Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring United’s second goal at Everton in a win that gave a crucial week for the club a good start – Getty Images/Michael Regan
Manchester United arrive in Istanbul on Tuesday evening with the club’s future – not just the season – at a crossroads.
In the sprawling city where Asia and Europe meet and where east and west collide, it could also quickly head in contrasting directions for the club.
Win against Galatasaray and they breathe life into their Champions League campaign, where they currently sit embarrassingly bottom of a group dominated by Bayern Munich and including FC Copenhagen.
Lose against the Turkish champions, as they did so carelessly at Old Trafford, and United face the ignominy of an early exit and probably not even making it through to the first Europa League knock-out round.
Against that backdrop this is expected to be the week, incredibly more than a year after the Glazers’ strategic review was launched, when Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s £1.3 billion investment in the club to take a 25 per cent stake is finally announced.
It is typical of United that there was yet another delay in the deal, partly because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, meaning it will probably now happen during such a pivotal week.
Obviously it would have made sense for the change, with Ratcliffe assuming sporting control of United, to have taken place during the recent international break. That would have been a far smoother operation, even if it remains to be seen how much detail will be forthcoming when it is actually announced.
And whether it changes the mood. Especially if they go out of the Champions League. The United fans at Goodison Park on Sunday continued to let their feelings be known towards the hated Glazers even during the biggest away win of Erik ten Hag’s tenure.
The fans are obviously and understandably desperate for the Glazers to fully sell up and cede complete control, but that is not happening. Not yet anyway. It does appear unlikely, though, that Ratcliffe will have agreed to such a scale of investment, and at that price, if he was not confident that a greater ownership of United was possible in the near future.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is expected to buy 25 per cent of Manchester United and take control of football operations at the club – Jon Super for The Telegraph
Just as clubs often delay the appointment of a new manager until a more winnable fixture is on the horizon, it would have appeared more logical for United to have settled on a week less momentous than this one, although there will have been huge relief it started with the vital victory at Everton.
Not just vital, in fact, but reviving. It was not only the brilliant overhead kick from 19-year-old Alejandro Garnacho but the man of the match performance from Kobbie Mainoo, 18, on his Premier League debut, that meant so much.
Both were members of the FA Youth Cup winning side and show that United’s tradition of bringing players through from their academy remains strong and will be something, certainly, that Ratcliffe is keen to build on. He has already identified United’s wastefulness in the transfer market and the number of ageing, highly paid players they have.
Of course Ratcliffe and Ineos are in for the long haul, but exiting the Champions League would be an immediate blow which will, surely, place the roles of Ten Hag and, certainly, football director John Murtough under even greater scrutiny.
Murtough wants to work with Ineos during the transition period and is keen to stay beyond that but there is an expectation that a new sporting director will be hired along with a new chief executive with Richard Arnold’s departure having already been announced.
It will be deflating for Ratcliffe, to a degree, if his investment is trumpeted as United are picking up the pieces from a frankly appalling Champions League campaign.
It will be interesting to see how the fans react to Ratcliffe
They have lost three of their four ties so far and would already be out had goalkeeper Andre Onana not saved a last-minute penalty in their 1-0 win over Copenhagen at home, where they gained their only points so far.
After Galatasaray they head to Newcastle United for an 8pm kick-off at St James’ Park. Newcastle may also be licking their wounds from their own Champions League campaign, should they lose away to Paris St-Germain, but are in a more buoyant state than United and will have more time to prepare and less travel, and time difference, to deal with.
After that for United it is Chelsea the following Wednesday, which would represent the first home game under the revamped ownership and it will be interesting to see how the fans react given many of them not just wanted the Glazers gone but Sheikh Jassim in. It will probably not be the celebration it should be.
United then face Bournemouth at home on the following Saturday before the final Champions League group game, also at home, to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, which could be a big European night or a damp squib. After that? Away to Liverpool on Sunday.
But, right now, it is this week that matters and the next two games. Bizarrely, United are the Premier League’s form team, with five wins from their last six matches and just six points off the top of the table, but no one is having that.
Should they win in Turkey and then on Tyneside – and should it coincide with Ratcliffe finally arriving – then it could lead to a significant change, not just in momentum but perception. Lose, though, and it will swing in the opposite direction and could even lead to a quicker accountability than expected. Ratcliffe will not want to be associated with failure.
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