A design for life at Old Trafford 

As the likelihood of new owners taking over Manchester United Football Club reaches its apex, fans appear torn on which direction they want the club to go. Despite numerous opinions thrown across social media, ultimately, the supporters have no say in the outcome of the bidding process.  

The club seems to be destined for one of two parties. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Oldham-born petrochemical billionaire, founder of INEOS and owner of Ligue 1’s OGC Nice and Swiss outfit Lausanne Sport or Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatari bank chairman and son of a former prime minister of the Arab state. 

The two parties fighting it out 

Both parties seem to possess unique merits, as well as disturbing difficulties that irk some fans whom place the club at the centre. Ratcliffe’s bid was catalytic and incendiary, promising to put the ‘Manchester back into Manchester United’.  

Jim Ratcliffe’s personal wealth is thoguht to be around £10bn. (Photo by Yahoo!)

The lifelong United fan tried to purchase Chelsea last year. He was the first to publicly announce his intentions ahead of Friday’s soft deadline. His potential instalment as owner comes with caveats. He has actively supported fracking, Brexit, made his billions from harmful chemicals and currently resides in Monaco for tax-purposes. His credence as a working-class hero may be palatable, but it becomes a more dubious prospect the more one explores. 

Then we come to the Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim’s bid. Media outlets widely reported it on the eve of the bidding deadline. Thanks in no small part to Jassim’s involvement with the Qatari Investment Authority (QIA), whose total fund processes capital of $450bn, some fans began dreaming of endless, immense investment in infrastructure, the local area and, crucially for a vocal portion of the social media fanbase, the playing squad.  

Sheikh Jassim is said to be a lifelong, match-going United fan. (Photo by outreachradio.co.uk)

Qatar’s human rights record was well documented over the 2022 World Cup media coverage. Sheikh Jassim’s bid is said to be completely independent of Qatar’s sovereign fund Qatari Sports Investments (QSI). The Sheikh’s close links to the Qatar royal family however, and thus the human rights breaches of the state, cannot be brushed under the carpet. QSI also owns Paris Saint-Germain.

The new era

Scrutiny and accountability must be sought at every juncture of this takeover. It proves to be the highest-profile purchasing of a football club in history. Ultimately, a victor will emerge. They will have the job to lead the club into a new age.  

Here is a list of things the new landlord at Old Trafford can do to ensure his patrons are happy ones:

#1 – Recognise the fans’ importance 

Consultation and transparency have been in shocking short supply over the last two decades of Glazer ownership. A simple and effective first step could and should be a commitment to fan group involvement in key decisions surrounding the club’s long-term direction. Ultimately, fans will understand that boardrooms have final say on matters. Fans want a channel of communication with decision-makers. Enabling this will help establish trust in the early stages of the new owner’s governance. 

Fan protests directed against the Glazer’s owenership have become commonplace for Manchester United since their takeover in 2005. (Photo by iNews)

#2 – Invest in Old Trafford: the place and the stadium 

In a poignant metaphor for the state of the club since the Glazer’s leveraged takeover in 2005, Old Trafford and the surrounding area is desperately in need of investment. More than that, the staidum has fallen behind the ever-increasing standards of global football. Wear and tear, leaks, ugly facias and designs now dot Old Trafford. Its lustre and magic remain, but a facelift and expansion are long overdue. Old Trafford is currently capped around 74,000 fans per game. There are over 120,000 people on the season-ticket waiting list. Could we see an expansion of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, which is the only stand with only one tier? 

The South Stand houses the Director’s box, the media facilities and the dugouts. (Photo by fineartamerica.com)

#3 – Leave the football to football people 

A serious point of contention for vast swathes of the United faithful was the trust put into financiers, namely Ed Woodward, for football decisions. For more than a decade, United’s priority has been financial. Key choices were made due to shirt sales, social media engagements and the appeasement of sponsors and shareholders. This directly affected the playing squad, and rarely for the better.  

Ed Woodward has long been held responsible for United’s malaise in recent years.

Woodward regularly targeted aging superstars with global profiles like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Radamel Falcao and Cristiano Ronaldo to the detriment of long-term strategy. In stark contrast, rivals Manchester City hired former Barcelona forward and director Txiki Begiristain as their Director of Football in 2012. What proceeded was City’s most successful period in their history: an era characterised by intelligent signings, impressive squad management and forward-thinking planning. 

#4 – Trust the current boss 

Do not try to fix what is not already broken. This one is simple. Erik Ten Hag has already proven in his short tenure of around 250 days at Old Trafford that he is an elite coach. United have not looked this proficient and well-coached in a decade.  

The mood around Old Trafford is excited and buoyant, thanks largely to Erik Ten Hag’s tenure so far. (Photo by MUFanNews)

The Dutchman has a knack of making decent players great and making great players amazing. Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Rafael Varane, Diogo Dalot, Jadon Sancho and Luke Shaw are all arguably enjoyiong their best spells as United players. Add to this the shrewd signings of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez and the smart loan moves for Marcel Sabitzer and Wout Weghorst and it’s clear Ten Hag is the man to usher in United’s next frontier. 

Author: Sam Talbot

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