Thomas Zilliacus beats Sheikh Jassim: Man Utd fans want 50/50 ownership over limitless cash

·4-min read
Zilliacus Sheikh Jassim Credit: Alamy
Zilliacus Sheikh Jassim Credit: Alamy

The Manchester United takeover could drag on for a while yet, but would the fans rather have money-bags Sheikh Jassim or fan-led Thomas Zilliacus? We put it to a vote, and were pleasantly surprised.

“Any sport club ultimately should belong to its fans. My bid is built on equality with fans,” said Thomas Zilliacus as he threw his hat in the ring to buy Manchester United. But would those fans give up an opportunity to have a “say in all the key sporting decisions of the club” for the promise of the finest footballers money can buy?

That’s what Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani offers.

It’s tempting – of course it is. Every football fan wants to see brilliant footballers play for their football club, because every football fan wants their football club to entertain and win. But at what cost? Football fans also want to be proud of their football club, and for many that pride doesn’t solely manifest itself through performance on the pitch.

Zilliacus echoed the sentiments of many English football fans when he spoke of his unease at billionaire sheikhs acquiring clubs like they’re “buying a luxury yacht” before treating them like “their personal playgrounds”.

Sheikh Jassim, just as all football club bidders appear to be, is said to be a lifelong fan of United. But more prominently, he’s a member of the Qatari royal family, who also own Paris Saint-Germain.

UEFA don’t allow one person or entity to own two clubs playing in the same competition, like the Champions League, and strictly speaking, because – as Sheikh Jassim’s spokespeople have been at pains to point out – the bid is his and his alone, the Qatari royal family wouldn’t own Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. Strictly speaking.

But the thought of family members sitting around playing football club top trumps isn’t a pleasant one.

Along with that dodgy sporting integrity ground comes the altogether more disconcerting issue of the human rights record of the country Sheikh Jassim’s family rules over. Women and LGBTQ+ members are discriminated against in a place which has little independent or critical media, where those that do speak out against the regime are frequently arrested and given unfair trials.

This Is Manchester United used to be a call to arms for players, reminding them of the standards they need to live up to. In the new context of Qatari ownership, that phrase could be used as a statement of incredulity: This Is Manchester United?

Or it could be Zilliacus’ version of Manchester United: Manchester United’s Manchester United.

“The current market value of the club is just under $3.9bn (£3.17bn). That means that if every one of the fans of the club would join in buying the club, the total sum per fan would amount to less than $6. My group will finance half of the sum needed to take over the club, and will ask the fans, through a new company that is being set up for this specific purpose, to participate for the other half. If every fan joins it means less than $3 per fan.”

Zilliacus plans to give fans a say through an app from which they can “participate and cast” their vote “when deciding on footballing matters relating to the club”, which may be the greatest idea ever.

Imagine voting for Victor Osimhen or Harry Kane. What is under the “footballing matters” umbrella? Would Erik ten Hag have some sort of live team selector on a smartboard in the dressing room? ‘Sorry Wout, the fans have spoken, you’re on the bench again today’.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

It all sounds a bit hemp skirts and rainbow rhythms – unworkable and too good to be true. And Zilliakis did himself no favours by admitting he didn’t know the club was for sale until earlier this week moments after insisting he was a big fan. But he’s a dreamer, and as it turns out, he’s not the only one.

It’s a close call, but Zilliacus takes it. These aren’t just any set of Manchester United fans either – these are the Twitter fans, who if anything you would expect to be more on the side of money-bags Sheikh Jassim, with their Avatars of Kylian Mbappe’s head superimposed on to Marcus Rashford’s shoulders.

Sporting integrity, fan-led ownership; a club to be proud of on and off the pitch. This Is Manchester United.

The article Thomas Zilliacus beats Sheikh Jassim: Man Utd fans want 50/50 ownership over limitless cash appeared first on