Man Utd's farcical & prolonged takeover threatens to derail Erik ten Hag's rebuild - new signings and Marcus Rashford's contract are at stake

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Erik ten Hag Glazers Harry Kane Marcus Rashford Victor Osimhen Man Utd
The process of selling the club has rumbled on for over six months and cast a cloud of uncertainty over Old Trafford amid on-field stability

More than six months have passed since Manchester United began its takeover process, but as the end of the season approaches, fans, players and staff are still no closer to knowing who is going to be in control of the club. Will it be Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS group or the Glazer family with minority investment?

Since the board of directors released a statement late on November 22 saying it was "commencing exploring strategic alternatives for the club", United have not made any official comment on the process. All fans have been able to rely on for updates are unsourced reports based on leaks from interested parties.

They do not even know if the club will be sold at all. Avram Glazer, in an increasingly rare trip to watch the club he owns, was asked to give a clarification on the process at the Women’s FA Cup final in May. In keeping with the shadowy way his family have run United over the last 18 years, he stayed silent.

The sale has turned into a never-ending saga which has descended into a farce. It is a mysterious tale of two billionaires competing for the keys to English football’s most successful and best-supported club, while another set of billionaires drag their heels over their decision, further enraging and dividing the fanbase.

Worst of all, the image of the club that was for so long a model institution has been trampled over, threatening to unravel all the progress Erik ten Hag has made on the field this season.

  1. A timeline of a chaotic process
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    A timeline of a chaotic process

    The first round of bids for United were lodged on February 17, when Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim announced his intention to buy the club and clear its debt. INEOS, led by Manchester-born CEO Ratcliffe, followed suit. They were the only bidders to publicly declare their interest in the takeover at the time, although it later emerged that Elliot Management, a US hedge fund, had offered financing to any interested party, raising the prospect of the Glazers staying on thanks to minority investment.

    Delegations from INEOS and Sheikh Jassim’s Ninety-Two Foundation met United officials at Old Trafford in March. The deadline for the second round of bids was set for a few days later, and that was when things got messy.

    Sheikh Jassim and INEOS briefed that they had submitted their second bids, only for it to emerge that United had not received them. Both parties asked the Raine Group, who are organising the sale, for the deadline to be extended, which was granted.

  2. Zilliacus denounces farcical process

    Zilliacus denounces farcical process

    Finnish entrepreneur Thomas Zilliacus entered the fray in March, championing a fan-led bid whereby supporters would own half the club if he were successful. But he pulled out less than a month later over frustration that the Glazers were holding a third round of bids in order to squeeze out a higher price. Zilliacus also believed the Glazers' asking price, reported to be in the region of £6 billion, was far more than the club was worth.

    “Jim Ratcliffe, Sheikh Jassim and myself all were ready to negotiate a deal to buy United. Instead, Glazers chose to start a new round. I will not participate in a farce set up to maximise the profit for the sellers at the expense of Manchester United,” Zilliacus said.

    United then held a third and final round of bids, with Sheikh Jassim and INEOS submitting improved offers. Reports emerged earlier this month that INEOS was closing in on the purchase after making a world record £6bn bid. However, Sheikh Jassim responded with another improved offer, weeks after the deadline. The Qatari is now waiting to hear back from the Glazers and Raine.

  3. A glacial pace compared to Boehly's rapid takeover

    A glacial pace compared to Boehly's rapid takeover

    United’s interminable takeover process contrasts with the sale of Chelsea in 2022. After being sanctioned by the British government following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Roman Abramovich announced on March 2 that he was putting the club up for sale. Todd Boehly completed his takeover of the club on May 28. The whole process took less than three months, less than half the time the United saga has rumbled on for, with still no end in sight.

    Chelsea’s first year under Boehly has been a total disaster on the pitch and the Blues, who visit United on Thursday sitting 12th in the table, are on their third manager of the season. But it cannot be denied that the takeover was resolved swiftly and they were able to act quickly and decisively - if not wisely - in the transfer market as a result.

    The circumstances are, of course, very different. While Abramovich had little choice but to sell Chelsea as his assets were being frozen, the Glazers hold all the cards. The upside of them dragging the process on is the possibility they could make even more money from the sale. The only downside is that they face more intense protests from the fans, but given they have faced fierce opposition since the moment they bought the club in 2005, that is unlikely to concern them.

    The consequences for United, though, are huge. As Zilliacus said when he announced he was withdrawing from the race: “The delays will make it very difficult for any new owner to build a winning team for next season.”

  4. Risk of stagnation
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    Risk of stagnation

    United have made much progress under Ten Hag, after registering their worst-ever points total in 30 Premier League seasons in 2021-22 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick. They have won their first trophy in six years by lifting the Carabao Cup and reached the final of the FA Cup, giving them the chance of stopping Manchester City's quest to complete the treble. The Red Devils are also on the brink of clinching a return to the Champions League, needing just one more point from their final two home games to seal a top-four finish.

    But unless they build on that progress in the summer and address certain areas of the squad, they risk stagnating as they did in previous years when they failed to seize the momentum from finishing in the top four. Ten Hag’s side managed to paper over the cracks with a superb run of results between December and April, but the deficiencies in the squad became painfully obvious following the defeats to Sevilla, Brighton and West Ham, when they had to cope without Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane.

    The transfer window officially opens on June 10 and there is no guarantee that the takeover will be resolved by then. But United have already lost valuable time to get ahead of their rivals as the seeds of deals are often sown in April and May.

  5. Much-needed transfers at stake

    Much-needed transfers at stake

    The club need fresh investment after burning their transfer budget last summer to the point that in January they could only afford to bring in Wout Weghorst and Marcel Sabitzer on loan, having parted with Cristiano Ronaldo.

    The priority this summer is to sign a proven and prolific striker such as Harry Kane or Victor Osimhen to take the team to the next level. Weghorst has been unable to score a Premier League goal while Anthony Martial has struggled for consistency and been unable to stay fit for much of the season.

    The club are also in the market for a new goalkeeper to compete with David de Gea, who has had a difficult campaign and whose problems with the ball at his feet make it hard for the team to play out from the back, as Ten Hag wants them to do. Another midfielder is also needed to freshen up an ageing engine room, with Christian Eriksen and Casemiro already 31 and Bruno Fernandes turning 29 in September.

    The rebuild is far from complete but while the club's future is up in the air, it is difficult to set budgets for the summer and go after targets. It is also difficult to convince players to come to a club when they do not know who is going to be running it.

  6. And what about Rashford?
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    And what about Rashford?

    It is not just new signings United need to worry about, either. Marcus Rashford is about to enter the final year of his contract and holds all the power in negotiations after the best season of his career, having scored 29 goals in all competitions. The England striker’s stock has never been higher and he will understandably want a handsome pay increase to sign a new deal. The sooner United can get a deal done to ensure he stays at the club, the better.

    But Rashford will also want to know that he is committing to a club with a plan for the future and is unlikely to sign a new deal until the takeover is resolved. The longer the Glazers take to decide whether they want to sell the club to Ratcliffe, Sheikh Jassim or continue themselves, the more they risk losing one of United's most cherished players and one of their best assets.

    The Manchester United takeover has been a gripping story, but it desperately needs to end soon so the club can look to the future and move away from what feels like a permanent state of limbo.