It is the news that has rocked the football and financial world: after 17 years, Manchester United could be changing ownership.
It was announced on Tuesday evening that the Glazer family are willing to listen to offers for one of the biggest football clubs in the world, which is believed to be valued at £5bn.
A Manchester United statement confirmed the American owners’ plan to identify “strategic alternatives” and said the process will consider a number of options “including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the company”.
So is the sale of United likely and why are the Glazers exploring options now? Could the Glazers end up staying at Old Trafford? Who could take over from the American family?
Sky News City Editor Mark Kleinman, who broke the news that the Glazers are open to selling United, and Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol, answer all the important questions:
How realistic is it that the club will be sold?
A sale of Manchester United is now far likelier than at any other time during the Glazer family’s ownership.
Board confirmation that the club would evaluate “strategic alternatives” – financial jargon for a sale or other form of corporate activity – means that exiting United altogether is now a serious consideration for owners who have benefited financially from the last 17 years but have also been rocked by incessant criticism of their stewardship.
That does not mean a sale is certain to take place: depending upon the level of interest and the price they are offered, the Glazers could yet decide to continue their tenure at Old Trafford.
Could we see the sale of the club completed before the restart of the Premier League season on Boxing Day?
No chance whatsoever.
By the standards of football club auctions, the three-month sale of Chelsea – admittedly complicated by the sanctions imposed on then-owner Roman Abramovich – took place at breakneck speed. That was because the Raine Group were under pressure to sell the club quickly because of conditions imposed by the UK government.
A sale of United is likely to be a more leisurely affair, and will presumably involve a delisting of their New York-quoted shares as well as the sifting by bankers at The Raine Group of what are likely to be numerous offers.
For example, there were more than 100 expressions of interesting in buying Chelsea, the Raine Group can take their time to make sure they get the right owner for United.
It is expected the club’s strategic review will run for at least a couple of months, and detailed talks with buyers will get under way sometime in the new year.
If a full sale does take place, completion of a deal by the end of the current season is a more realistic timetable – and that would be without any financing or regulatory obstacles.
How much could Manchester United be sold for?
Chelsea were sold for £2.5bn in May and the Glazers will be looking for at least twice as much. It is worth noting the world record for a sporting franchise is the £3.9bn the Denver Broncos were sold for in August.
There has been talk of the club changing hands for as much as £10bn but it remains to be seen whether any interested parties are prepared to spend anywhere near that figure.
New owners are likely to have to guarantee they will invest significant funds in infrastructure, – for example, a figure of £1.75bn was set in the Chelsea sale – and they will not be able to use a leveraged buyout to purchase United.
How much do you think this announcement was influenced by Cristiano Ronaldo’s interview? If a sale goes through, should United fans be thanking him?
The instinct is that the timing of these two announcements – just four hours apart – was pure coincidence.
The decision to explore new financing options including a sale was reached after a painstaking debate between members of the Glazer family, and began long before Ronaldo’s explosive interview with Piers Morgan.
Nevertheless, many of the issues raised by Ronaldo – United’s waning performance and the owners’ alleged disinterest in the club – reflect the malaise felt by many fans about the Glazers’ ownership.
To that extent, United supporters may well feel that Ronaldo’s intervention was helpful in crystallising the shareholders’ decision to explore an exit.
Why are the Glazers looking to sell now, after repeatedly rejecting fan demands to go?
The only people who can truly answer that question are the owners themselves, but it seems to me they have concluded that the financial challenges of enabling United to compete again for the Premier League title and of rejuvenating a tired Old Trafford stadium may be better met by others.
The global financial crisis means cheap credit is no longer as freely available to finance this themselves.
The failure of the European Super League project will also have weighed heavily on their minds, both in terms of the even deeper entrenchment of fans’ mistrust in them and the removal of a major recurring revenue opportunity for the club. United’s commercial power is enormous, but it is not limitless.
Who are the likely candidates for the purchase?
Take your pick from a global ‘Who’s Who’ of billionaires.
The most obvious candidate, petrochemicals tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe, held talks with the Glazers earlier this year before publicly declaring his interest in a takeover of the Red Devils.
Sir Jim has since, however, appeared to cool on the idea, saying the elites of English football are overvalued.
Expect speculation linking other prominent figures from the Middle East, Asia and the US to a deal for United.
Sky Sports News understands the main interest is likely to come from the US. A sale to US investors looks more likely than a sale to anyone from the Middle East at the moment.
There has previously been interest from Saudi Arabia but any takeover involving Saudi money would be complicated as far as the Premier League is concerned. Chinese interest in buying foreign clubs has disappeared because of the economy stagnating and the government discouraging investment in foreign companies.
Some of those who lost out in the £2.5bn auction of Chelsea are certain to explore whether a bid makes financial sense. The Raine Group already have the names and numbers of investors who have the funds to buy a major Premier League club from that process.
Why is there so much US interest in the Premier League?
The Chelsea sale has proved that there is appetite, especially in the United States, in buying Premier League clubs.
Many US sports investors believe Premier League clubs are undervalued and they are much easier to buy than NFL clubs, which rarely change hands.
They also believe they can use their expertise on and off the pitch to increase revenues and improve all aspects of the clubs they buy.
Of course, ultimately it is about making money. The long-term aim is a future where clubs can sell their own broadcast rights to their fans around the world. United claim to have 1.1 billion fans and followers worldwide – about 15 per cent of the world’s population.
Will the takeover talk affect United’s performances?
Erik ten Hag is determined his players will not be distracted by any off-field issues when they return from World Cup duty. The last thing United want is to replace the distraction of Ronaldo with the distraction of a takeover.
The message that will be relayed to the players is they have to focus on the pitch and leave all other matters in the hands of the owners and the executives running the club.
Some executives may face an uncertain future because the reality of the situation is that new owners almost always bring in their own people. Bruce Buck, Marina Granovskaia, Petr Cech and Thomas Tuchel have all left Chelsea since the Todd Boehly-led consortium bought the club.
What, if any, potential impact will Manchester United being for sale have on Liverpool and their own sale?
It may have a significant impact, or it may have none – the answer will depend on the level of interest that the Glazers and Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, receive, as well as who from.
Undoubtedly a number of financial bidders will examine offers for both clubs while clearly being aware they can only hold a material interest in either.
What is intriguing about the timing of their owners’ simultaneous decisions to explore a sale is that it’s unlikely to be a coincidence: the failure of the European Super League (at least as far as English clubs’ participation is concerned) and the worsening economic backdrop will lead some to conclude that this group of investors has decided that the high watermark for elite club valuations has been reached.
Will the Glazers just sell to the highest bidder or are they likely to consider other things like ethics/human rights if there’s interest from a rich country with deep pockets?
This has become a far more nuanced debate since the protracted and intensely controversial takeover of Newcastle United FC by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
Based on the Magpies’ resurgence, the deal has been a resounding success from a footballing, if not a human rights, perspective.
There is no reason to suspect the Glazers will have any other motive than maximising their return from a potential sale of the Red Devils.
The Premier League has an Owners and Directors Test which scrutinises the appropriateness of club shareholders, and history suggests that any would-be buyer is unlikely to bid unless they are confident of clearing it.
How much profit will the Glazers make from selling United?
They stand to make billions of pounds. They borrowed £600m to buy United in a £790m deal 17 years ago and the debt was loaded onto the club. Their takeover has cost the club more than £1.5bn.
The Glazers would minimise their tax liabilities in the event of a sale because the club is registered in the Cayman Islands.
Could a fan buy-out be a possibility?
This is an intriguing idea, but even with the depth of United’s global fanbase – estimated at more than one billion in the club’s statement on Tuesday night – it feels like a stretch.
What may be more realistic is a takeover funded by a consortium that puts fans’ interest and some degree of fan ownership at its heart.
The Glazers had promised in the wake of the European Super League debacle to introduce a modestly sized supporter ownership scheme, but this has still not materialised despite some apparent progress.
The other question will be whether the Red Knights – the group of wealthy United fans fronted in 2010 by former Goldman Sachs economist Lord O’Neill – might be persuaded to reprise their interest in some form.