How Man Utd’s big money takeover could play out over two years - according to Football Manager 2023
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Manchester United could well be under new ownership by the time the 2023/24 season gets underway as the likes of Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani have reportedly lodged bids for the Red Devils.
This all got us thinking about how life in the post-Glazer world could look - naturally, we then fired up Football Manager 2023, opened up the editor and set the scene for new owners to take charge at Old Trafford at the end of the current season.
The 13-time Premier League champions fell out of the top four following Erik ten Hag’s first season in charge but new owners have written off the Glazer family’s debt, handed the former Ajax manager a transfer kitty worth a whopping £300m and have even started work on the Theatre of Dreams, with plans to extend the capacity to 90,000.
Now settle in, make yourself comfortable and get ready for a dramatic ride full of eye-watering spending, silverware and shock managerial sackings over two eventful years on the red half of Manchester:
A shock move brings a managerial switch!
The 2022/23 season was barely over when Erik ten Hag was shown the door after failing to secure Champions League football. An agonising final day draw at home to Fulham condemned the Red Devils to a season of decidely unglamorous Europa Conference League football. The mood was hardly helped when Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah got the goals as Liverpool condemned Ten Hag’s side to a 2-0 defeat in the FA Cup Final.
His replacement was of the highest calibre as Diego Simeone was named as successor to the former Ajax manager after agreeing to end his long reign at La Liga giants Atletico Madrid. The Argentine manager would soon oversee a remarkable period of transfer activity.
Simeone splashes the cash!
The new man in charge wasted no time in opening the new owner’s chequebook with a £61m deal for Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, followed just days later by a club record move for Patrick Schick - the Czech fella who lobbed Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall from the halfway line at Euro 2020 - as a £100m fee was agreed to bring the Bayer Leverkusen striker to Old Trafford.
Simeone was not finished yet as he went back to his former club to secure a deal for Atleti midfielder Saul and then completed a £26m swoop for Braga striker Vitinha. The biggest shock came on the eve of his first season when the Red Devils boss broke the club record once against with a £109m move for West Ham United and England star Declan Rice.
A poor start brings an early decision on the manager
Despite an impressive haul of new stars in the summer transfer market, Simeone’s side were languishing in mid-table after winning just three of their opening ten games of the Premier League season. Unimpressed with his performances, the Red Devils owners took swift and brutal action, replacing the man they appointed just three months earlier with former Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde.
The upturn in form was spectacular as the new man oversees Premier League wins against Arsenal, Leeds United, Newcastle United, Bournemouth and, most impressively, Manchester City to lift his new side into the Champions League places. Progress was also made in the Carabao Cup and Europa Conference League as they came through a despressingly unimpressive group containing Swedish side Hammarby, Kazakh outfit Astana and Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol.
A mixed January and another busy transfer window
The first month of 2024 brought a Carabao Cup semi-final defeat against Arsenal, underwhelming league draws with Brentford and Middlesbrough and a 1-0 away defeat at local rivals Manchester City. There were some positives though, as United claimed maximum returns in home games with Everton and Bournemouth, as well as earning a point in a 1-1 draw at Newcastle.
But the big story of the month was another major outlay in the transfer window as Braga full-back Fabiano Souza, Atalanta centre-back Giorgio Scalvini and Brazilian forward Gabriel Barbosa were brought in at a total cost of £109m. There were outgoings too as Brandon Williams, Eric Bailly, Scott McTominay, Luke Shaw and summer signing Vitinha all departed, as Valverde recouped just under £60m for the quintet.
A new-look United complete a cup double
Okay, so a Europa Conference League and FA Cup double probably wasn’t the limit of the new owner’s ambitions, but that’s what they got. A favourable FA Cup run saw Valverde’s side see off the likes of Cardiff City, Sheffield United and Leicester City before the first silverware of the new era was lifted after a nervy penalty shoot-out win over Arsenal at Wembley.
Four days later another cup was lifted as Jadon Sancho and Gabriel Barbosa netted in a 2-0 win over Turkish side Galatasaray in the Europa Conference League Final. That sent Valverde’s men into the Europa League, and a sixth placed finish in the Premier League meant no Champions League football yet again for the following season.
Valverde continues to wheel and deal
The Red Devils boss prepared for his first full season in charge by spending another £150m during the summer of 2024. The vast majority went into a £99m splurge on Villarreal’s highly-rated forward Yeremy Pino and FC Porto stopper Diogo Costa was also secured in a £43m deal. Real Madrid veteran Toni Kroos came in on a free transfer and Atletico Madrid full-back Renan Lodi followed him from the Spanish capital.
West Ham United were the destination for Wout Weghorst and Aaron Wan-Bissaka at a total cost of £27m and Antony, Fred and Anthony Elanga went out on loan as they joined Leicester City, Brighton and Mainz respectively.
United burst out of the blocks
A penalty shoot-out win over Liverpool saw United bag the Community Shield and set the tone for a run of just two defeats in 21 games in all competitions. However, they came crashing down with a shock 2-0 home loss against Newcastle and a 2-1 defeat at Liverpool in the final month of 2024. United recovered from the Anfield disappointment by progressing to the Carabao Cup semi-final and the knockout stages of the Europa League. Significantly, they are also sat top of the Premier League as the clock struck midnight on New Years Eve.
A rare quiet transfer window comes at the expense of progress
For the first time since the takeover, there were no incoming signings during a transfer window but Dean Henderson did depart in a £30m deal to Tottenham and Antony’s loan move to Leicester was converted into a permanent switch at a cost of £31m.
Failing to further strengthen their ranks cost the Red Devils as Leeds ended any interest in the FA Cup with a 2-0 win in a fourth round tie at Old Trafford. Worse followed when Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son combined to give Spurs a 3-1 Carabao Cup Final win over Valverde’s side, who then exited the Europa League in the round-of-16 with a penalty shoot-out defeat to French club Lyon after the two sides shared eight goals over two legs.
Champions League football returns...but only just!
The Premier League title race ended in brutal circumstances as Manchester City claimed the title with a 3-0 win at Old Trafford, thanks to goals from Erling Haaland, Phil Foden and Karim Adeyemi. United’s participation in the following season’s Champions League was also threatened by the defeat against their arch rivals - but to their credit, they recovered with a Patrick Schick goal giving them a 2-1 win at Chelsea and a Diogo Dalot strike seeing off Crystal Palace on the final day of the season, which secured fifth place and with it a spot in a new look Champions League.
A new look Red Devils squad returned to European football’s elite after two managerial sackings, two trophy wins and a total transfer spend of over £500m.