present. Juventus Ronaldo’d themselves in search of an illusory next level.

What does it leave? The arrival of Todd Boehly at Chelsea is evidence US investors and their partners still see major potential for growth here, that football’s value will simply continue to rise. And yet, somehow, watching Boehly it is hard to shake a slight sense of doubt. Are we through the good billionaires? Is Boehly the Liz Truss of the Premier League ownership party, the sediment at the bottom of the barrel, the comedy endgame? Does this really feel like a convincing version of the future, fit to push Abu Dhabi and Qatar?

It is still a rising tide out there, a product that is relentlessly in demand. And with the old guard on their way out this leaves seven Premier League clubs with US owners or investors. Perhaps the future is a more dynamic form of entrepreneurial growth, the kind of stuff Boehly has been sketching out: tuning the details, introducing new gimmickry, even another great pivot.

The identity of the new owners at Old Trafford and Anfield will tell us a great deal about Premier League ownership 3.0. But it is already hard to avoid two conclusions. First that this is still all within the blast radius of the Super League, collateral to that failed coup. And second, that what the Glazers will leave behind is something desiccated and emptied out, another host body for football’s own vampiric late capitalism.

With no rules around countries and their investment funds owning clubs, or on how private investors can pillage these assets, the hunt for ‘good owners’ will continue. For now the market will decide. For United fans there is perhaps consolation in the simple fact that, at the very least, it won’t be this.

Who might have the money to buy Manchester United? | Mergers and acquisitions

Manchester United fans have been protesting against the Glazer family’s ownership of their club since before they bought it 17 years ago. Now, the Glazers may be leaving the club after hoisting the for sale sign above Old Trafford with a target price of more than $4.5bn (£3.7bn) – roughly three times what they paid for it in a debt-fuelled buyout in 2005.

At that price the dream of a fan-led buyout looks extremely unlikely, but who might have enough money to buy Man U?

An oligarch

Odds: Slim to none

Rewind a couple of years and Russian oligarchs would have been top of the list of possible buyers. But after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, many oligarchs have been hit with sanctions, forcing the sale of assets, including Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea FC to a consortium led by the US billionaire Todd Boehly for £4.25bn after 19 years of ownership.

Before sanctions, the fertiliser billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev might have been linked to the club. He already owns the French Ligue 1 team AC Monaco and the Belgium side Cercle Brugge. Rybolovlev has escaped western sanctions, despite Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, calling for him to be added to the list.

A UK billionaire

Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Odds: A good prospect

Over the years many of the UK’s top clubs have fallen under foreign control from wealthy individuals or sovereign wealth funds from America, Russia and the Middle East. This has raised concerns among fans and politicians that the country which invented the beautiful game is losing control of its own league, potentially paving the way for a UK buyer.

Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest person with an estimated £12bn fortune, lost out against Boehly in the battle to buy Chelsea and has said he would have preferred to have bought Manchester United anyway as it is the team he has supported since he was a boy. Just last month he revealed he had met the Glazer family to discuss buying the club but “they don’t want to sell it”.

Ratcliffe, 70, who was born in Oldham, greater Manchester, told a Financial Times Live event: “I’m a lifelong Manchester United fan. I was there in 1999 for the most remarkable match of all time in Barcelona. So, you know, the club is deeply etched in my mind.

“It’s owned by the six children of the father. If it had been for sale in the summer, yes we would probably have had a go following on from the Chelsea thing. But we can’t sit around hoping one day Manchester United will become available.”

Ratcliffe, who made his fortune from the petrochemicals company Ineos, is an avid sports fan and already owns France’s OGC Nice and Switzerland’s FC Lausanne-Sport. He also bought cycling’s Team Sky, which he rebranded as Ineos Grenadiers. Ratcliffe has also pumped millions into the Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup’s team, which has been branded Ineos Team UK.

Jim O’Neill, the former Goldman Sachs chief economist who led the “Red Knights” consortium of Man U fans attempting to buy the club from the Glazer family in 2010, said on Wednesday that he was considering forming another consortium to bid for the club but added that the Glazers were seeking too high a price.

“[Those figures are] obviously what they’re floating, but I don’t think that’s realistic, especially as the few smart people that might be vaguely capable of putting those kinds of sums together can see the same information the Glazers can see,” O’Neill, who was born in Gately, greater Manchester, told the Manchester Evening News.

He said Manchester United fans would be “pretty hostile to anything vaguely like a repeat of the Glazers”. O’Neill said that to be successful a bid would need to come from “some imaginative buyer who basically has a better purpose behind owning United” and who would be prepared to “pay the Glazers a lot of money”.

“You can think of the number of people willing to do that in the world on less than one hand,” he added.

At the time the former Red Knight consortium included the hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall; the banker Keith Harris; Richard Hytner, former deputy chair of Saatchi and Saatchi, and Mark Rawlinson, a partner a former partner at lawat the law firm Freshfields’ corporate practice, who advised United during the Glazer takeover.

Nick Candy, the billionaire property developer who with his brother, Christian, developed the superluxe One Hyde Park apartment complex in Knightsbridge, also failed in a bid for Chelsea.

In his Chelsea bid application, Candy said he would put the fans at the “heart and centre” of the club and consult them on big decisions. “I don’t think we should end up like Manchester United where we have one rich family that owns Chelsea and there should be a new benchmark of owning football clubs,” he said. “Why does there have to be one rich family that the fans end up hating because they don’t invest? It should be a global consortium of the best-in-class in every part of the world.”

Candy did not reply to requests for comment on whether he was considering a Manchester United bid.

An overseas billionaire

Illustration shows Elon Musk image on smartphone and printed Twitter logos.
Illustration shows Elon Musk image on smartphone and printed Twitter logos. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Colin Neville, a partner at Raine Group, the US investment bank that sold Chelsea and whom the Glazers have hired to find a buyer for Manchester United, said that when Chelsea was put on the block “we had people from six out of the seven continents, all the continents besides Antarctica, looking to buy the club”.

“We had some of the richest people in the world and in countries that would surprise a lot of people,” he said at the same FT event. “In respect to assets like Chelsea there is a world of have and have not in the Premier League. There are six power clubs that really don’t come up for sale, and several of them are owned by countries at this point.”

Elon Musk, the world’s richest person and owner of Tesla, Space-X and Twitter, has been suggested as a possible bidder, with bookies quoting odds of 7-1. In August he tweeted: “Also, I’m buying Manchester United ur welcome.” He later clarified that it was a “long-running joke”, although he said “if it were any team, it would be Man U”.

Also, I’m buying Manchester United ur welcome

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 17, 2022

A sovereign wealth fund

Rumours suggest that Dubai International Capital, the investment arm of Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund, may consider submitting a bid for the club. DIC, which is said to have about $13bn of assets under management, “almost signed” a deal to buy Liverpool FC in 2007, the company’s former chief executive has said.

“We would have been the first to do it out of this region. As soon as they won the Champions League in 2005, we got serious about due diligence in 2006 and almost signed in January 2007,” Sameer al-Ansari told Arabian Business magazine in 2014.

“What delayed us is because everyone knew [I] was a lifelong fan of Liverpool, including His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum. So we did three times the amount of due diligence as I had to prove the business sense and there were very few clubs frankly where you can make a business sense.”

Newcastle United was last year bought for £300m by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign wealth fund and Manchester City is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Manchester United Supporters Trust calls on Glazers to sell club quickly | Manchester United

The Glazer family has been urged by Manchester United fans to sell quickly and to make sure they leave the club in the right hands rather than chasing the biggest bid.

In an open letter, the Manchester United Supporters Trust also warns the Glazers that any sort of uncertainty could be “disastrous” and tells them “it’s time for a change”. It comes after reports the Americans want at least £6bn for a club they bought in 2005.

“The last 17 years has been characterised by debt and decline – on-the-field and off it,” Must says. “The vast majority of United fans will agree with the conclusion you appear to have also reached – it’s time for change.

“Fans will want to carefully scrutinise any new prospective owner – most of all we implore them not to repeat the mistakes you did – of alienating the fans that represent the greatest asset of Manchester United.

Despite the high price, United are likely to attract a number of potential suitors. In August, Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest person, expressed an interest in buying United. Some petro-states could also be keen on acquiring one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Must’s letter strongly criticises the Americans for their record before urging them to sell as quickly as possible. “You have made huge amounts of money from Manchester United,” it says. “Hundreds of millions of pounds out, without a single penny of investment in. Whatever commercial objective you had in 2005, we suspect you have met it.

“So now you can do two things for your legacy – the first is to prioritise the best interests of Manchester United Football Club over the financial interests of the selling shareholders. Our club, at this moment in time more than ever, needs the right ownership and that should be the priority rather than simply the highest bidders and highest return for you.

“Second, we implore you to move with speed. In football, any sort of hiatus or uncertainty is disastrous. If you have decided to sell, we urge you to do it quickly to allow the club to move on without any delay.”

It is understood that four of the six Glazer siblings have wanted to sell for a while and the other two, Avi and Joel, have come round to it in recent weeks. The Raine Group, which oversaw the sale of Chelsea this year, has been appointed as the financial adviser.

“We have a terrific new manager, and we can all see recent progress on the field,” the letter says. “So, conclude your review process as quickly as possible, identify the best new ownership for the football club, and get the sale done, so Erik ten Hag has the certainty he needs to invest in the playing squad and we bring in the much-needed investment for the stadium to restore Manchester United to its proper position.

“Now is the time for change in the best interests of Manchester United.”

Potential sale of Manchester United could inspire overhaul of Old Trafford | Manchester United

Old Trafford: the gleaming jewel in the crown that is Manchester United. A destination venue with a wow factor that teems heritage, culture, modernity, warmth, light and vision. The ground revamped and overhauled or even downsized for the club’s vaunted youth teams to finally have a permanent home while a fresh 110,000-capacity stadium – perhaps named New Old Trafford – is built for the successors of Billy Meredith, George Best, Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney to grace. All of this part of a Manchester United HQ that develops the vast plot of land owned at M16 0RA.

With the Glazers offering notice they may sell, an architect is hardly required to see how a new owner could transform a crumbling and patched-up Old Trafford that has had zero fresh structural redevelopment since Malcolm Glazer bought the club in 2005.

An illustration of what can be achieved is found at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which took three years to build and cost £1bn and is a shiny testament to vision and ambition. For the 62,000 fans who can attend there is a Michelin star restaurant, numerous bars for home and away fans, a Grade II-listed building, an art gallery, Europe’s largest club shop and, generally, a sense that all was constructed with care and attention.

The finance required for an analogous site would surely start at £2bn but United, even more than Tottenham, have a proud history that could be drawn upon to create a forward-thinking monument to England’s record title-winners that would, in time, show the proprietor a nice profit.

The club was recently valued at about £3.75bn but Ed Woodward, the former chief executive, believed so vast are the revenue streams yet to be tapped that it could easily be raised to north of £10bn.

An example: the official tour of Old Trafford lacks imagination, the highlight being the trumpeted access given to the “actual changing rooms” used by the team during what feels like a bolted-on walkabout. Imagine instead a Manchester United virtual reality palace where, via goggles, you live the fantasy of any United player in any legacy triumph – say Ole Gunnar Solskjær in the 1999 Champions League final – and try to score a famous goal.

Old Trafford
A new owner would raise the possibility of Old Trafford being revamped. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Or a bespoke Manchester United museum that allows an in-depth, immersive journey from the Newton Heath LYR Football Club of 1878 to the current Manchester United. Or, why not out-Michelin Tottenham and have a two-star rated restaurant that is open not only on match days and sits along side mid-range priced eateries that can be enjoyed after shopping at boutiques, working out at the Manchester United gym, watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster at the Manchester United cinema or a youth production at the Manchester United community theatre?

There is more than enough acreage to achieve all of this and more but instead the Glazers lacked any real desire: a neat shorthand for their 17-year ownership.

This year the Glazers appointed two master planners, Legends International and Populous, with a view to finally redeveloping the club’s home. Then, a spokesperson said: “Manchester United has appointed a team of leading consultants to begin work on creating a master plan for the redevelopment of Old Trafford. Work will begin immediately on developing options for Old Trafford and studying their feasibility, with the aim of significantly enhancing the fan experience.” This appears to have been abandoned.

What the considerable number of United fans will hope is that if they do sell whoever buys does not prove to be the Glazers MK II.

Manchester United fans, how do you feel about the club being put up for sale? | Manchester United

Manchester United has been put up for sale by the club’s owners, the Glazer family, who have announced that they are “commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives”. The news that the family’s controversial 17-year ownership could be ending came on the day Cristiano Ronaldo left the club.

We would like to speak to Manchester United fans around the world about their views on the developments at the club. How do you feel about the team’s future? Would you welcome new ownership of the club?

We would also like to hear from supporters who have taken part in protests against the club’s owners and those who no longer support the club.

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Timeline: Glazers and their turbulent reign at Manchester United | Manchester United

2003 Malcolm Glazer buys a 2.9% stake in Manchester United in March, which increases before the end of the year.

2004 Glazer’s stake in club reaches almost 20% in June and nears 30% in October. He makes bids for the club in October and December and removes three directors.

May 2005 Glazer makes a formal takeover bid on 12 May after his stake reaches almost 57%. Before the end of the month he owns more than 76% of the club and the board advise shareholders to accept his bid.

June 2005 Glazer secures 98% of shares and control of United. As part of the family’s leveraged takeover they load their own £525m borrowings on to the club to repay. FC United of Manchester are officially registered by disgruntled fans – later in the year the club kick off the 2005-06 season in the 10th tier of English football.

July 2005 Glazer family members make their first visit to Old Trafford. They end up being driven away in a police van for their own safety amid angry protests.

2006 ‘Love United Hate Glazer’ stickers are put on Old Trafford seats after a goalless draw with Middlesbrough in May as United head for a second-placed finish.

2010 The anti-Glazers green-and-gold campaign begins. In the same year it emerges that the club’s debt has hit £716.5m and that the Glazer family have taken £10m out of the club in “management and administration fees” and personally borrowed a further £10m in the past year. Before the year ends the Glazers pay off a high-interest hedge-fund £220m debt accruing 16.25% interest. This follows the raising of £504m in a bond issue.

2012 United shares start trading on the New York stock exchange. The family make £75m selling a portion of their shares.

2014 Malcolm Glazer dies. The Glazer family sells a further 12m shares for $17 each – making another $200m (£129m). In December, one of the Glazer brothers, Edward, announces the sale of 3m of his shares. Amid fan anger the Glazers rule out selling Manchester United for at least five years.

2015 It emerges that the six children of Malcolm Glazer who own United will be paid more than £15m every year from the club after an announcement that there will be a dividend to shareholders.

2017 The Glazers’ holding company, Red Football, sells 4.3m shares in United, for $17 per share. That is a further $73m (£56m) made by the Glazers.

2018 The Guardian reports that the Glazers’ takeover has drained out of United more than £1bn in interest, costs, fees and dividends since 2005.

2019 The latest dividend paid by the club is revealed to be £23m, of which the five Glazer brothers and their sister Darcie Glazer Kassewitz shared approximately £18m.

2020 United’s net debt increases by £127.4m to £429.1m in the 12 months to 31 March 2020, their latest set of accounts reveal.

March 2021 United’s co-chairman Avram Glazer puts shares worth more than £70m up for sale. Debt is up 16% to £455.5m after 12 months of the pandemic.

April 2021 Supporter anger flares over the Glazers’ attempt to take the club into the European Super League. Fans break into the training ground on 22 April.

2 May 2021 United supporters break into Old Trafford amid a protest against the owners.