By James Rogers
Michael Knighton, the British businessman reportedly planning a bid to purchase football club Manchester United, is no stranger to the spotlight.
The former Manchester United director is planning a formal bid to buy the club’s operator, Manchester United Ltd. (NYS:MANU) , from its current owners, the American Glazer family, the Manchester Evening News reports . Knighton made his first Manchester United takeover bid in a blaze of publicity more than 30 years ago.
Manchester United shares closed up 11.9% on Wednesday, outpacing the S&P 500 Index’s (S&P:SPX) gain of 2.1%. The stock has fallen 10.5% this year, compared with the S&P’s 11.7% decline.
The Glazers are coming under pressure to sell the club amid mounting fan frustration over Manchester United’s underperformance. The club, one of the biggest names in world soccer, last won the Premier League in 2013 and has faced criticism over its transfer policy. On Sunday, before Manchester United’s season opener against Brighton and Hove Albion, hundreds of fans staged a protest against the Glazers, according to the Manchester Evening News.
Last year, the Glazers also faced a major fan backlash over their planned involvement in the controversial European Super League.
From the archives (April 2021): European Super League backlash grows, as business model for soccer’s shakeup becomes clearer
Set against this backdrop, Knighton says he is lining up his hostile bid. “My consortium is ready and waiting, the funds are pledged, the offer document is being drawn up, and it will be presented,” he said, in an interview tweeted by MUFC Stream TV .”
The news has prompted a positive reaction, according to the businessman. “Many thanks for ALL the brilliantly kind messages of support, this is really much appreciated. I apologise for taking time to tweet back & respond to individuals but the response has been truly massive,” Knighton tweeted on Wednesday. “Ignore the Trolls & nay sayers,they will always be there, they make me smile,” he added.
For soccer fans of a certain age, there is a certain sense of déjà vu about Knighton’s latest move.
In 1989 he made headlines when he showed off his soccer skills before the first match of the season at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium, coolly juggling a ball across the pitch before blasting it into the goal in front of the club’s cheering fans. The then–37-year-old had just launched a $24.4 million takeover bid for the club, and images of his ball-juggling showmanship were splashed across newspapers and television screens. The former headteacher , who left teaching for property development, had shown not only his footballing prowess but a genius for publicity.
This was the late 1980s, and the people running England’s top soccer teams typically kept a low profile, making their presence felt in the boardroom, not out on the pitch in the full glare of the media. This was a time before the Premier League, when England’s top division was known simply as the “first division.” It would be a few years before mega–TV deals, big-name overseas stars, petrodollars and oligarchs transformed the league and its teams into the global showcase of today.
While Knighton ultimately failed in his Manchester United takeover bid, he did join the club’s board of directors soon after his headline-grabbing on-pitch cameo.
Knighton spent three years on the Manchester United board before leaving to take over lower-league Carlisle United. Nonetheless, he says he helped lay the foundations for Manchester United’s subsequent success. “A visionary plan did not exist for the club’s future,” he writes, on his website. “That is not at least until the club had been given a copy of my personal blueprint for the commercial development of the club.”
From the MarketWatch archives (May 2005): Glazer wins control of Manchester United
Manchester United did go on to become a commercial juggernaut, with incredible on-field success fueling the development of its global brand in the 1990s and the subsequent decade. The Glazers took control of Manchester United in 2005, and the club now has a calculated value of $4.6 billion, according to Forbes .
Despite Knighton’s ambitious plan, the Manchester Evening News reports that some doubters are questioning his ability to become the club’s savior, noting that Manchester United is not up for sale and that the Glazers have no obligation to give it up.
MarketWatch has reached out to Knighton with an interview request, so watch this space.