The billionaire Glazer family is considering putting Manchester United up for sale.

For many Man United fans, there could hardly be more welcome news.

The Glazers’ ownership of the Premier League club was deeply unpopular from the start, with the Florida-based family’s 17-year reign marred by fan protests, massive debts and declining on-field performance.

“To say fans will be delighted – the contempt for the Glazers runs deep,” Ahmed Bilal, the editor of football blog Man Utd News, told Al Jazeera.

Why has the Glazers’ ownership of Man United been so controversial?

Having begun his investment in Man United with the purchase of a 2.9 per cent stake in 2003, the late property magnate Malcolm Glazer took over ownership of the club in 2005.

The leveraged buyout costing £790 million ($955 million) relied on a significant amount of borrowed money backed by the club’s own assets.

The deal immediately caused a stir among fans, who berated the club’s new owners for saddling the then hugely profitable team with huge debts.

Despite Man United paying an estimated £743 million ($898 million) in interest payments since then, Man United today has about £500 million ($604 million) outstanding debt – almost the same as in 2005.

Fans are also outraged by the club’s payment of dividends – an average of around £22 million ($266 million) per season – to shareholders, the largest of whom are the Glazers themselves.

The late property magnate Malcolm Glazer took over Man United in 2005 [File: Dave Martin/AP]

To make matters worse, Man United, once one of the world’s most successful clubs, has failed to perform on the pitch in recent years, despite the huge sums of money circulating around the team.

The club have not won a trophy since 2017 – a meager achievement for a team with 20 league titles, more than any other club, and the honor of being the only English side to win the treble of the European Cup, domestic league and national league. to take home. domestic cup.

“All this has changed United from being the leading club in England and now playing five or six other big teams in the league,” said Bilal.

“There is a lot of anger among fans at the magnitude of the financial outflow from United to the Glazers, with nothing showing in terms of the club’s improvement or the future.”

Tensions reached a new high last year when hundreds of Man United fans broke into the club’s home of Old Trafford to protest against plans to join a proposed European Super League, which critics described as elitist and anti-competitive .

In an interview with television host Piers Morgan earlier this month, Cristiano Ronaldo played, who left the club this week by “mutual agreement”.joined the Glazers’ criticism, claiming they had no interest in the club’s welfare.

“They will get money from the marketing – the sport… they don’t really care, in my opinion,” said Ronaldo.

Scott Patterson, the editor of football blog Republik Of Mancunia, said the Glazers have invested little in the club, to the extent that the stadium and training ground have fallen into disrepair.

“They have no idea about football and have hired too many people who share their lack of knowledge, who made bad football decisions that set us back years,” Patterson told Al Jazeera.

“It was only after our fans started to enter the stadium, which led to the end of the European Super League plans, that the Glazers started any kind of dialogue with the fans. There is no relationship.”

Who will be the new owner of Man United?

Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, the club’s executive co-chairmen and directors, said this week that they exploring “strategic alternatives” to provide the best possible service to the club and its fans, including a possible sale.

“We will evaluate all options to ensure we serve our fans in the best possible way and that Manchester United maximize the significant growth opportunities for the club today and in the future,” they said in a statement.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the 27th richest person in the UK according to the Sunday Times Rich List, has expressed open interest in buying the club.

Ratcliffe, a lifelong Man United fan, said through a spokesman in August that he is “definitely a potential buyer” if the team is put up for sale.

Lord Jim O’Neill, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs who led an effort to buy the club in 2010, has also expressed his potential interest in the team.

In an interview with the Manchester Evening News on Wednesday, O’Neill said he would consider making an offer if the Glazers lowered their “unrealistic” demands amid reports that the family would pay up to 5 billion pounds ($6). billion) for the club. However, O’Neil admitted that it was “very, very hard” to see a way forward.

Man U
Man United have not won a significant trophy since 2017 [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

Other potential buyers hovered in the media and fans included private equity investors in the United States and state-backed investors in the Middle East, who have taken over a number of European clubs, including city rivals Manchester City, who was bought by Emirati. royal sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2008.

However, a sale is not guaranteed.

And while Man United fans wouldn’t be sad to see the rear of the Glazers, there is also concern over the possibility of the club falling into the wrong hands.

Patterson said fans are aware of the possibility of going out of the skillet and into the fire.

“We just want an owner who invests the money the club generates in training facilities, improving the stadium, hiring football people, signing the right players and developing the youth,” he said. “We don’t need a rich sugar daddy and we don’t want human rights abusers to own the club.”

Dale O’Donnell, the editor of the football blog Stretty News, said fans should be cautiously optimistic after the prospect of the Glazers’ departure proved that the fans are the “life and soul of football”.

“Anything can happen and we don’t want the club to fall into the wrong hands, be it a despotic state violating human rights or anything like that,” said O’Donnell.

“We are urging the UK government to protect our football club because they did not listen to us when fans expressed their concerns about the Glazers.

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