United have a chance to end their six-year trophy drought in Sunday’s (Feb 26) League Cup final against Newcastle, three days after they go head to head with Barcelona in a Europa League play-off.
Dutch manager Ten Hag has transformed United’s fortunes in his first few months at Old Trafford after a rocky start, even lifting them to the fringes of the Premier League title race.
Off the pitch, the race to become the new owners of the 20-time English champions is hotting up.
Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS company showed their hands before last Friday’s “soft deadline”.
The Times reported at the weekend that American hedge fund giant Elliott had entered the battle, ruling itself out of a full takeover but offering to provide financing, and rumours also persist of a possible Saudi Arabia bid.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) on Sunday said whoever buys the club must “explicitly commit to backing Erik and his plans to restore United to glory” after 18 years under unpopular American owners the Glazers.
United have not won the Premier League for a decade and have failed even to qualify for the Champions League on a number of occasions.
“Everyone can see the progress the team is making under Erik ten Hag,” MUST said in a statement. “After the frustrations of the last decade, it is clear that enormous strides are being taken.”
Those sentiments were backed by former United captain Gary Neville, who said the former Ajax manager was “over-performing and out-achieving anything that I could imagine at this moment”.
“This manager, this coach deserves his period of time,” he said on the Gary Neville Podcast.
“This coach needs supporting for a couple of years at least off the back of this one. Three years it looks like to me is the minimum time I would give Erik ten Hag because of what he’s done already. He looks like the real deal.”
Glazers’ ‘failed’ project
Neville said fans were desperate to see the end of the Glazers’ unpopular ownership of United, which loaded the club with huge debts.
“The absolute emphasis at this moment in time from all Manchester United fans is that this has got to be the end of the Glazer ownership,” he added.
“They’ve run out of money, they’ve not invested in the stadium... the sporting project they’ve failed on in the last 10 years since Sir Alex Ferguson left.”
The former England international said his own straw poll found that supporters, desperate for a debt-free club, were in favour of the Qatari bid.
Neville believes the “horse has already bolted” on the issue of state ownership of clubs following Abu Dhabi’s investment at Manchester City and the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle.
But MUST stressed in their statement “the importance that any owner respects the rights of all people”, particularly women and the LGBTQ community, amid concerns over human rights in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
United’s dramatic resurgence under Ten Hag has lifted them to third in the Premier League, five points behind leaders Arsenal.
The Red Devils will go into tomorrow’s second leg of their play-off against Barcelona level at 2-2, with the winner securing a place in the last 16 of the Europa League.
United will then turn their attention to Wembley, with Newcastle standing in their way as they seek to win a first trophy since 2017.
Ten Hag said after a 3-0 win over Leicester on Sunday that he was trying to ignore off-pitch distractions to do his bit to restore the club to former glories.
“I thank the fans when they have that trust in me,” he said, referring to the MUST statement. “I feel committed with this club and I love to be here.
“But, yeah, it’s not in my influence. What I can influence is the performance of this team and I will give everything to perform as good as possible and to bring them up, hopefully, across limits.”
Respect ‘rights of all people’
MUST have also warned against a takeover of the club emerging from a country where same-sex relationships are illegal.
MUST, echoing concerns expressed by the the LGBTQ+ supporters’ group the Rainbow Devils, said: “There are questions about sporting integrity given the exceptionally close links between some bidders and the owners of other European clubs including PSG and Nice.”
Calling for all bidders to “open a dialogue” with fans groups, MUST’s statement added: “We also note the importance that any owner respects the rights of all people, particularly women and the LGBTQ+ community. Concerns have been raised by other fans groups which we fully support.”
Opinions among United supporters spoken to by AFP at Old Trafford before a 3-0 win at home to Leicester that left their side third in the Premier League table were divided, with IT worker Darren O’Donough saying: “I suppose I like the fact that Jim Ratcliffe is Manchester, he’s Manchester born and bred.
“But the Qatari bid brings a lot of money, a lot of investment to the club.”
The 44-year-old from Northern Ireland said concerns about Qatar’s human rights record would not be helped “by keeping them at arm’s length”.
“I like that it (the bid) is going to be debt-free and that all the profits are going to go back into the club so that’s very appealing to me as well.”
Dick Morden, 65, from Leicester, central England, said his preference was “probably Ratcliffe because he’s English but you don’t know.
“But Ratcliffe was (a) United (fan) as a nipper (child) so I’d rather have him.”
Steve Storrinot, a 59-year-old United fan from Coventry, said all would be well for the record 20-times champions of England and three-time kings of Europe come what may.
“We’re Man United. We’re the best club in the world. People forget that... we’ve been on the slide. Now we’re climbing and we’ll roar again.
“Don’t worry about that. We’re United - simple as that. We don’t go away.”
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