As Friday’s deadline looms, there’s a growing sense the dye is already cast.

A kind of perverse job interview for the future, perhaps even the soul, of Manchester United will begin as suitors for the keys to Old Trafford make their intentions known. That bidders are, initially, only required to submit a single paragraph detailing proof of funds feels grimly appropriate. There is, after all, only one thing that will decide the fate of arguably the world’s biggest football club.

At the head of queue to replace the Glazer family appears to be a ‘Qatar-based consortium’ – its vagueness almost certainly deliberate – which bears no relation to Qatari Sports Investment, owners of Paris Saint-Germain, or the Qatari state. No, honestly lads, UEFA have already looked into this and it’s all above board.

Reportedly behind the bid is Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani – the Emir of Qatar. Now, before you say anything, UEFA would like to express bemusement that their ‘nothing to see here’ t-shirt is raising a lot of questions already answered by their shirt.

European football’s governing body are said to be satisfied there would be no contravention of ownership rules which state: “no individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition”. That al-Thani’s Qatar Investment Authority has shares in Qatar Sports Investment appears to be of no consequence.

What all this really hammers home is that, in modern football, if you have enough money and influence none of these rules really matter. There’s always a loophole to be found, a change in regulation to be ushered through.

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Few, if any, other interested parties will be able to wield this kind of wealth. When United were put up for sale back in November, I remember an amusing snippet in one report that stated the Glazers – who have spent the best part of 20 years bleeding the club dry – would not necessarily just sell up to the highest bidder, that they would judge who is best-suited to take the reins.

You’ll forgive me, and plenty others I’m sure, for keeping the jury firmly out on that one. If that were the case, then lifelong United fan and businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe would likely be a better fit, but he is unlikely to be able to compete with the financial muscle of Qatar.

Even Elon Musk has been touted as an interested party, although I suspect there’s the distinct whiff of publicity stunt about him throwing his hat into the ring. Anyway, his car crash takeover of Twitter surely means we can skip over seriously considering that potential circus.

What’s clear is there really aren’t any palatable options for United fans – you don’t amass wealth of several billions without exploiting the system in some way. But the idea of Qatar getting its claws into one of the world’s greatest sporting institutions is a particularly depressing one.

Last year’s World Cup shone a light on its government’s myriad of human rights abuses brighter than ever before, but, predictably, it seems to have made little difference in their advancement into the wider sporting world. If anything, that it turned out to be one of the most memorable international tournaments of recent times on the pitch has only further cosied relationships with the game’s powerbrokers.

Perhaps this was always just a matter of time. There will soon be, if not already, a generation of football fans who know nothing other than Manchester City under Abu-Dhabi’s ownership, PSG under Qatar’s and, in a few years’ time, Newcastle backed by Saudi Arabia.

But the difference here is that none of those clubs were among football’s traditional elite – they were struggling also-rans bought for a knockdown price and built up into something largely viewed with contempt as being completely artificial.

United, despite their recent struggles, still represent a link to football’s simpler past. Maybe it’s a sickly romantic notion, but there’s a mystique about them and Liverpool, something intangible City or PSG could never buy; rich histories punctuated by tragedy and triumph, their greatest-ever managers both working class Scots who emerged from poverty.

The idea of these clubs still being for the fans has been chipped away at over the years – exorbitant season ticket prices, rampant commercialism and, in 2021, their attempts to drag supporters kicking and screaming into the European Super League. But handing over control to an autocratic regime would claim a piece of United they could never get back.

Their fans have always been firmly opposed to the current ownership, even when they were still winning Premier League titles - but now they are faced with trading the Glazers for custodians even more sinister.

The club would become a plaything for a state which built its World Cup on slavery, which still applies discriminatory laws against women, LGBT people and religious minorities. Even with the eyes of the world upon them, an ambassador for the tournament described homosexuality as a ‘damage in the mind’. Every success United potentially enjoy under Qatari ownership would be accompanied by these footnotes.

As it was with the World Cup, it would force ordinary fans to reckon with a moral quandary they do not deserve to be faced with. How do you square a lifelong love of a football club, a connection which often runs through generations, knowing that it is being used to advance such shadowy interests? Mind you, as we’ve seen with City and Newcastle, there are plenty who will not particularly care, should new ownership equate to silverware.

Money tends to prevail in football, but a return to Sir Alex Ferguson-era dominance is no guarantee. PSG may have been able to attract Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to Ligue 1, but for all their riches they have never won the Champions League, making it to the final just once. A succession of league titles in what’s often been a one-horse race is hardly a ringing endorsement of their project.

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United, more than most, should be aware of the perils of throwing money around with reckless abandon. They have spent in excess of £1billion since Ferguson retired, all for a couple of distant second-placed finishes and a trophy drought of five years and counting. The promise of limitless cash should not be taken as a cast-iron guarantee of better times to come. Anyway, the tide already appears to be turning under manager Erik ten Hag, suggesting that a return to prominence can be achieved without selling the club’s soul entirely.

But is it already too late for that? It’s starting to feel like it.