After 18 years, the war against the Glazers is finally nearing an end. But Manchester United fans are sleepwalking into a new fight for the soul of the club against a foe far more fearsome than a single family. One that many don’t even recognise yet as the enemy.
The Glazers selling up is undoubtedly good news for United. The end of their lecherous reign ought to be relished. But amid the celebrations, the club and its supporters seem to be taking a far more casual, wait-and-see approach over their potential new owners. The worry is, wait and see too long and the keys to Old Trafford will already be in the wrong hands. Specifically, the grip of Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Sheikh Jassim is one of two front-runners to buy United, the other being Sir Jim Ratcliffe. We know very few specifics of the bids placed before the Glazers other than the PR lines spouted from the rival bidders’ camps. It almost doesn’t matter. Any individual or group with sufficient wealth to buy Manchester United ought to be treated with suspicion.
That suspicion is manifesting itself in peculiar ways, certainly online and on social media, where the previous unity among the United fanbase fed by their common enemy has given way to intense and often spiteful splits while supporters pick one of two hastily-painted red corners: that of the British billionaire or the state of Qatar.
Let’s be clear here, it is Qatar that is coming for Manchester United. Sheikh Jassim is the face with a profile and bank balance large enough to appear a legitimate purchaser, but not so grand as to prompt awkward questions over who is really driving the bid.
It seems to have worked on many supporters, mainly those prepared to turn a blind eye to almost anything in return for star signings. The rest should be pushing back harder against the possibility of Manchester United falling into the hands of an oil state, the very real prospect of one of football’s grandest institutions being used to launder a nation’s reputation.
If you’re not sure why Qatar is so keen to divert your attention and sentiment, you haven’t being paying enough attention in recent months. Here, courtesy of Amnesty International, are just six things you ought to know.
Cue the whataboutery. Pro-Qatar United fans whine that the takeovers of Newcastle and Manchester City didn’t prompt the same moral outrage – they absolutely did, certainly in Newcastle’s case – while Toon and City fans demand that United be subjected to the same scrutiny and criticism, often simultaneously highlighting just how and why sportswashing works.
Qatar tried it with the World Cup and, to an extent, it worked. Concerns over the rights of workers, women, the LGBTQ+ community were raised, despite FIFA’s best efforts to suppress them, and issues were highlighted. Then almost unanimously ignored. Those conversations, though, have led some pro-Qatar United supporters, as well as some Newcastle fans, to claim that the clubs can help further those causes from the inside. Which, at best, is disingenuous horsesh*t.
Some individuals may be able to park their morals for the cost of a new centre-forward but clubs, community and global institutions, absolutely should not. And, perhaps more galling than it is relevant, Manchester United have absolutely no need.
Newcastle, City, even PSG before they were taken over in 2011, all needed investment. Each was ripe for it, which PIF, ADUG and QSI were smart enough to identify while being rich enough to capitalise.
United simply do not need such state-backed transformation to compete, nor does the club require a sugar daddy, especially when they have a proper manager to steer the team back towards the top of the table. Liverpool, with Jurgen Klopp, demonstrated that too. And, even more so than Liverpool, United can pay its own way at the high-rollers tables, especially when it isn’t being used as a cash machine for the six spawn of a Florida-based billionaire.
Of course, those Glazer siblings care not one shiny sh*te into which hands they pass United. Perhaps they might see selling to Qatar as one last ‘f*** you’ to the green and gold brigade, but it seems more likely they just don’t care so long as they get paid.
Still, somebody has to shield Manchester United from becoming the first football superpower to be swallowed up by a state and used for even more nefarious purposes than the Glazers were.
It won’t be the outgoing owners and, as Amnesty International highlighted, nor will it be the Premier League or UEFA. So, as always, it falls on the fans to carry the fight for Manchester United and what it ought to stand for.
That doesn’t mean they must be #TeamRatcliffe. The INEOS billionaire and his intentions ought to face as much scrutiny as his rival. But United supporters urgently need take arms for another fight before the Theatre of Dreams becomes the latest, grandest stage for Qatar to red and whitewash its reputation.