6 of the most high-profile Man Utd takeover failures: Gaddafi, Murdoch, Qatar…
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is about to achieve what many others have failed to do after agreeing a deal worth over £1billion for 25% of Manchester United.
United’s status as one of the world’s biggest football clubs have attracted prospective buyers from far and wide, with many talking the talk about owning the club and dominating English football – without succeeding in their ambitions.
Here are six failed Manchester United takeover bids.
The controversial former Labour MP, father of disgraced Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, tried to buy United in 1984.
However, he did not meet then owner Martin Edwards’ asking price and that was that. He ended up acquiring Mirror Group Newspapers that year instead.
Probably for the best, given that whilst chairman of Oxford United he tried to merge the club with Reading and call them ‘Thomas Valley Royals’.
Manchester City Red Devils, anyone?
In 1989, real estate developer Knighton put together a consortium alongside former Debenhams chief executive Robert Thorton and Parker Pens owner Stanley Cohen.
They pledged a £20million bid and Knighton – donning a full kit – even made an appearance doing kick-ups on the Old Trafford pitch at half-time of a match against Arsenal.
So close was the deal that many, including Martin Tyler, believed it to have been done – he introduced Knighton as “the new owner of Manchester United” in a pitchside interview. But not long after the move collapsed. Three years later the Premier League era began and United’s value skyrocketed. Ouch.
Michael Knighton – 'The new owner of Manchester United' big "soccer enthusiast" apparently. pic.twitter.com/yKMJVwuILb
— When Football Was Better (@FootballInT80s) January 20, 2023
Maxwell wasn’t the only media mogul interested in getting his mitts on Manchester United.
In 1998, Murdoch’s BskyB corporation reportedly tabled a bid worth £623million. It’s said that the Australian billionaire was keen to buy shares in various Premier League clubs.
The reports caused widespread uproar and protests among the fanbase, and they got their wish when the move was blocked due to broadcast regulations.
“The MMC’s findings are based mainly on competition grounds where they concluded that the merger would adversely affect competition between broadcasters,” read a statement from the Department of Trade and Industry.
Believe it or not, Murdoch and Maxwell weren’t even close to being the most controversial would-be owners of the club…
The Glazers ended up securing a deal to buy the club in 2004 but it nearly fell into the hands of Gaddafi.
“Seven or eight months ago we were about to buy shares in Manchester United,” son Saadi Gaddafi told the Financial Times in 2005.
“We kept it secret because I thought we were going to do it. But now it’s impossible.
“I told my father it would be like buying the Church of England.”
The story has since been corroborated.
“People don’t realise how the deal was a whisker away from going to Libya,” investment banker Mehmet Dalman, the current chairman of Cardiff City, told The Times.
“Gaddafi almost bought the club. That’s how close it got – literally, you’re talking about a few hours.”
Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the Libyan dictator’s only dalliance with the world of English football…
The Red Knights
It’s a matter of debate how close to the fan-led group came to taking the club out of the Glazers’ hands, but it was quite the story…
Sheikh Jassim pulled out of buying United in October 2023 after 10 months of protracted negotiations and an increasingly toxic discourse on social media.
Jassim was offering around £5.2billion for 100% of the club, as well as promising a further £1.5billion for investment in the playing squad and Old Trafford.
While most United supporters will resent the Glazers’ continued presence at the club, a large proportion will also welcome the fact United won’t be bought by a nation state.