Manchester United are back in the Champions League but a bright future under Erik ten Hag remains clouded by uncertainty over the ownership of the English giants.
Ten Hag ensured a top-four finish in his first season in charge of the Red Devils on Thursday with a 4-1 demolition of Chelsea.
The Dutchman has also ended United’s six-year trophy drought by lifting the League Cup in February and the best could even be yet to come should Ten Hag’s men upset Manchester City’s charge towards the treble at Wembley on June 3.
Ten Hag has performed a miraculous turnaround since getting off to the worst start of any United manager since 1921.
Embarrassing defeats to Brighton and Brentford in his first two matches are now long forgotten.
The former Ajax boss earned a reputation as a disciplinarian after making his players run 14 kilometres after the 4-0 humiliation at Brentford in August – the combined distance the Bees ran more than his players during the game.
But Ten Hag’s strict approach has paid dividends as he also won the club’s backing in a standoff that saw Cristiano Ronaldo depart mid-season for Saudi Arabia.
“He’s proved that he’s got the seriousness, the confidence and the authority to be able to make big decisions,” said former United captain Gary Neville on Ten Hag’s man-management.
Yet, the United fanbase is torn between hope, at what their manager could achieve with the right backing, and helplessness as a drawn out process to sell the club threatens to drag well into the summer transfer window.
– ‘Glazers out’ –
Unpopular from the day they saddled the club with huge debts via a leveraged takeover in 2005, most supporters want rid of current owners, the Glazer family, as soon as possible.
Every United goal on Thursday was followed by fevered chants of “we want Glazers out.”
The Glazer siblings appeared set to cash out at a huge profit on the club their late father Malcolm Glazer purchased for £790 million ($980 million) 18 years ago when the sale process was kicked-off back in November.
But their reported world record price tag of £6 billion for a sports club means there are few takers looking to take outright control of the club.
British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani are the front runners should the Americans decide to sell their majority shareholding.
Alternatively, private equity firms are in the market for a minority stake that could allow the Glazers to retain control and provide the funding for investment in the club’s infrastructure, such as a redevelopment of Old Trafford.
But the long wait for the Glazers to come to a decision after three rounds of bidding has already eaten into United’s preparation time for next season.
Even if a preferred bidder is announced in the coming days, a takeover is unlikely to be completed by the time United players return for pre-season in July.
All the while, their rivals are able to forge ahead tying down targets in the transfer market.
United have gone a decade without a Premier League title and Ten Hag knows he needs support if he is to become the first man since Alex Ferguson to make them champions of England again.
“Now we are far away,” he said on challenging Manchester City at the top end of the Premier League next season.
“We have a lot of work to do. We’ve made progress but we need better players to compete for the highest level.”
The question remains who will be in place to deliver the quality Ten Hag craves in the coming months.