| 2.2°C Dublin

Why Super League’s failure was catalyst for the sale of Manchester United

With Liverpool also on the market, and considering the financial problems at Old Trafford, there are also very few potential buyers

Close

Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium is pictured this week after owners, the Glazer family, announced they are considering selling the club as they "explore strategic alternatives". Photo: Jon Super/AP

Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium is pictured this week after owners, the Glazer family, announced they are considering selling the club as they "explore strategic alternatives". Photo: Jon Super/AP

Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium is pictured this week after owners, the Glazer family, announced they are considering selling the club as they "explore strategic alternatives". Photo: Jon Super/AP

The Glazers never really had a plan for Manchester United in the post Alex Ferguson years, but of all the alternatives offered to them the European Super League (ESL) must have looked like the most viable option to secure their investment forever.

It was designed by heritage clubs like them, Real Madrid and Barcelona, to keep the most famous names in control for the rest of time.

It promised serious cost controls to lock out the nation-state owners and the sovereign fund disruptors. There was an armistice on player poaching.

The founders no longer had to be experts at running football clubs – they just had to be running the right football club.

Joel Glazer remains one of the four vice-chairman of the ESL, an entity that has never formally been disbanded.

For United’s US owners, the Super League was the endgame. It was their NFL.

Once Ferguson won his first league title in 1993, United played in the Champions League every year bar one until his retirement 20 years later, and that one year out was only because the competition in 1995-’96 was not the size it is now.

Post-Ferguson, United have missed Champions League qualification in four out of nine seasons. In prestige and finance it has cost them dearly, and it will also cost any new owner, including Jim Ratcliffe.

The Halfway Line Newsletter

Get the lowdown on the Irish football scene with our soccer correspondent Daniel McDonnell and expert team of writers with our free weekly newsletter.

This field is required

The Super League gave the Glazers certainty of funding. Project Big Picture, its forerunner that came six months earlier in October 2020, even encompassed a stadium upgrade fund.

Yet three years on, the Glazers have none of this.

Indebted to around £515m (€597m), with their old card trick – the commercial market – saturated and the Premier League’s smaller clubs refusing to do the bidding of the big six, it feels like all options have been exhausted.

Old Trafford requires a major upgrade, possibly even a rebuild. As with Martin Edwards, scion of the family that were in control before the 1991 flotation, the Glazers have continued to buy up land around the stadium. The club even owns the freight terminal to the west of Old Trafford, and there has been talk in the past of repurposing it as the new stadium railway station.

In March, there were further grand plans and more tender processes for the rebuilding of Old Trafford and the scaling of the railway line behind the South Stand.

Those seem to have gone the way of most of the big ideas the Glazers entertained.

The Carrington training ground was last updated in Ferguson’s penultimate season at the club. Fresh extensions at Carrington have leaned heavily on temporary cabins.

If buying United is to cost their new owner £6bn (€6.9bn) then conservatively the Old Trafford rebuild and something similar at Carrington could eat up another £1.5bn (€1.74bn) with more needed to be spent on the squad.

The scale of the investment is similar to that facing the Boehly-Clearlake Capital consortium at Chelsea, although they at least have a training ground built in the 21st century.

United are controlled by the Class B shares owned by the Glazer siblings that confer 10 times the voting rights of the Class A shares. Any Class B shares sold convert automatically into Class A shares.

There are major institutions with large Class A stakes in United, but they have no say in its running.

A partial sale with no power to influence the direction of the club might shore up the Glazer position. For the investor who seeks control or profile, it offers nothing.

The Glazers will be aware that there are few people, or groups of investors, who can afford United – and with Liverpool on the market, too, that limits the options further. Both clubs were part of the Project Big Picture restructure of the Premier League – and both signed up to the second part of that power grab, the Super League.

Although United and Liverpool vote with Manchester City in the Premier League shareholders’ meetings they do not operate in the same financial universe. It is hard to see a buyer for United who could finance their purchase through the club’s own revenue in the way that the Glazers once did.

Instead, it will need a state or an individual who has the resources to buy it independently.

The advice to the European Court of Justice from the advocate general on December 15 will tell the remaining three Super League rebels whether they have a hope of breaking what they say is Uefa’s monopoly.

But even if the rebels draw some hope, it is hard to see how the English clubs could rejoin.

The Saudi Arabia ownership option, or indeed the Qataris once their World Cup is over, has always been one of the possible exit strategies for the Glazers. Yet both would now face dual-ownership questions given their existing football investments.

That has been a major factor in recent Uefa policy and would face huge obstacles.

One can only assume that the Glazers have owned this great asset long enough to know that there is a market. Alternatives to a sale seem finally to have run out.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


Most Watched





Privacy