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6 Failed High-Profile takeover attempts that have shaped Man United Narrative

by Thomaz Oseghale
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6 Failed High-Profile takeover attempts that have shaped Man United Narrative

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This article explores the history of Manchester United’s ownership and the failed takeover attempts that have shaped the club’s narrative. From Robert Maxwell to Rupert Murdoch, discover the controversial figures who tried to buy the club. Learn about the close call with Colonel Gaddafi and the fan-led Red Knights group. Find out why Qatar Sheikh Jassim’s proposed deal fell through and how the Glazer family’s ownership continues to divide opinion among fans.

1. Robert Maxwell

In 1984, the controversial former Labour MP, Robert Maxwell, attempted to buy Manchester United. However, he failed to meet the asking price set by then-owner Martin Edwards. Instead, Maxwell acquired Mirror Group Newspapers that year. It’s probably for the best, considering his previous attempt to merge Oxford United with Reading and rename them ‘Thomas Valley Royals’. Can you imagine Manchester City Red Devils?

2. Michael Knighton

In 1989, real estate developer Michael Knighton assembled a consortium with Robert Thorton, former Debenhams chief executive, and Stanley Cohen, owner of Parker Pens. They pledged a £20 million bid and Knighton even made a memorable appearance on the Old Trafford pitch during half-time, doing kick-ups. Many, including Martin Tyler, believed the deal was done, as he introduced Knighton as “the new owner of Manchester United” in a pitchside interview. However, the move collapsed shortly after. Three years later, the Premier League era began, and United’s value skyrocketed.

3. Rupert Murdoch

In 1998, media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s BskyB corporation reportedly tabled a bid worth £623 million to acquire Manchester United. Murdoch had shown interest in buying shares in various Premier League clubs. The bid caused uproar and protests among the fanbase, leading to the move being blocked due to broadcast regulations. The Department of Trade and Industry stated, “The MMC’s findings are based mainly on competition grounds where they concluded that the merger would adversely affect competition between broadcasters.”

4. Colonel Gaddafi

In a surprising turn of events, the Glazer family ended up buying Manchester United in 2004, but it was almost in the hands of Colonel Gaddafi. Saadi Gaddafi, son of the Libyan dictator, revealed in a 2005 interview that they were close to buying shares in the club. However, the deal fell through, and Saadi compared it to “buying the Church of England.” Investment banker Mehmet Dalman confirmed the close call, stating, “Gaddafi almost bought the club. That’s how close it got – literally, you’re talking about a few hours.”

5. The Red Knights

The Red Knights, a fan-led group, made an attempt to take Manchester United out of the Glazer family’s hands. The extent of their progress is a matter of debate, but it was a significant story at the time.

6. Qatar Sheikh Jassim

In October 2023, after 10 months of negotiations and intense social media discourse, Qatar Sheikh Jassim pulled out of buying Manchester United. The proposed deal was worth around £5.2 billion for 100% ownership of the club, with an additional £1.5 billion promised for investment in the playing squad and Old Trafford. While many United supporters resent the Glazers’ continued presence, a large proportion also welcomed the fact that the club would not be bought by a nation state. The existence of ‘Jassim’ remains questionable, but it is intriguing to imagine what a state-owned United would have been like.

Manchester United has had its fair share of high-profile takeover failures throughout its history. From media moguls to controversial figures, the club has managed to stay independent despite the allure of big-money offers. While the Glazer family’s ownership continues to divide opinion among fans, these failed takeover attempts have undoubtedly shaped the club’s narrative and its path forward.


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