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Why Elon Musk's tweet saying he was going to buy Manchester United created such a stir

Elon Musk was only joking when he said that he wanted to buy Manchester United. This is why so many United fans jumped on board so quickly.

Elon Musk sent the twittersphere into a frenzy yesterday, writing that he was going to buy beleaguered English Premier League giants, Manchester United.

"Also, I'm buying Manchester United ur welcome," Musk wrote.

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Many were incredulous. As it turns out, they were right to be.

"No, this is a long-running joke on Twitter," Musk wrote in response to one commenter.

"I'm not buying any sports teams."

The fact that Musk's five-hour-long gag had football fans in such a tizz speaks volumes about the malaise that United fans find themselves in, desperate for a saviour to ride over the hill and throw (even more) cash at what is proving to be a failing enterprise.

Here's why this was such a big deal.

The fall from grace

Manchester United, in case you didn't know, are one of the biggest sports teams in the world.

Forbes ranks United as the third-most-valuable football team on the planet and 11th most valuable sports team overall, at a hefty $US4.6 billion ($6.63 billion).

Manchester United are the most successful club in English football in terms of league titles won, with 20 top-flight titles to their name.

A general view of the MCG with a Manchester United badge displayed on the big screenA general view of the MCG with a Manchester United badge displayed on the big screen
Manchester United can still pull a crowd wherever they play, even in Melbourne.(Getty Images: AMA/Matthew Ashton)

A key player since the inception of the Premier League in the 1992-93 season, Manchester United won six of the first eight Premier League titles, and finished second in the other two seasons.

They won a further seven titles over the next 13 seasons but, since then, the wheels have well and truly fallen off, with just two second-place finishes in the next nine years.

The reasons for this demise are more complicated than some make out, but fans largely boil the issue down to three separate issues:

  1. 1.The retirement of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
  2. 2.The rise of the "noisy neighbours" Manchester City and their Abu Dhabi-based owner's billions, and Liverpool's resurgence off the back of some seriously astute management.
  3. 3.The Glazers.
Who are the Glazers?
Avram and Joel Glazer stand next to each other wearing scarves and dark coatsAvram and Joel Glazer stand next to each other wearing scarves and dark coats
Avram Glazer (left) and Joel Glazer (right) are the subject of much ire.(Getty Images: Michael Regan)

In the wind of discontent that currently swirls its way around Old Trafford, "the Glazer family" will often be the name you hear echoing from grandstand to grandstand.

The often-turbulent partnership between Manchester United and the Glazers starts with the family patriarch, Malcolm: He was born in New York in 1928 and built his fortune by first selling watches and watch parts as a teenager, before expanding into real estate, television, oil, gas and all that other fun stuff that rich people tend to do.

In 1995, Glazer Sr looked at his ever-growing portfolio of big companies and said to himself, "Ya know what I don't have? A major sports team", and thus pulled out his wallet and dropped a then-record $US192m on the counter to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL.

The move was a success. Having been a bit of a joke team since their inception in 1976, under Glazer's guidance, the organisation would win its first Superbowl in 2003.

Presumably radiating in the golden glow of American Football glory, Glazer opened his books once again and said to himself, "Ya know what I don't have? A major European sports team."

And, so, he gradually acquired Manchester United over a two-year period between 2003 and 2005, eventually acquiring a 98 per cent stake in the club by June 28, 2005, forcing a compulsory buyout of the remaining shareholders.

In the process, the club's shares were removed from the stock exchange for the first time in 14 years.

Fans were — how do we say this — not overly happy?

On June 29 of that year, the Glazers were met by 300 protesters at Old Trafford who shouted "die, Glazer, die" which, you'll be surprised to hear, is not German for "the Glazer, the". 

Hurling projectiles at the more than 100 police who were called to settle things down, two people were eventually arrested. 

What happened after the Glazers took over?

Manchester United won five titles in the near-immediate aftermath of that heavily leveraged takeover — including three seasons in a row from 2006 to 2009.

However, the financial risk off the field concerned fans.

Several issues stood out as major sticking points.

The club was in debt for the first time since 1931, concerns were raised about where the money from a share float was going to go.

In 2014, Glazer Sr died, handing joint ownership to his children, Joel and Avram, who are currently chairmen at the club.

Since then, the results on the pitch have started to decline. Dramatically.

The club haven't won a title since 2012-13, and haven't won an FA Cup since 2015-16. They also haven't won a Champions League title since 2007-08.

Ronaldo looks disappointedRonaldo looks disappointed
Some of Manchester United's recent signings do not appear to have been made with the overall benefit of the team in mind.(Getty Images: Catherine Ivill)

To make matters worse, in 2021, the family backed a move to join the controversial European Super League, leading to further protests from the Manchester United diehards.

Some fans have been so disillusioned that they broke away to form the splinter club, FC United of Manchester, which currently plays in the seventh tier of English football, the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

The rest have made do with frequent, vociferous protests at the club's dilapidated Old Trafford stadium, once the jewel of Premier League stadia and now symptomatic of the overall neglect at the club.

Fans are upset about the lack of clear direction at the club, with nonsensical signings of players seemingly without a moment's thought about how they would fit into the overall squad or improve the team.

One of those protests is set to take place before Monday's game, led by supporter group, The 1958.

A hand holds up a card saying THE 1958 in red white and blackA hand holds up a card saying THE 1958 in red white and black
Supporters are protesting the Glazers' involvement at the club.(Getty Images: Visionhaus)

"A fish rots from the head. And the ultimate responsibility for the terrible state of our football club must lie with its owners, the Glazer family," a statement on the group's website read.

"It is now for them and their management team to explain to United fans just why we are in this state, and what they are going to do about it.

"We've had some difficult times in the last decade, but this really does feel like rock bottom."

Now, as they sit at the bottom of the EPL table after two shambolic matches, the discontent around the ownership of the Glazer family has reached, arguably, its highest point since that initial takeover.

What's next?
Mo Salah points behind him while half lying on his side with two other players lying next to himMo Salah points behind him while half lying on his side with two other players lying next to him
Liverpool beat Manchester United 4-0 last time they met in the Premier League.(Getty Images: Liverpool FC/Andrew Powell)

Manchester United takes on Liverpool on Monday night, a club with whom they have a fierce rivalry that is now almost comical in its imbalance.

Under manager Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool are everything that Manchester United are not.

The club is also owned by Americans, the Fenway Sports Group, which has MLB's Boston Red Sox and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins in its stable.

But where United have squandered, Liverpool have bounced back to become a major Premier League player once more, winning multiple titles, both domestically and on the continent, without spending vast sums of money. 

They'll do so though, with murmurs that another billionaire is seeking a stake.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe — chairman of chemical company Ineos and owner of the World Tour cycling team of the same name — told The Times of London that he was interested in buying the club.

"If the club is for sale, Jim is definitely a potential buyer," a spokesman told The Times.

"This is not about the money that has been spent or not spent. Jim is looking at what can be done now and, knowing how important the club is to the city, it feels like the time is right for a reset."

He previously sought to purchase Chelsea at the end of last season, but was unsuccessful.

He also has a controlling stake in Ligue 1 club, Nice.

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