Dawson: Mood at Man United could disintegrate if they miss top 4 (1:49)
Rob Dawson feels the mood at Manchester United is on a knife edge as the race for the top 4 heats up. (1:49)
Mark Ogden, Senior Writer, ESPN FCMay 15, 2023, 06:00 AM ET
Manchester United have entered the decisive days of their season, with their prospects of success or failure resting on a handful of games in the Premier League and FA Cup. But thanks to the ongoing takeover saga surrounding the club, they are already facing a battle to keep pace with their rivals next season.
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What happens off the field with the potential sale of the club has huge implications for United’s future. Right now, though, the failure to resolve the ownership issue means that United might already have missed out on starting negotiations for potential signings such as Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane, West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice and Napoli forward Victor Osimhen. And the uncertainty over who will control the Premier League’s biggest and most successful club may also lead to United losing star striker Marcus Rashford.
It is now almost six months since the Glazer family, United’s owners, announced they were exploring “strategic alternatives” in order to “continue building on the club’s history of success.” Hopes among supporters that the process would lead to a swift sale and end the American family’s contentious 18-year ownership of the club have been unfulfilled, with the Glazers still to decide whether to sell United completely or secure outside investment to remain at Old Trafford.
Three deadlines have passed for interested parties — Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, and Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani are the two rival bidders to have emerged publicly — to submit offers for the club. Despite the last deadline passing over two weeks ago, no group has yet been announced as the preferred bidder, so the process continues to drag on.
While manager Erik ten Hag attempts to secure Champions League qualification by winning two of their final three Premier League games, the biggest factor in United’s ambitions for next season is centred on the boardroom of a New York investment bank. And the reality for United is that the takeover has now been drawn out for so long that even if Raine Group (the bank hired by the Glazers to oversee the search for a buyer or new investors) identifies a preferred in the coming days, too much time has been lost to ensure that the team can be strengthened properly in time for next season.
Player recruitment at the highest level, if it is done correctly, takes months of planning and negotiating. One senior executive at a Premier League club told ESPN that their team works at least 12 months in advance on incoming and outgoing transfers, so any deals done this summer will have been instigated a year ago. But while United have been making plans, we still don’t know who will be in charge to see them through and whether those plans will match the objectives of possible new owners.
United have made signing a new striker their priority for this summer, but how can United persuade the likes of Kane or Osimhen to move to Old Trafford without a new owner? If you are an agent representing a player of interest to United, why negotiate a pay deal with the Glazers when they might not be signing the cheques? A new owner could rip up any potential deal or have the funds to pay more than the existing owners.
It is a similar scenario for Rashford, whose contract at Old Trafford expires in June 2024. United have made it clear that they want the England captain to stay and talks have taken place between the club and Rashford. But, at 25 years old and after seven years in the first team, it would be a wise decision on the player’s part to wait and see which direction the team will be heading in before committing his future to his boyhood club.
These are problems that can only be properly resolved when there is clarity over United’s ownership, but that will not be a quick process. When Raine Group finally announces a preferred bidder, that will trigger a month-long period of exclusive access to United’s financial accounts and enable the potential new owners to undertake due diligence — an appraisal of United’s assets and liabilities and commercial potential. If that process begins this week, it would be mid-June before any likelihood of a deal being completed and that is an optimistic scenario. The English transfer market will reopen on Tuesday, June 13, so days are already being lost for United.
The Glazers could, of course, push ahead with United’s plans and sanction some incoming signings. But if they are heading out of club, they are unlikely to focus too much time on bolstering Ten Hag’s squad. And senior executives such as chief executive Richard Arnold and football director John Murtough will be working under the looming shadow of new owners who are likely to want their own people to oversee the future direction of the club.
So United are in limbo, waiting for their future to be mapped out, while rivals such as Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal are able to look ahead with the certainty of stable ownership. Chelsea are still in a state of flux as they approach the first anniversary of Clearlake Capital’s takeover at Stamford Bridge last May, and they had the advantage of a full summer to settle new players and executives into the club.
Whoever is in place as United’s owners at the start of next season will have only have a summer of uncertainty and upheaval as their foundations for the new campaign. There are no positives from that. United and Ten Hag are already playing catch-up on next season and a ball hasn’t even been kicked.