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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

Timeline: The Glazers’ troubled ownership of Manchester United

Manchester United fans display a banner in protest against the Glazer family’s ownership in May 2023 [Phil Noble/Reuters]

Manchester United kick off their Premier League season by playing the Wolves at home on Monday amid lingering uncertainty over the club’s future as a sale process announced by the owners has stalled.

The Glazer family first announced they were considering a sale in November 2022, and there have been multiple rounds of bids since. Qatari investor Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and British businessman Jim Ratcliffe are the frontrunners to buy the club.

New ownership would end a deeply troubled era that began 18 years ago, when the Glazers took over the all-conquering Red Devils, lumping the club with $787m in debt during their leveraged buyout.

The Glazers took over at a time when Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney were notching up back-to-back Premier Leagues under Sir Alex Ferguson. Now, the club have gone a decade without winning the title. To add insult to injury, Manchester City, previously dismissed as the “noisy neighbours”, have leapfrogged the Red Devils to become the dominant force in English football.

However, as the sale saga stretches on, fans are getting increasingly frustrated – and there is the chance that the Glazers may end up opting not to sell at all.

Protests are planned at Old Trafford stadium on Monday, but they have consistently fallen on deaf ears during the Glazers’ nearly two decades in charge.

Al Jazeera looks at the Glazers’ tumultuous reign:

2003: The Glazers buy a 2.9 percent stake in the club for about $5.6m.

2005: The family executes a leveraged buyout of the club at $1.5bn, securing 98 percent of the shares. The Glazers borrowed the money using the assets of the company as collateral, leaving the club in $787m of debt from the takeover.

This move meets with considerable fan protests. During the new owners’ first visits to Old Trafford, they are forced to leave in police vans as supporters wait to vent their frustrations outside the grounds.

2010: Man Utd announces it will refinance all of the debts heaped on the club by the Glazers in the form of bonds.

Fan protests reach fever pitch. In a game versus AC Milan, David Beckham, a returning Man Utd legend on loan to the Italian giants, picks up and wears a green-and-gold scarf thrown by a fan. Such scarves, in the colours of the club when it was first founded as Newton Heath in 1878, had become a symbol of protest against the Glazers’ ownership.

David Beckham puts on a green and yellow scarf in support of the anti-Glazer protest after AC Milan lost to Manchester United in the Champions League in 2010 (Jon Super/AP Photo)

The Red Knights Group, which includes former Football League chairman Keith Harris, backed by the Manchester United Supporters Trust, launches an unsuccessful bid to buy the club.

In May, Man Utd fans pay for planes to fly over two matches towing the message “Glazers Out.”

2014: Malcolm Glazer, the father of the Glazer dynasty, dies. The family sells 12 million more shares for $200m. In December, Edward Glazer sells three million of his shares as the family rules out selling Manchester United for at least five years.

2017: The Glazers sell 4.3 million shares and earn $73m from the sale.

2019: United fans pen an open letter to the Glazers warning the family, “We are not going away this time. We will not sit in the dark any longer whilst you pretend we don’t exist.”

2021: Fans are enraged by the Glazers’ attempt to take the club into the proposed breakaway European Super League.

Man Utd fans protest by invading the pitch before a game with Liverpool, causing the game to be abandoned.

During the year, Avram Glazer, the co-chairman, sells five million Class A shares worth approximately $100m as his brothers Kevin and Edward Glazer sell 9.5 million shares, earning a total of $161m.

Manchester United fans protest before the Liverpool match outside Old Trafford on August 22, 2022 [Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters]

2022: The Glazers finally put the club up for sale on the same day the club announces it has terminated Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract. The Glazers employ The Raine Group, which oversaw Chelsea’s takeover the previous year, to oversee the bidding process.

February 2023: Raine Group set a deadline for the first round of bids. Several bids are made, with Sheikh Jassim and INEOS founder Ratcliffe making the only public bids.

Sheikh Jassim, the son of the country’s former prime minister, is the chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank. Ratcliffe is reportedly the richest man in the United Kingdom, with a fortune worth $15.3bn, according to Forbes. They both claim to be lifelong fans of the club.

March 2023: Raine receives the second round of bids. Both Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe are in this group, along with investors offering six more bids, including the Finnish businessman and former Nokia executive Thomas Zilliacus. As part of his bid, Zilliacus says he will invite Manchester United supporters from around the world to be co-owners.

At the end of April, Raine accepts a third round of bids. Zilliacus leaves the bidding process and the other five parties submit bids.

May 2023: After reports suggest Ratcliffe has submitted a revised offer, Sheikh Jassim submits a new and improved fourth bid.

June 7, 2023: Sheikh Jassim lodges a fifth bid, widely reported as a “take or leave it” offer.

August 14, 2023: With no concrete sign of a sale in sight, fans plan to protest against the Glazers’ ownership outside Old Trafford ahead of the club’s opening game of the 2023-24 season.

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