Manchester United are one of the richest clubs in world sport, and one of the most successful in the history of football.
With a record 20 league titles and three Champions League wins, the Red Devils remain one of the world’s most popular and most marketable clubs in world football despite on-field struggles at Old Trafford in recent years.
But the club’s ownership is a highly controversial topic, with United’s current owners the Glazers unpopular with many fans.
Takeover rumours circle regularly, and the well-publicised FC United of Manchester was founded in protest at the American family’s takeover.
But who are the Glazers, how did they come to own Manchester United, and why are they so divisive? Goal explains all.
On this page
- Who owns Manchester United?
- How did the Glazers make their money?
- When and how did the Glazers take over Manchester United?
- Why are Manchester United in so much debt?
- Has anybody else attempted a takeover of Manchester United?
Who owns Manchester United?
Manchester United are currently owned by the six children of the late former owner Malcolm Glazer: Avram, Joel, Kevin, Bryan, Darcie and Edward Glazer.
Malcolm Glazer took hold of a majority stake in the club in 2005 through investment company Red Football Ltd.
When he died in May 2014 after a long illness following a stroke, the 90 per cent controlling stake he owned was split equally between the six Glazer children.
Joel and Avram had been in charge of the day-to-day running of the club since their father’s stroke in April 2006.
The pair are now co-chairmen with Kevin, Bryan, Darcie and Edward holding positions as directors.
In March 2021, Avram Glazer put £70 million ($97m) worth of his shares up for sale.
How did the Glazers make their money?
The Glazers' wealth stems from vast property and real estate interests, which allowed them to branch out into sports.
Malcolm Glazer was born to Lithuanian parents in Rochester, New York in 1928, the fifth of seven children.
When his father died when he was a teenager, Glazer helped support his family by selling watches door-to-door. He eventually bought the watch repair concession at the Sampson Air Force Base near New York, turning it into a successful business and eventually moving into real estate.Getty Images
Initially owning small homes in Rochester, Glazer expanded his portfolio to include banks, healthcare facilities, television stations and more.
He was famously dubbed a ‘slumlord’ after his holding company, First Allied Corporation, was accused by residents of adding illegal extra charges onto trailer park rent payments.
Glazer’s first step into sports ownership came as he bought NFL side the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the death of former owner Hugh Culverhouse in 1995, for a then-record $192 million (£122m).
The team was largely run by Glazer’s sons, Joel, Bryan, and Edward.
When and how did the Glazers take over Manchester United?
On the advice of his sons, Malcolm Glazer began accumulating shares in Manchester United in 2003, and had taken full ownership of the club by the end of 2005.
In March 2003, he spent around £9m ($4.7m) on his first 2.9% – a figure which had increased to close to 30% by the end of the following year.
In 2004, businessmen John Magnier and J. P. McManus, fell out with former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The pair owned 28.7% of shares in the club, and also invested in Irish racehorse ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ with Ferguson.
An argument over stud rights led to the businessmen wanting out of the club, with Glazer buying their shares in May 2005. This took him to around 57% ownership, well over the 30% threshold at which he was required to launch a takeover bid.
When Glazer took control of 75% of the club’s shares within a few days, he was able to delist the company from the stock exchange, and Red Football Ltd took 98% ownership within a month, forcing a squeeze-out of the 2% which remained.
Ed Woodward, who became the club's executive vice-chairman, was heavily involved as an advisor on the deal, and was recruited by the Glazers in a 'financial planning' role at the club soon after.
Why are Manchester United in so much debt?Getty Images
United were debt-free when the Glazers took over in 2005, but the takeover deal advised on by Woodward reportedly saddled the club with over £500 million ($920m) worth of debt .
Malcolm Glazer financed much of the takeover with loans, using a ‘leveraged buyout plan’ rather than their own money, much to the unhappiness of their fans.
This involves borrowing money against a future asset to buy said asset, in this case incurring interest payments of over £60 million ($110m) per annum.
In the years since, it is widely reported the takeover has cost the club well over £1 billion ($1.3bn) in interest and other fees.
In late 2020, the club's debt had risen by 133% to £474 million ($618m), with revenues impacted heavily by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company’s tax registration was moved from Old Trafford to the Cayman Islands in 2012, and the club has paid a yearly dividend, most of which goes to the Glazers, since 2015.
Dividends published in the club’s 2018-19 accounts totalled £23 million ($30m). Around £18 million ($24m) of this was reportedly split between the six Glazer siblings.
Thanks in part to the huge and varied commercial contracts signed during the Glazer era, club revenues have more than doubled since 2005 and United were named the third-most valuable football club in the world by Forbes 2020. They also placed fourth on the Deloitte Football Money League in 2021, with only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich ahead.Getty
Has anybody else attempted a takeover of Manchester United?
Prior to the Glazers’ takeover in 2005, media mogul Rupert Murdoch had attempted to buy the club in 1999, having a £623 million ($1bn) offer accepted by the United board.
However, the takeover was eventually blocked by the government’s Monopolies and Mergers Commission, due to a potential conflict of interest with Murdoch’s sports media investments.
When Magnier and McManus looked to sell the 28.7% stake eventually bought by the Glazers, one reportedly interested party was former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.
Mehmet Dalman, involved in Glazers’ eventual takeover, claimed he had been summoned to Libya in 2004 and later told The Sunday Times that Colonel Gaddafi had been “a whisker away” from sealing the deal.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) has been looking to return ownership of the club to supporters since 2005, and came close in 2010. The Glazers' part in the abandoned Super League plans in 2021 led to renewed calls from MUST for a change of ownership, a 50+1 model being advanced as an alternative.
A group of wealthy United fans dubbed the ‘Red Knights’ discussed a takeover bid with them, but the deal eventually collapsed as the group refused to meet the Glazers’ valuation. Lord Jim O'Neill and Sir Paul Marshall were part of that group and re-entered the stage in 2021 to support the idea of a 50+1 model.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was linked with a string of takeover attempts, reportedly willing to pay £3 billion ($4bn) for the club. In response to rumours, Woodward told club fanzine United We Stand that the Glazers are “in it for the long-term”, with no plans to sell the club.