The first clear sign that the Glazer family is giving serious consideration to retaining control of Manchester United emerged on Friday when US hedge fund Elliott Investment Management made it into the second stage of the takeover process.
The presence of representatives from the New York-based firm in the corporate seats for the defeat of Real Betis on Thursday told its own story. Their end game is not to own the club but to provide external funding, either for groups who want to own a minority stake in Manchester United or for the Glazer family themselves to invest in the stadium or the Carrington training ground.
As has been the suspicion of many involved with the takeover process, Elliott Investment Management’s presence in the next stage of the process is proof that the Glazers will take their time to assess all of the options available to them.
Selling a minority stake or bringing in fresh finance to revamp the training ground and stadium would be wildly unpopular among Manchester United supporters but neither can be discounted.
For all the breathless talk of the deal being concluded by the end of March, a big part of the Glazers’ intentions in starting this process was to discover the market value of the club was and whether there was an appetite for someone to buy a minority stake at an inflated price.
In inviting Elliot Investment Management – the former owners of AC Milan – into the next stage, they are flexing their collective muscles and showing who retains the ultimate say in the takeover process.
One source familiar with the process told i: “It shows they are seriously thinking about selling a minority stake or staying themselves which is what we’ve always suspected. It feels like they are undecided at this point.”
They also pointed out that external finance provided by Elliot Investment Management could be used by a group that wanted to broker a full takeover but couldn’t quite reach the £6bn figure that the Glazers are seeking.
The US firm is no stranger to football, having acquired Milan when previous owner Li Yonghong couldn’t meet repayments on the £270m loan provided by Elliott. The hedge fund steadied the listing ship before selling to Redbird Capital last summer but has no aspirations of owning Manchester United outright.
Who will own the club at the end of the season is still unclear but all the signs this week are that the process is beginning to move forward after a slow start.
The soft deadline of the end of February drew out the more serious interest and saw Sheikh Jassim confirm his bid, which would be through his Nine Two Foundation. As reported by i earlier this week, a series of meetings with potential owners is planned next week at which further details about the club’s finances will be divulged.
Final bids will then be sought and the Glazers will have to reveal their hand.