Gary Neville insists Manchester United supporters deserve a manifesto from any potential new owners and admits he regrets not speaking out against the Glazer family sooner.
United’s American owners announced last week they are willing to listen to offers for the club after a 17-year reign dominated by fan protests and declining on-pitch performance.
“This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been saying for six months that the Glazers would have to sell or part-sell,” Neville said in an interview with Sky Sports senior reporter Melissa Reddy. “Anybody who’s close enough to the club knows that.
“There is a need for equity and cash in the club, just for the investment they’re going to have to put into the stadium, the training ground and the sporting project. They haven’t got enough money.
“It’s a big moment now. The Glazer family will never get a great exit from Manchester United but they could have a more pleasant exit if they do it right. Over the next couple of months, I’d like to see them engage properly with the fans about who is going to take over the club.”
‘Man Utd fans deserved to see a manifesto’
If United – valued at around £5bn – is sold, it is expected to be purchased by US investors, but Saudia Arabia sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal has also confirmed his country’s intentions of taking over.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe – one of Britain’s richest men – is reportedly another potential buyer. Technology giant Apple is another. If the Glazers do sell United outright, Neville wants the new owners to communicate their plans to supporters.
“I think what Manchester United fans need to see is a manifesto from the new owners,” Neville said. “Manchester United can’t be handing over to an owner that basically screams against what the club stands for or what the club wants. So there are manifesto pledges that I think are really important – like the fan voice, the fan experience, and maybe even positions for fans on the board.
“But the sporting project needs to improve. What is it going to be? Are the new owners not going to take dividends? Are they going to make sure it’s a debt-free football club and that they’re re-investing? Maybe there’s a new stadium that needs to be built or a new training ground.
“These are pledges I can think of off the top of my head that are really important for anybody bidding for Manchester United. It’s a manifesto that needs to be put forward so that the fans can understand.
“There are going to be many bids in the many billions and I think if the Glazers want to exit in the right way, it would be to sell it to a party that isn’t only the highest bidder, but if they can get parties near the end to get to a figure they like, then it would be very nice for them to put something forward to the season-ticket holders.
“Because the reality of it is, if the Glazers want to do this right, they have to make sure the club is going to a party whereby the fans don’t believe they’re being lumped with another owner they don’t like.”
Neville: I regret not speaking out sooner
Since becoming majority owners of Manchester United in 2005, the Glazers have faced relentless fan anger and backlash.
Purchasing the club through loans totalling £525m, the Americans then leveraged this debt onto the brand of Manchester United. Debt-free until their takeover, United were in the red by £495m at the end of 2021. In total, the Glazers have also taken more than £1bn in interests, costs, fees and dividends out of the club.
Despite the anger aimed at the family, though, United have continued to spend large amounts of money on incoming transfers – £1.3bn in the past 10 years, according to a study by CIES Football Observatory. Sources have also insisted United have invested in their facilities – notably the training ground, restaurant and swimming pool.
Asked if he regrets not speaking out about the leveraged buyout when he was a player at the club, Neville replied: “I don’t want to come up with excuses. It was probably because we were successful and we were managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, who stuck to football.
“No player or member of staff ever spoke out against the leveraged takeover. When it happened we got on with winning trophies, winning the Champions League and winning Premier Leagues. And the club, to be fair, carried on being successful. I worked on the theory at the time that we could have worse owners. They were quite passive. I never saw any interference while I was at the club as a player.
“But when Sir Alex Ferguson left, it’s then I started to realise they were only successful because of Sir Alex Ferguson. They haven’t been able to develop a successful sporting project without him.
“So the fact of the matter is, they’ve taken dividends out, they’ve not developed the stadium, they’ve let the training ground go to ruin. They really are second-class when it comes to the status of infrastructure at the club and the facilities. That can’t happen when you’re not successful on the pitch. So you put all that together and you get to a point whereby enough is enough.
“I started to speak out about two or three years ago. Many fans will say I should have done it earlier and I can’t disagree with them. I can have regrets about it all my life, but the reality is I have spoken out in the last two or three years quite a lot. I haven’t enjoyed what I’ve seen. The signs were obviously there 15 years ago and most fans were right. But let’s make sure we don’t jump out of the frying pan into the fire.
“I’ve expressed my concern about state ownership. I’ve expressed my concern about US investment. But whoever comes in, we need to know what the manifesto is. We need to understand what they’re going to do in that first five to seven years.”
‘Potential buyers will want Man Utd first, then Liverpool’
In an interview with Sky News, Saudia Arabia sports minister Prince Abdulaziz also revealed his country’s intentions to take over United’s rivals Liverpool, who are also on the market.
But Neville believes the Merseyside club may have to wait for potential buyers as they will be drawn to United first.
“I don’t want to be disrespectful to Liverpool at all because they’re a massive football club,” Neville said. “When you look at the height of English football when it comes to viewing figures, fans, and commercial revenues – it’s Manchester United and Liverpool at the very top.
“Forget the fact that Manchester City at this moment in time create a higher revenue. Naturally through traditional means, Manchester United and Liverpool are the two biggest clubs in the country by a mile.
“Manchester United will be more sought after and will fetch a higher price than Liverpool. Unless Liverpool have got something sorted, I think they’re going to have to wait a little bit because I think the buyers will go to Manchester United first – unless there’s a Liverpool fan who is very wealthy somewhere and has an allegiance to Liverpool.
“But I think if you were looking at both, as an asset side by side, you’d choose Manchester United and that’s not me being biased as a Manchester United fan.
“Liverpool are in a better position on and off the pitch at the moment, but you cannot deny the scale of Manchester United. When you look at commercial revenues, Manchester United as an asset are a better buy.
“I think the owner will think if Manchester United get it right on and off the pitch and Liverpool get it right on and off the pitch, Manchester United will be bigger.”
‘Ronaldo’s priority will be Champions League football’
The announcement of the Glazers’ openness to selling Manchester United came on the same evening Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from the club was confirmed.
Ronaldo’s contract was terminated by mutual consent last week following his explosive interview with Piers Morgan and attention has quickly turned to where the Portugal forward will play next.
MLS and Saudi Arabia are possible destinations, but Neville thinks his former team-mate will want to remain in Europe and prove he can still compete in the Champions League.
“I think Cristiano Ronaldo is going to be looking for a top club on a four-month or five-month contract where he can go in and do a brilliant cameo role at the very elite of European football,” Neville said. “That’s what I think his priority would be – to stay in the Champions League, to stay at the very top and prove that what happened at Manchester United wasn’t right.
“I think he’s got four or five great months in him somewhere where he’ll go in and score 15 or 20 goals in that period. Everybody in Manchester will say ‘why didn’t we keep him?’ and people in the Premier League will as well.
“But he’s got that in him and I would say that would be his priority. I think he’ll get to the end of the season and then think about the next two years and what his last football project might look like. Is it in the US? Is it in the Middle East? Is it somewhere else in Europe where he’s not played before?
“I hope he does really well wherever he goes. I didn’t work out in Manchester in the end, but it was the right thing for the club to do in breaking ties and it was the right thing for Cristiano to do.”