Manchester United’s Champions League return marred by ownership uncertainty

Manchester United are back in the Champions League, but a bright future under Erik ten Hag is still clouded by uncertainty over the English giants’ ownership.

Ten Hag secured a top four finish in his first season for the Red Devils on Thursday with a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea.

The Dutchman also ended United’s six-year trophy drought by winning the League Cup in February, and the best could be yet to come if Ten Hag’s side upset Manchester City’s pursuit of a treble at Wembley on 3 June.

Ten Hag has changed miraculously since the worst start of any United manager since 1921.

Embarrassing losses to Brighton and Brentford in his first two matches are long forgotten.

The former Ajax boss built a reputation as a disciplinarian after he forced his players to run 14 kilometers after a 4-0 humiliation at Brentford in August – a total distance the Bees ran more than his players during the game .

But Ten Hag’s strict approach paid off as he also enlisted the club’s backing in the confrontation when Cristiano Ronaldo left for Saudi Arabia midway through the season.

“He has proven he has the seriousness, confidence and authority to make big decisions,” former United captain Gary Neville said of Ten Hag’s management.

However, United fans are torn between hope for what their manager can achieve with the right support and helplessness as the club’s long drawn-out process threatens to drag itself into the summer transfer window.

Unpopular since they saddled the club with huge debts in a leveraged takeover in 2005, most fans want to get rid of the current owners, the Glazer family, as soon as possible.

Every United goal on Thursday was accompanied by feverish chants: “We want the Glazers gone.”

The Glazer siblings looked set to cash in on huge profits from the club, which their late father Malcolm Glazer bought for £790m ($980m) 18 years ago when the sale process began in November.

But the sports club’s reported £6bn world record price tag means few want to take full control of the club.

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani will take the lead if the Americans decide to sell their majority stake.

Alternatively, private equity firms are on the market for a minority stake that could allow the Glazers to retain control and provide funding for investments in the club’s infrastructure, such as refurbishing Old Trafford.

But the long wait for the Glazers’ decision after three rounds of bidding has already eaten into United’s preparations for next season.

Even if a preferred bidder is announced in the coming days, the deal is unlikely to be completed by the time United’s players return for pre-season in July.

All the while, their rivals can move forward by tying targets on the transfer market.

United have gone a decade without a Premier League title and Ten Hag knows he needs support if he wants to be the first person since Alex Ferguson to make them English champions again.

“Now we’re far away,” he said as he challenged Manchester City for the Premier League’s top flight next season.

“We have a lot of work to do. We have made progress, but we need the best players to compete for the top level.”

The question remains who can deliver the quality that Ten Hag craves in the coming months.

© 2023 AFP