The Glazers at Manchester United: The story of their turbulent tenure so far

With the Glazers staying at Manchester United as majority owners following confirmation of Sir Jim Ratcliffe's minority stake, Sky Sports takes an in-depth look at the Americans' turbulent tenure so far...

"It's just a game for them. They think it's a toy. Of course, they're going to sell. They're desperate for money."

Gary Neville's view was clear when reports emerged in early September 2023 that the Glazers were considering taking Manchester United off the market - almost 10 months after it was announced they were open to selling the club.

But despite Neville's adamance, those stories weren't too far wide of the mark. Confirmation of Sir Jim Ratcliffe's minority stake still means the Glazers, who bought their first shares in United over 20 years ago, will continue their controversial tenure at Old Trafford - for now.

Using past accounts and exclusive interviews, Sky Sports tells the in-depth story of the Glazers' ownership...

2003-05: The Glazers' Man Utd journey begins

"Debt is the road to ruin," warned former Manchester United chief executive David Gill in August 2004. Yet it was the exact road the club followed and are still following to this day.

Gill could not have known back then what was about to transpire. In March 2003, well over a year before his now infamous statement, the Glazer family's controversial journey with United began.

On the day Sir Alex Ferguson's side lost the League Cup final to Liverpool in Cardiff, it was reported Malcolm Glazer - a Florida-based businessman who owned Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - spent around £9m to buy a 2.9 per cent stake in the club. Glazer made the purchase through a holding company called Red Football and by late November, he had acquired 15 per cent of United.

Malcolm Glazer owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an American football team

Malcolm Glazer owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an American football team

Little by little, Glazer was making his mark. By May 12 2005, he had taken his stake to almost 57 per cent after buying out major shareholders JP McManus and John Magnier. The Irish businessmen, key players in horse racing, had been involved in a legal dispute with Sir Alex Ferguson over the ownership of Rock of Gibraltar. Who knew a champion racehorse could change the course of United's history?

"United's board was very concerned that their manager had fallen out with the biggest shareholders. The row over the horse paved the way for the Glazers," Chris Blackhurst, author of The World's Biggest Cash Machine, a book about the Americans' reign at United, tells Sky Sports.

After Red Football had increased its stake in United to 75 per cent, allowing the Glazer family to later end the club's status as a Public Limited Company and delist it from the London Stock Exchange, a group of United fans opposed to the takeover protested at the 2005 FA Cup final against Arsenal.

The idea fan discontent started post-2013 - when the trophies dried up - could not be further from the truth.

A group of Man Utd fans protested against the takeover at the FA Cup final in 2005

A group of Man Utd fans protested against the takeover at the FA Cup final in 2005

"The most switched-on Manchester United supporters already sensed something was wrong," says James Cooper, Sky Sports News' Manchester-based reporter from 2003 to 2021. "The alarm bells started ringing as soon as Malcolm Glazer began snapping up shares."

Glazer took full control of United in June 2005, but the deal was hugely unpopular because it was financed primarily through loans secured against the club's assets.

The nature of the £790m takeover, known as a leveraged buyout, loaded United with a debt of £525m. Just like that, the club were in the red for the first time since 1931. James W Gibson was not around to save them on this occasion, though.

The Glazers' methods drew widespread criticism right from the start - but not just from supporters.

"In 2005 I was working at The Times and I can't remember a single sports journalist coming out and saying United being taken over in a leveraged buyout was a good idea. Everyone warned against it," recalls Kaveh Solhekol, now Sky Sports News' chief reporter.

Man Utd fans were not happy with Malcolm Glazer's interest in buying the club

Man Utd fans were not happy with Malcolm Glazer's interest in buying the club

The banks had their reservations too, according to football finance expert Kieran Maguire. "They were quite wary of the Glazers so were charging very high interest rates - up to 14.25 per cent. This was an untried method in football."

In June 2023 - 18 years after the Glazer family acquired United - Premier League clubs voted to cap leveraged buyouts at around 65 per cent of a club's value, which would prevent takeovers like this from happening again. An encouraging move, but a classic case of too little, too late.


2005-06: Glazers' violent first visit and FC United

The Glazer family's first visit to Old Trafford ended in violent scenes in June 2005 as police clashed with hundreds of United supporters who opposed the club's new ownership.

Joel, Avram and Bryan Glazer had to be smuggled down the players' tunnel and out of the stadium in a police van for their own safety. United legend Sir Bobby Charlton apologised to them for the hostile reception they received, but it was a clear sign of what was to come.

Man Utd fans show their feelings towards the takeover outside Old Trafford

Man Utd fans show their feelings towards the takeover outside Old Trafford

"The Glazers failed to engage, communicate or allay fears meaning concerns only grew," Duncan Drasdo, CEO of Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), tells Sky Sports.

"They'd come from a very different fan culture in the US and they'd made no effort to understand English football fans."

The takeover caused so much anger that in 2005 it pushed a group of disgruntled United supporters into forming a new football club. Now competing in the seventh tier of English football, FC United of Manchester was a symbol of the fractious atmosphere the Glazers had unknowingly created.

"It was a very tough time for everyone. We were a family and nothing had damaged that family more than the Glazers," says Oliver Houston, then vice-chair of MUST.

"There had been people who wanted to set up their own supporter-owned breakaway club for various reasons anyway, but the Glazers coming in was definitely the straw that broke the camel's back."

Manchester United Supporters Trust CEO Duncan Drasdo

Manchester United Supporters Trust CEO Duncan Drasdo

It wasn't all doom and gloom though in the early years of the Glazers' reign. Despite initial fears that the debt incurred in buying United could lead to insolvency, the club continued to thrive.

A lucrative new shirt sponsorship deal signed in April 2006 with AIG, an American company that had a large stake in a hedge fund that helped fund the takeover, boosted the club's profitability. United also received increased revenue from TV rights and expanded Old Trafford's capacity.

"The Glazers spotted early on there was the potential to turn Manchester United into a proper business, and they have done that brilliantly," James Cooper says. "The way a lot of other football clubs are run as businesses is down to them. Others have cherry-picked some of their ideas."

In the same month as the AIG deal, Malcolm Glazer had two strokes and his six children - Avram, Joel, Bryan, Kevin, Darcie and Edward - ran United, all of them sitting on the board of directors.


2006-13: Success under Ferguson

At the time the Glazers bought the club, United had not won the Premier League for two years but would soon become the dominant force in English and European football again. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United won a further five Premier League titles, the Champions League, three League Cups, and the Club World Cup.

For all their criticism, the Glazers took action in 2005 to ensure that Ferguson and chief executive David Gill remained at United contrary to the fears of many fans.

And amid concerns United could not compete with Manchester City in the transfer market following their rivals' Abu Dhabi-led takeover in 2008, Ferguson did his best to turn down the heat on United's owners.

Sir Alex Ferguson supported the Glazers while he was Man Utd manager

Sir Alex Ferguson supported the Glazers while he was Man Utd manager

"They've done the job well. I've never been refused when I've asked for money for a player," the legendary United boss said in July 2010, before describing criticism of the Americans as unfair.

It was a stark contrast to the view of many, but Ferguson's first-team coach at the time agreed.

"Sir Alex always received the support from the Glazers in terms of making sure the squad was quality-wise and depth-wise up to the standard he wanted," Rene Meulensteen tells Sky Sports.

"David Gill was the buffer between the Glazer family and the manager, so everything was dealt with in a very good way."

Rene Meulensteen was Sir Alex Ferguson's first-team coach from 2007 to 2013

Rene Meulensteen was Sir Alex Ferguson's first-team coach from 2007 to 2013

Ferguson's comments, however, would not influence the United fanbase. Despite the team's on-pitch success, anger towards the Glazers remained.

A campaign known as 'Love United Hate Glazer' was formed by fans following the takeover and in January 2010, an announcement to refinance the debt placed on the club by the Glazers only served to unleash a new wave of protests at games.

The colours of Newton Heath - United's name before 1902 - became prominent at Old Trafford, but even the sight of David Beckham sporting a green and gold scarf on his return with AC Milan had no effect on United's unpopular owners.

Rene Meulensteen told Sky Sports the protests against the Glazers didn't distract Man Utd from performing on the pitch

Rene Meulensteen told Sky Sports the protests against the Glazers didn't distract Man Utd from performing on the pitch

On the final day of the 2009/10 season, more demonstrations took place as United played Stoke City. Despite the Premier League title being on the line, the home fans were determined to be heard.

"We were aware of the protests, but with Ferguson and David Gill very much in control of what was happening in and around the first team, it didn't really affect us," Meulensteen explained.

United thrashed Stoke that day but were dethroned by Chelsea as league champions, although not for long.

"At the end of the day, we were just focusing on winning games and challenging for trophies. That was the mantra," Meulensteen adds.


2010-12: Red Knights in shining armour and NYSE

United needed a knight - or knights - in shining armour to save them from the Glazers' grasp and in 2010, it appeared they were in luck.

Despite the Glazers' maintaining they would not sell the club, a group of wealthy supporters known as the Red Knights were expected to launch a takeover bid of about £1bn.

The group, which included Football League chairman Keith Harris and Goldman Sachs' chief economist Jim O'Neill, said one of its priorities was to reduce debt levels at the club, but the offer was put on hold.

Jim O'Neill, a former Man Utd non-executive director, was involved in the Red Knights bid in 2010

Jim O'Neill, a former Man Utd non-executive director, was involved in the Red Knights bid in 2010

Were new owners really needed at United though? After all, the Glazers were "running the club in the right way" according to David Gill, who also questioned the practicality of the Red Knights bid.

"David was a paid employee at that time so his comments could not be independent or objective. He could hardly criticise his employers," MUST CEO Duncan Drasdo says.

"There were challenges with the Red Knights bid, but having people who cared about Manchester United and wanted to inject money into the club rather than take money out could only have been a huge improvement."

There was a lot of noise at the time about the possible takeover, but was it ever likely to materialise?

"It seemed to have a lot of momentum and the right names behind it," recalls James Cooper, who has reported on United for over 25 years. "I spoke to a few of them back then and it seemed to be going in the right direction.

"It all happened very quickly, but it also fizzled out very quickly. I think it was down to a lack of specifics and probably a lack of encouragement from the Glazer family ultimately."

Man Utd chief executive David Gill questioned how the Red Knights bid would work

Man Utd chief executive David Gill questioned how the Red Knights bid would work

In August 2012, United were listed on the New York Stock Exchange with the expectation that money raised from selling shares would go towards paying off the club's debt, but it was later revealed most of the money would go directly to the Glazers.

The structure of the sale also meant the Glazers' Class B shares would have 10 times the voting power of the Class A shares sold to the public.

"The Glazers were very clever because dual-class shares weren't allowed on the London Stock Exchange," says Kaveh Solhekol. "It was a way for them to make money out of United without losing control."


2013-22: Trophies dry up after Sir Alex retires

The news of Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013 sent shockwaves through the football world. United's success on the pitch had continued right up until Ferguson's departure with the club sealing their 20th league title. But their form has dipped drastically since.

Despite appointing five permanent managers including current boss Erik ten Hag, United have failed to win the Premier League since Ferguson left and collected just four major trophies.

United went six years without a piece of silverware - their longest drought in four decades - before Ten Hag secured the Carabao Cup last season, adding to an FA Cup won under Louis van Gaal in 2016, and a Europa League and League Cup double under Jose Mourinho a year later.

A fall from grace was always possible without Ferguson's magic, but the Glazers didn't see it that way.

"They took the success they had under Sir Alex for granted and thought it would continue after he left. That was a misassumption because it clearly shows now how important he was," Rene Meulensteen says.

United's miserable era on the pitch has been compounded by the success of Manchester City and Liverpool. The "noisy neighbours", as Ferguson once dubbed City, have surpassed United and not only become the dominant force in Manchester but in Europe too.

In the 10 years since Ferguson's departure, City have won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, six League Cups, and a Champions League - 11 more major honours than United. Liverpool, meanwhile, have won the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup and Club World Cup.

Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds. This was every United fan's worst nightmare.

Avram Glazer greets Pep Guardiola after Man City beat Man Utd in the 2023 FA Cup final

Avram Glazer greets Pep Guardiola after Man City beat Man Utd in the 2023 FA Cup final


2013-22: Commercial guru Woodward comes under fire

It would be remiss to tell this story without mentioning Ed Woodward, the maligned former Manchester United executive vice-chairman who, along with the Glazers, has been blamed for the club's lack of on-pitch direction and success. But perhaps he was on a hiding to nothing right from the start.

Woodward's pivotal role in facilitating the Glazers' 2005 takeover saw him rewarded with a job at the club, but even he surely didn't envision he was destined for one of the top football decision-making roles at Old Trafford. He was, after all, an accountant and investment banker by trade.

Ed Woodward was Man Utd executive vice-chairman from 2013 to 2022

Ed Woodward was Man Utd executive vice-chairman from 2013 to 2022

It wasn't until Woodward assumed David Gill's responsibilities in 2013 that the spotlight firmly turned towards him. He was now in charge of sporting matters. Even the most diplomatic United fans won't hesitate to tell you how badly that's gone.

Woodward has been responsible for hiring and firing multiple managers, while United have paid out more than £1.5bn on new players since Ferguson retired in 2013. During the same period, their net spend is higher than any other club in the world.

Under Woodward's watch and with the Glazers' backing, United have often provided the required funds - not to be confused with the required players - to be competitive. However, their scattergun approach in the transfer market and an incoherent structure within the club despite appointing a football director in March 2021 are key factors many people feel have contributed to their on-pitch demise. Just ask Ralf Rangnick - or James Cooper.

Former Man Utd interim boss Ralf Rangnick famously said the club needs 'open-heart surgery' to recover

Former Man Utd interim boss Ralf Rangnick famously said the club needs 'open-heart surgery' to recover

"One of the problems at United is they haven't had specialists in specialist positions," Cooper explains.

"What surprised me about Ed Woodward, who is a thoroughly decent bloke and really good company, is that he didn't have the nous, permission or perhaps authority to bring in people in key positions around the football club to make his job easier.

"Manchester City and Liverpool have got top-notch people in top-notch roles. I don't think Manchester United, even now, can say they've got that."

Woodward's replacement Richard Arnold, whose own departure from the club has been announced recently, put the reasons for United's current struggles more bluntly. "We have f****** burned through cash," he was secretly filmed telling fans in June 2022.

Despite Woodward's weaknesses, nobody in their right mind would defend the events that took place at the end of January 2020, when his Cheshire home was attacked with flares by a group of disgruntled supporters.

In Woodward's defence, he was extremely valuable to United and had the commercial figures to prove it. Louis van Gaal might not have liked it, but there's no denying the club's success under the Glazers from a money-making perspective with Woodward - and Arnold - pulling the strings.

Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold (pictured) have both held commercial roles at Manchester United during the Glazers' tenure

Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold (pictured) have both held commercial roles at Manchester United during the Glazers' tenure

United's commercial revenue increased from £44m in 2005 to over £300m in 2023. The club now have worldwide sponsors for pretty much everything ranging from tyres to skincare to pillows, while annual pre-season tours around the globe have strengthened those relationships.

"The Glazers' approach has always been not to treat Manchester United as a football club, but as an aspirational brand that people want to be associated with," says football finance expert Kieran Maguire.

It's a philosophy that has clearly worked because in 2014, United signed a record-breaking £750m, 10-year kit deal with Adidas and extended that partnership this summer with a £900m contract - the biggest in Premier League history. A significant shirt sponsorship deal with US-based company Qualcomm is further proof of the club's commercial appeal.

As Woodward himself pointed out during a conference call with shareholders in 2018: "Playing performance doesn't really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business."

It was an honest statement, but one that also suggested how United's priorities had shifted.

Louis van Gaal warned Erik ten Hag not to join Man Utd because they are a 'commercial club' rather than a 'football club'

Louis van Gaal warned Erik ten Hag not to join Man Utd because they are a 'commercial club' rather than a 'football club'

"When Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge, the focus was fully on football and making sure we were successful - that was No 1," says Rene Meulensteen.

"In the years beyond Sir Alex, the branding of Manchester United was most important - although they probably won't admit that."

But while United have kept generating money, it is where huge sums of it end up that really boils the blood of fans. It has cost United more than £1bn to service the debt placed on the club by the Glazers, money that could be used to improve infrastructure and modernise a tired-looking Old Trafford, which has not been renovated since the 2005/06 season. A leaking roof in the Stretford End says it all.

And instead of putting money back into the club, the Glazers have cashed in themselves by selling shares and receiving dividends (more on that next), while United's current gross debt stands at £612m.

Man Utd fans have continued to protest against the Glazers in the stands at Old Trafford

Man Utd fans have continued to protest against the Glazers in the stands at Old Trafford


2014-19: Malcolm Glazer dies before dividends outrage

In May 2014, less than a year after Woodward was promoted to the top operational role at United, Malcolm Glazer died at the age of 85 having never visited Old Trafford.

Although Glazer was a controversial figure in Manchester, tributes poured in for him from the US where he was hugely respected for turning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from an unsuccessful franchise into Super Bowl winners.

Malcolm Glazer was a popular figure in the US for turning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into Super Bowl winners

Malcolm Glazer was a popular figure in the US for turning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into Super Bowl winners

In the same year Malcolm passed away, the Glazers made £129m after selling 12m more shares but despite continued fan anger, the family ruled out selling United for at least five years.

That resentment towards the Americans increased in 2015 when it emerged the six children of Malcolm would be paid more than £15m every year from the club through a dividend to shareholders.

While paying dividends was common in business, United were the only Premier League club to pay regular dividends of any kind.

The Glazers attracted heavy criticism following the dividend announcement

The Glazers attracted heavy criticism following the dividend announcement

"A lot of people had described the Glazers as seeing the club as a cash cow, well here it was in black and white," James Cooper says. "What fans feared was happening was in fact true. This was proof the Glazers were taking huge sums of money out of Manchester United."

The five Glazer brothers and their sister Darcie would go on to share approximately £18m of the £23m dividend payment in 2019 - two years after they had already made £56m by selling more shares. They have recently stopped receiving dividends, but the damage has already been done.

United fans penned an open letter to the family ahead of the start of the 2019/20 season demanding answers to five key questions about how the club was being run. But as has often been the case during the Americans' ownership, it fell on deaf ears.


2021: European Super League fiasco

The Glazers may prefer a reticent approach, but it ultimately proved costly in April 2021 when - one month after Avram put shares worth more than £70m up for sale - they gravely misjudged the importance of English football culture.

Plans to create a breakaway European Super League with 11 other leading clubs from England, Spain and Italy, where the founding members would be exempt from relegation, went down like a lead balloon.

Joel Glazer, one of the main players behind the project, had been named as a vice-chairman of the competition but apologised to fans after the proposals quickly broke down and insisted: "We got it wrong." The same response was not given by his brother Avram, who refused to acknowledge supporters when Sky News confronted him in Florida. "They're scavengers," was Gary Neville's scathing description of the Americans.

"They were completely out of touch," Cooper says. "They could see the revenues and the money it would make and how they thought football should be shaped in this country, but once again their understanding of Manchester United - the history, the DNA, all these sorts of things - just isn't there."

Shortly after the Super League was announced, a group of United fans broke into the club's Carrington training ground to protest and voice their concerns to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Solskjaer described the discussion as "peaceful", but the same could not be said about events just over a week later.

Ahead of United's Premier League game with Liverpool on May 2, several hundred supporters forced their way onto the Old Trafford pitch amid a chaotic demonstration against the Glazers, causing the fixture to be postponed. It was the first time a match had been called off due to fan protests in the competition's history. Criminal damage occurred and six police officers were injured.

If anyone was still unsure how a large section of United's fanbase felt towards the Glazers, this should have cleared it up. Most of the world knew now, even if they weren't aware of the backstory.

"The Super League was a significant moment but the discontent with the ownership had been there for 16 years. This simply provided a focus rather than being the cause," MUST CEO Duncan Drasdo insists.

"Other clubs were up in arms over it but that didn't result in them demanding a change of ownership. It was a bigger issue at United because of those underlying problems."

Following the Super League's collapse, Ed Woodward announced his intention to resign from his position as United executive vice-chairman having been unable to support the Glazers' plans. He officially left the club in February 2022 and two months later, leading consultants were appointed to work on the redevelopment of Old Trafford - something Joel Glazer had assured supporters the year before would happen.

"The Glazers promised the world to the fans after the Super League fell apart," says Kaveh Solhekol. "They set up a fans' advisory board too, but very little has changed in terms of communication and engagement."


2021-22: Ronaldo and four hours of chaos

The Glazers may have failed to regularly communicate with United fans, but they sent them into delirium just four months after the Super League fiasco by sanctioning the sensational return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford.

The cynics will draw comparisons with the Glazers' move to sign NFL legend Tom Brady for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and suggest this was a decision based purely on commercial reasons, but there was no doubt Ronaldo's return was celebrated by the overwhelming majority of United's fanbase. Suddenly there was belief United were serious title challengers again - even ex-Liverpool captain Graeme Souness thought that.

Bringing a club legend and five-time Ballon d'Or winner back to Old Trafford after 12 years away could also be viewed, to some extent, as a non-verbal way of the Glazers apologising to United supporters for their shameful actions back in April.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored 24 goals for Man Utd during the 2021/22 season

Cristiano Ronaldo scored 24 goals for Man Utd during the 2021/22 season

However, nostalgia often has a knack of clouding judgement. Despite a fairytale start and scoring more goals than any other United player in the 2021/22 season, Ronaldo and the club's relationship quickly soured. By November 2022, a controversial interview with TalkTV host Piers Morgan - in which the Glazers and Erik ten Hag were heavily criticised - proved the final straw.

At 5.30pm on Tuesday November 22, United confirmed Ronaldo's contract had been mutually terminated with immediate effect.

"That was probably gutting for the Glazers bearing in mind the amount of money they sanctioned to pay his wages, but the writing was on the wall as soon as he did that interview," says James Cooper.

"Bringing Ronaldo back was a statement, but it wasn't a statement of a club heading in the right direction. It was just this instinctive move and it came back to bite them.

"It was fun in the beginning and the show happened, but that fun very quickly turned into a pantomime."

With the 22nd FIFA World Cup underway in Qatar, this was supposed to be a rare chance for Premier League clubs to unwind and relax. But not for United. Ronaldo's departure was not the only key announcement being prepared behind the scenes.

At 9.30pm on the same day, United confirmed the Glazers were open to selling the club but said other options "including new investment" would be considered. Two mammoth sports stories had broken in the space of four hours - and they were both about the same club.

"That's typical of Manchester United," Cooper adds. "There isn't a football club like it on Earth in terms of the difference between good and bad. There is nothing in the middle. You go from overwhelming lows to amazing highs and that day was typical of that."

As Cooper mentions, the news of a potential sale was music to the ears of many United fans. Fireworks were set off around Old Trafford in celebration, but the drawn-out process that followed struggled to keep excitement levels high.


2022-23: Ratcliffe's personal touch the difference

Once the Glazers opened the door to offers, Sir Jim Ratcliffe's interest was no surprise. One of Britain's richest men, the 71-year-old is a lifelong United supporter and was born fewer than 10 miles from Old Trafford.

A proven investor in sport through his chemicals company INEOS, Ratcliffe tried to buy Chelsea last year but had already expressed an interest in purchasing United before his boyhood club was even officially on the market.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe owns the chemicals company INEOS

Sir Jim Ratcliffe owns the chemicals company INEOS

The softening of the Glazers' stance was no shock either. In August 2022, days before a more peaceful protest took place ahead of United's home fixture with Liverpool, Bloomberg reported the Glazers were considering selling a minority stake in the club and preliminary discussions had been held about bringing in a new investor. This was Ratcliffe's opportunity.

In October 2022, Ratcliffe revealed he had met the Glazers and was told they were not interested in selling. "They are the nicest people," he said of the family. Perhaps this was a telling sign of what would unfold a year later.

"I've never been fully convinced that the Glazers have wanted to sell Manchester United," says Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol. "There are six of them and they all have different opinions."

United employed the Raine Group, which oversaw Chelsea's takeover the previous year, to take charge of the bidding process. In February 2023, the same month United's record goalscorer Wayne Rooney risked the wrath of fans by claiming the Glazers have done a "fantastic job" at the club, several offers were made but it soon became clear the two frontrunners for a complete takeover were Ratcliffe and somewhat of an unfamiliar figure - Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Apart from being the son of the former Qatar prime minister, so little was known publicly about Sheikh Jassim that newsrooms were frantically scrambling around for information, while even basic tasks such as finding authentic photos proved difficult. Almost overnight, he'd become the talk of United's worldwide fanbase and the focus of the media, with everyone equally intrigued about what his vision for the club entailed.

When it emerged Sheikh Jassim wanted to own 100 per cent of United, was willing to clear the club's existing debt, and spend £1.4bn on infrastructure and transfers, the possibilities under a Qatari regime seemed limitless.

There were of course important ethical and moral issues to address, but from a pure footballing perspective, United fans only needed to look four miles across town at the Etihad to see how quickly a transformation can take place under similar circumstances. This offered genuine hope and was a chance for a fresh start, but it almost seemed too good to be true. And so it proved.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his representatives visited Old Trafford in March

Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his representatives visited Old Trafford in March

Over several months, Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe submitted multiple improved bids but neither were prepared to meet the Glazers' £6bn-plus valuation. Representatives from both parties visited Old Trafford and Carrington in March to meet United officials and discuss their proposals in detail. While Ratcliffe showed up in person, Sheikh Jassim stayed away.

"Paying a personal visit was not relevant as far as Sheikh Jassim was concerned. He didn't want the publicity," says Solhekol. "Ratcliffe's attitude has been much more flexible."

Having previously made a world-record bid, Sheikh Jassim made a final take-it-or-leave-it offer in June, widely suggested to be more than £5bn but still below the Glazers' asking price. At this point, Ratcliffe's proposal valued United at a higher price but was not for the whole club and would give the Americans the chance to stay. Everything was beginning to point towards one outcome.

After more fan protests outside - and inside - Old Trafford at the start of the 2023/24 season, the thick skins of the Glazers came to the fore once more when reports emerged in September that they were considering taking United off the market - almost 10 months after the announcement of a potential sale. All that fuss, seemingly for nothing.

As a result of those reports, United's share price dropped by 18 per cent in one day and reduced the club's value by more than £600m. It was the biggest drop since the club was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012.

As the weeks continued to pass with no finish line in sight, Sheikh Jassim - like most of the football world - had grown tired of the saga. On October 14, he withdrew from the process because, according to some sources, he "wasn't willing to dance to the Glazers' tune". That could well be the case, but perhaps his bid was always destined to fail.

"Sheikh Jassim and the Qataris never really engaged with the Glazers," Solhekol says. "Ratcliffe has tried to have a relationship with them. He's described them as nice people and been clever with the personal touch. That's been the difference."

Sheikh Jassim's withdrawal paved the way for Ratcliffe to pay more than £1.25bn for a 27.7 per cent minority stake in United and take control of football operations, the first step in what many hope will be a full takeover.

Ratcliffe's tenure has started positively and INEOS' encouraging plans have shifted the spotlight away from the Glazers in recent times. However, as long as the Americans remain as majority owners, there will always be pessimism about what the future holds. Whether they decide to relinquish full control one day is still anyone's guess.

Man Utd fans protesting in the stands at Old Trafford in April 2023

Man Utd fans protesting in the stands at Old Trafford in April 2023


The Glazers at Man Utd - Key numbers