Manchester United Takeover – On or Off?

Rumours that Qatar Holdings have had a 1.1b bid for Manchester United rejected and are preparing a 1.5b bid for the club have been doing the rounds lately, and it’s worth looking at this in detail, if only to see where the Glazers stand / whether there’s real interest from Qatar’s royal family / how being owned by a country’s royal family (more or less) would effect Manchester United on and off the pitch.

Do Glazers Need To Sell Manchester United?

Publicly, not at all. Privately, you’d consider serious bids that would double your investment in any property, football club or otherwise. The key thing to keep in mind here is that unlike Hicks / Gillette, who came into Liverpool with a plan to rebuild the stadium and then flip the club at a profit, the Glazers had a different, slightly long-term aim for United. I say this not from any insider knowledge but by looking at how they’ve conducted themselves. No extravagant comments to the press, no over-the-top promises, no idiotic controversies, just quietly staying in the background. They’re not here to use United to impress their rich friends (Blackburn) or play fantasy football (Chelsea), or even as a means to leverage the club into higher status for themselves / their country (Manchester City).

Yes, they’re here to make a profit, and they will sell the club in the long run. Either that or they’re actually looking to pay off ALL the debts in the next 10 years. Either way, they’re not in any hurry to sell, and they’re betting on the club being successful enough on the pitch to keep driving the value up.

And what about off the pitch? Simply by boosting their commercial income. Manchester United either already have or are planning to move all their commercial operations to London in a bid to boost revenues – as I discussed a couple of weeks ago in this article on the 20 richest football clubs of 2010, Premier League clubs lag behind their German and Spanish rivals when it comes to commercial revenues – and that’s one area all the major Premier League clubs are banking on as they bid to meet the UEFA FFP rules / manage their debts.

Will the Anti-Glazers Protests Force Them To Sell?

So far it has had an impact on their shirt sales (Aon is not going to be too happy, but they’re all about corporate leverage and having their brand prominently displayed across Asia) and season tickets uptake – and like it or not, it’ll have a further impact over the summer when the protests start again (regardless of whether Manchester United win anything or not this season – but expect them to be more vociferous if they don’t).

But at the end of the day fans can’t really force them to sell the club (and when they do, you can correct me here). Liverpool wasn’t sold because the fans protested, it was ‘sold’ because the board, along with the club’s creditors, agreed the sale against the wishes of the owners. Newcastle, despite the owner trying to sell and the fans wanting him to, hasn’t been sold. United will have many buyers whenever they go up for sale but there’s no NEED for the Glazers to sell – so the protests won’t work beyond denting their income – which, in the short run, will hurt the club by requiring the owners to take on more debt or cut costs, which would mean selling players.

Are Qatar Holdings genuinely interested?

It certainly makes sense from a tactical point of view – Qatar has the 2022 World Cup, Qatar Holdings are now Barcelona sponsors, and one of the next steps in getting involved in football would be to buy a top-level football club – when you have that kind of money, 1.5b may be a fair price to pay to secure the bragging rights that come along with owning the most popular football club in the world.

So is the Takeover on or off?

It’s off. It’s not going to happen this year. Or next year. Simply put, you have to look at two key facts – the Glazers know the value of the club will rise in the future and want to sell at the top, not now, and two, the only real comment from inside Manchester United about selling the club came from United’s non-executive director Mike Edelson, who said:

“It’s no secret that, at some time, the [Glazers] will sell…but that will be a long way down the line. Not until long after I am dead, maybe another 20 or 30 years.”

It’s a non-story, brought up again this week ahead of United announcing their financial results tomorrow. Expect a lot of Glazer-bashing, but no takeovers.

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