On the Volley: Ramifications of potential Qatari purchase of Manchester United

By Charlie DeMatteo

Manchester United are one of, if not the, biggest football clubs in the world. Their decades of success over the years has resulted in a global fan base that stretches far beyond the streets of Manchester. Naturally, a brand and organization with such global reach is an enticing proposition for any businessman trying to make a profit. Unfortunately for United, the businessmen who were intrigued by the club were the Glazer family.

In 2005, the Glazers, an American business family, purchased Manchester United for 790 million pounds in a controversial deal that saw the club loaded with debt. While the greatness of Sir Alex Ferguson in the dugout was able to paper over some of the cracks of the Glazers’ ownership, the decade since Ferguson’s retirement has left United a shell of its former self.

Whether it’s foolish spending, or not spending enough, the Glazers have become some of the most unpopular owners in all of sports since they have taken control. Finally, after nearly two decades, it seems they are ready to cash in on United and sell the club.

United fans aren’t desperate for more spending, as the Glazers have spent money; it is how the money has been spent. The hope is that with the Glazers gone, the front office currently employed by the Glazers will also be gone. With new ownership, comes the opportunity to upgrade the CEO, Director of Football and scouting department, all of which desperately need improvement.

But what comes next? Will the next owner return United to its former glories or further their reputation as more of a global brand than a football club?

The two main options who are seriously considering purchasing United are Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, and Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank. 

In Ratcliffe, you have a supposed Manchester United fan, as he grew up in the area. If financial power between him and Al Thani were equal, most fans would rather Ratcliffe, but it isn’t.

Ratcliffe has not come out publicly and said he will get rid of the debt of the club should he gain control, whereas Al Thani has. For this reason and the fact that the Glazers will no doubt take the highest offer, which will be Al Thani should it come to a bidding war, it looks likely United, like many across Europe now, will be owned by a consortium from the Middle East.

It has been well-documented since Sheikh Mansour purchased Manchester City in 2008 that the ridiculous amounts of money being brought into England from the Middle East is not favorable. While City have won nearly everything there is to win under Mansour, they constantly battle claims that they are only successful because of the money coming from the UAE. 

So the question is now, will United fans be okay with sacrificing their reputation in order to return to the pinnacle of the game? The answer to that is not straightforward. Like many City fans, United fans will have to accept that they can no longer claim the moral high ground when it comes to how their owners made their money. For some United fans, I’m sure they will accept that position and look forward to heading back to the top of European football.

However, there will be some who cannot accept the fact they are owned by those who have made their money in inhumane ways, and with that comes an increasingly common issue in football. What was once a working-class game is now a playground for the 0.1% of the world. 

I don’t blame United fans who don’t want to be owned by Qatar. After all, look at all the controversy surrounding the World Cup in Qatar; some United fans won’t want that baggage. However, the harsh reality is that it probably doesn’t matter what they think, and money talks in this world, especially in this game.

With Qatari owners, United would most likely become a properly run club again, with a front office capable of competing with the stellar ones like Man City and now Newcastle. 

If Al Thani takes control of United, it will be symbolic for a multitude of reasons. In recent years, Newcastle United, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have all been taken over by consortiums from the Middle East. These three clubs at the time of being purchased were nowhere near the top of European football, and for two of them, they never had been. In United, you have a club that has always been a dominant force. So in a potential purchase, you would now have financial influence from the Middle East in a club that won’t be transformed from zero to 100, but more like 90 to 150, if you see what I’m getting at; and that’s significant.

Human rights issues in Qatar in particular have come to light since they won the bid for the 2022 World Cup, and it doesn’t look like the backlash that came with it is stopping them from continuing to spread their influence across Europe any time soon. Money from the Middle East is here to stay in football and a purchase of Manchester United would completely solidify their presence, whether you like it or not.