Nearly a year after Manchester United opened the doors to outside investment, British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe looks set to buy a 25 percent stake in the English Premier League club.
A proposed deal worth a reported £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) is expected to be ratified at a United board meeting on Thursday.
But the fact that the Glazer family will remain in control of the club comes as a bitter disappointment for most fans, who were desperate to see the back of the unpopular Americans.
“It would be wildly optimistic to think the Glazers are acting in the interests of supporters or are making ownership decisions which don’t centre on their own priorities,” the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) said in a statement this week.
United’s fortunes on and off the field have suffered since the Glazers took charge at Old Trafford in a leveraged takeover in 2005 for £790 million.
The brilliance of former manager Alex Ferguson kept the Red Devils at the top of the English and European game during the early years of the Glazer reign.
However, United have not won the Premier League since Ferguson retired in 2013 and last lifted the Champions League back in 2008.
A miserable start to this season has left Erik ten Hag’s men 10th in the Premier League and at risk of an embarrassing early Champions League exit after losing their opening two group games for the first time.
– Where does the money go? –
Ratcliffe, founder of petrochemicals giant INEOS, will reportedly seek to take control of the club’s football operations in return for his sizeable investment.
But many question how a minority owner can have the sway in practice to control the core operation of a business.
“How does a minority shareholder stop cultural decline across a whole organisation if the people who have overseen this decline still have a majority shareholding?” Gary Neville, a former United captain turned pundit and businessman, asked on social media.
Moreover, it is unclear where the proceeds from Ratcliffe’s investment will go.
Figures from March showed the club’s debt has spiralled to £970 million.
But funds are also required for a long-awaited upgrade of the club’s stadium.
Old Trafford remains the UK’s largest club stadium, with a capacity of more than 74,000.
However, it has aged during the Glazers’ reign while United’s rivals have modernised their stadiums.
Manchester City’s Etihad ground was selected for the UK and Ireland’s successful bid to host Euro 2028, thanks to better facilities.
There is no big screen capable of showing fans replays of VAR incidents at Old Trafford and videos on social media showed supporters being soaked during a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace last month due to a leaking roof.
“Old Trafford requires significant investment on its surrounding land,” said Neville.
“Does this deal impact this requirement positively or does it leave it as a concrete wasteland?”
When United first announced a process to “explore strategic alternatives for the club” in November 2022, “stadium and infrastructure redevelopment” was one of the options available with a fresh injection of capital.
Neville has also championed the need to upgrade the club’s training ground.
However, already worn down by 11 months of a slow and tiresome process, United fans fear the Glazers could just line their own pockets by selling some of their shares while maintaining control.
“If the reports are true regarding INEOS obtaining a 25 percent stake in our club there are a number of questions around the transaction which need clarity before supporters can make any judgement on its merits,” said MUST.
“The outcome must include new investment into the club. It cannot be solely about the interests of shareholders, whether existing or new.”