Manchester United’s 12 months of madness – from Ronaldo to INEOS (via Weghorst)

Dan Sheldon

Wednesday will mark the anniversary of Manchester United dropping two of their most significant club statements in recent years.

The first dropped at 5.30pm. It signalled the end of Cristiano Ronaldo’s second spell at Old Trafford, detailing in 67 words that the Portugal international would be leaving United by mutual consent.

Four hours later, at 9.30pm, United announced that the Glazer family — the club’s controversial owners — were beginning a “process to explore strategic alternatives to enhance the club’s growth”. Manchester United were effectively up for sale.

Those announcements kickstarted one of the most remarkable years in the club’s history.

The Athletic breaks down a tumultuous 12 months at Old Trafford…

November 2022

With domestic football coming to a halt for the winter World Cup in Qatar, United made the two statements that ensured nobody was talking about that evening’s goalless draw between Poland and Mexico.

Ronaldo sealed his fate when he put himself forward to be interviewed by Piers Morgan, a presenter at TalkTV, without the club’s permission. On November 14, 2022, before the interview was broadcast, The Sun newspaper put “UNITED HAVE BETRAYED ME” on their front page above “I don’t respect Ten Hag”.

United released a statement that afternoon, saying they “note the media coverage” and “will consider its full response after the full facts have been established”. They did not have to wait long to establish the damage that was going to be inflicted by Ronaldo.

A string of stories from the interview followed until it was aired — in two parts to add to the drama — on November 16 and November 17. Five days later, United announced he was leaving immediately by mutual consent. It was a significant moment for Erik ten Hag, revealing the backing he had from the hierarchy.


Erik ten Hag: ‘Ronaldo told me he wanted to stay in summer. The interview changed that’

Then came the strategic review statement, which said the Glazers had appointed Raine Group, the merchant bank that handled the sale of Chelsea in May 2022, to see if they could find a buyer or minority partner.

“We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximises the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future,” a statement from Joel and Avram Glazer read.


Ronaldo and Ten Hag in November 2022 (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

December 2022

In November, TeamViewer, United’s front-of-shirt sponsor, had come under pressure from Petrus Advisers, a London-based investment firm, to stop “bleeding millions” into its partnership with the club.

It had signed a £235million ($293m) deal with United in 2021 until 2026, worth £47m per year. But on December 15, it was announced that the two parties had reached an agreement that provided United with the option to buy back the rights to their shirt-front sponsorship, signalling the beginning of the end of their relationship.

January 2023

New year, new beginnings — and the arrival of Wout Weghorst on loan until the end of the season.

The Weghorst deal hammered home the financial situation United were in, having been unable to sign Cody Gakpo after Joel Glazer informed the club there would be no money to spend.

United were ridiculed for the deal but did not let the embarrassment of signing a striker deemed not good enough by Burnley distract them from one of their best performances of the season.

Ten Hag’s side came from a goal down to score twice in the final 15 minutes and beat Manchester City at Old Trafford. This led to many observers predicting a title charge for United.

Spoiler: there was no title charge.

Wout Weghorst

Weghorst after being signed by United in January (Clive Rose via Getty Images)

February 2023

United dominated the headlines for their success on the pitch and myriad issues off it.

They were dealt a curveball at the beginning of the month when the criminal proceedings against Mason Greenwood were discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service.



Mason Greenwood at Manchester United: The back story

United announced they would be conducting an internal inquiry, and that Greenwood would have to stay away from Carrington, their training ground, during the investigation.

The strategic review came to life when bids to buy United were lodged by Qatari royal Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani — via his Nine Two Foundation — and INEOS, the petrochemicals company owned by British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

On the pitch, United knocked Barcelona out of the Europa League and won their first trophy in six years, seeing off Newcastle United to lift the Carabao Cup at Wembley.

March 2023

United were brought back to reality by Liverpool on March 5.

In one of the most pitiful and embarrassing performances in the club’s storied history, Liverpool scored seven unanswered goals to humiliate Ten Hag and his players.

After the initial bids to buy the club were sent to Raine, United’s senior executives welcomed interested parties to Old Trafford and Carrington to answer questions and show them around. It was the most significant step following the announcement of the strategic review.

During Ratcliffe’s tour, he bumped into Ten Hag. “I just met them, we shook hands but I’m focused on the (upcoming) game (against Fulham),” Ten Hag said of the meeting.

April 2023

The scene of Lisandro Martinez being carried off the pitch by two Sevilla players had many fearing the worst. Martinez had been excellent for United, having joined from Ajax in a £47million deal in July 2022, and is crucial to Ten Hag’s desire to play out from the back.

Lisandro Martinez

Martinez suffers injury against Sevilla (Matthew Ashton/AMA via Getty Images)

Martinez needed surgery on his right metatarsal, ruling him out for the rest of the season. To compound Ten Hag’s misery, fellow centre-back Raphael Varane was also forced off with a foot injury.

April’s theme of despair continued when thousands of Manchester United fans protested against the Glazer family before the club’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa on April 30.

“They (the Glazers) came here for the money and they have bled the club dry, so take your fortune and off you trot,” one protestor told The Athletic.

May 2023

The end of Ten Hag’s first season in charge culminated in United returning to the Champions League. They qualified in style, beating Chelsea 4-1 at Old Trafford on May 25, with Marcus Rashford scoring again.

Rashford’s form in the second half of the season was exceptional, with the 26-year-old ending the campaign with 30 goals in all competitions, becoming the first United player since Robin van Persie in 2012-13 to score at least 30 in a season.

June 2023

Ten Hag’s side went into the final month of the season with a unique opportunity to end Manchester City’s hopes of matching United’s historic treble in 1999.

City had already lifted their fifth Premier League title in six seasons and had to play United in the FA Cup final before a Champions League final against Inter Milan. Ilkay Gundogan took just 12 seconds to open the scoring.

Bruno Fernandes equalised but five minutes into the second half, Gundogan put City ahead again and the game finished 2-1 in City’s favour.

It was also a significant match for David de Gea, their long-serving goalkeeper and the 2022-23 recipient of the Premier League’s Golden Glove. The final was his final game for United, with The Athletic revealing the club had backed out of an agreement that would have seen him extend his stay.

July 2023

With the transfer window open, United made two signings in the first three weeks. They landed Mason Mount from Chelsea in a £60million deal. Next through the door — and a key target after Ten Hag decided De Gea was not going to remain at the club — was goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Ten Hag wanted the Cameroon international for his ability to play out from the back, and his performance for Inter against City in the Champions League final cemented the Dutchman’s desire.

Onana joined in a deal worth up to £47million and immediately flew to New York to join the club on their pre-season tour in the United States, where United played Arsenal, Wrexham, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.



Man United’s U.S. tour: Ten Hag authority, ticket prices and fan engagement

August 2023

Just over a week before the 2023-24 season was due to begin, Rasmus Hojlund became the club’s marquee signing, joining from Atalanta in a transfer that could be worth up to €85million.

Ten Hag’s main target to fill the void up front was Harry Kane, but United did not sanction a move, instead prioritising a player 10 years his junior.

Rasmus Hojlund

Hojlund arrived in August (Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)

Hojlund, 20, had scored nine Serie A goals in 20 appearances during the 2022-23 campaign but had only completed 90 minutes five times for Atalanta. He arrived at United with a back injury — and the pressure of being the club’s main forward.

On the pitch, United won two of their opening three Premier League games, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest but losing to Tottenham Hotspur. This mixed start was overshadowed by the club’s handling of Greenwood.

The Athletic revealed that Richard Arnold, United’s chief executive, had communicated a plan to bring Greenwood back following the conclusion of their internal inquiry. This was supported by John Murtough, the football director, and Ten Hag.

This decision led to staff members threatening to strike and resulted in the club performing a U-turn, eventually releasing a statement that Greenwood’s career would have to continue away from Old Trafford. Greenwood subsequently joined Spanish club Getafe on a season-long loan.

September 2023

A deadline-day scramble saw goalkeeper Altay Bayindir, left-back Sergio Reguilon and midfielder Sofyan Amrabat join United. And Jonny Evans, aged 35, returned to the club on a one-year deal.



‘I love it every day,’ Jonny Evans, the return of a Manchester United man

How United handled the Greenwood situation continued to leave a sour taste in the mouth of many supporters, but that was not the end of off-the-field drama at the club.

Jadon Sancho spectacularly fell out with Ten Hag, effectively calling the manager a liar in a social media post after the United manager left him out of the squad to play Arsenal due to Sancho’s performances in training.

That resulted in Sancho being banished from the first-team squad and training alone on the academy pitches.

Jaden Sancho

Sancho hasn’t played for United since August (Stu Forster via Getty Images)

United walked from one issue to another, with Antony, their Brazilian winger, being accused of assault. The club released a statement on September 10, saying Antony would remain in Brazil after the international break to address the allegations that he denies. He remains under investigation by Greater Manchester Police but, by the end of September, United announced he would return to training and be available for selection.

“No, I don’t think it’s a distraction,” Ten Hag said. “We will focus on the games. He (Antony) will do as well.”

October 2023

Nearly a year after United launched their strategic review, Sheikh Jassim pulled out of the race to buy the club after it became evident Ratcliffe’s bid for a 25 per cent stake was favoured by the Glazers.

United also released their financial accounts for the year ending June 30, revealing record revenues of £648.4million, yet still posting a £28.7m loss.

The Athletic detailed how United owe more than £1billion through a combination of debt, their revolving credit facility and outstanding transfer payments.

October also saw Ten Hag’s team plagued by injuries, tormented and torn apart by Manchester City at Old Trafford, losing 3-0 in a game that could have easily ended 5-0. Rashford was later criticised after going out to celebrate his birthday at Chinawhite, a Manchester nightclub, after the loss.

Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford after the City loss (Michael Regan via Getty Images)

November 2023

Days after the City defeat, Newcastle arrived at Old Trafford for a Carabao Cup fourth-round fixture. The performance was even worse than the derby defeat, ending in another 3-0 loss and questions about Ten Hag’s future. Casemiro sustained a hamstring injury in the match and was ruled out for several weeks.

The noise around Ten Hag’s position as United manager continued to grow, with the club feeling the need to issue a public denial to a report that stated they were exploring alternative options.

A double injury blow came against Luton Town, when Hojlund, still to score his maiden Premier League goal, limped down the tunnel, with the club confirming he faces a spell out of the team after sustaining a muscle injury. Christian Eriksen injured his knee in the 1-0 win and is set to be sidelined for a month.

On November 13, Sir Bobby Charlton, a Manchester United great and icon of English football, was laid to rest following his funeral service at Manchester Cathedral.

Charlton had died on October 21, with the club opening a book of condolences that was signed by thousands of fans, and marking his passing with a series of tributes at Old Trafford.



Charlton was ordinary and extraordinary – he embodied the spirit of football

(Top photo: Harry Maguire lifts the Carabao Cup trophy; by Eddie Keogh via Getty Images)

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