‘s American owners, the Glazer family, announced on Tuesday that they were exploring the sale of one of the most famous sports teams in the world, setting up a potentially record-breaking auction 17 years after they bought the club.
The announcement turned an already busy day for United into a seismic one, after earlier confirming Cristiano Ronaldo would leave the club following an acrimonious breakdown of the relationship between the English Premier League team and one of its all-time greats.
United, which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, said that it was “commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives for the club” and had engaged the Raine Group to advise United on a sale.
“As part of this process,” the club added, “the Board will consider all strategic alternatives, including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the company.”
United becomes the third major English club to hit the market in the space of a year, following the sale of Chelsea for around $5.3 billion in May and the news earlier this month that Fenway Sports Group was exploring bids for all or part of Liverpool F.C.
Though United’s market capitalization is currently $2.45 billion, the club would be expected to fetch much more considering the recent Chelsea sale, its status in global sports, its place in the money-spinning Premier League, and the sprawling commercial empire it has built over the past three decades. Those three factors were what seduced the Florida-based Glazers in the first place when they acquired the club for around £800 million in a leveraged buyout in 2005.
That sale quickly became one of the most controversial in English soccer history, as supporters accused the Glazers of piling debt onto the club instead of investing in facilities and playing talent. From their very first day in charge, the Glazers were greeted with protests and even death threats outside United’s Old Trafford stadium.
The apparent end of the Glazer era coinciding with Ronaldo’s exit is fitting since he was the player who defined the most successful years of their tenure. From 2005 to 2008, the club won three straight Premier League titles and the Champions League.
Ronaldo’s return last summer was branded as an emotional homecoming for one of the club’s favorite sons. His farewell was far less glorious.
In a 67-word statement, United said that Ronaldo’s departure by mutual consent was effective immediately, leaving the 37-year-old without a club while he competes at the World Cup with the Portuguese national team.
“The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford,” the statement read. “Everyone at Manchester United remains focused on continuing the team’s progress under Erik ten Hag and working together to deliver success on the pitch.”
Where Ronaldo will end up next is unclear. He would still like to play in the Champions League and have a chance to add to his trophy collection. But at his age, with his enormous salary demands, the list of potential suitors is short.
In soccer, where contracts are guaranteed, it is exceedingly rare for a club to cut a player loose midway through the season. For a star player, it is almost unheard of.
United’s announcement follows a rare and wide-ranging interview with broadcaster Piers Morgan, in which Ronaldo said he felt “betrayed” by United since his spectacular return in the summer of 2021. Ronaldo had previously spent six years at United, from 2003 to 2009, a period that saw him go from skinny teenager to world-beating goal machine and collect the first of his five Ballon d’Or awards for the world’s best player.
But the arrival of Ten Hag as United manager last summer turned a move initially presented as an emotional homecoming into an ugly divorce.
The Dutch coach favors a high-energy, attacking game that requires attacking players to press opponents high up the field. Those tactics were far from an ideal fit for Ronaldo, who remains a clinical finisher, but no longer has the legs to close down opposing defenders. Ronaldo has spent most of this season as a substitute at Old Trafford, scoring just once in 10 Premier League appearances.
The low point came when Ronaldo refused to be substituted into a game against Tottenham with just three minutes to go. Ten Hag responded by suspending him from practice and, to anyone watching Manchester United, it became obvious that the situation was beyond repair.
“I love Manchester United and I love the fans, that will never ever change,” Ronaldo wrote in a message posted on social media. “However, it feels like the right time for me to seek a new challenge.”
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