Manchester United have won a record 20 League titles, 12 FA Cups, 5 League Cups and a record 21 FA Community Shields. The club has also won three UEFA Champions Leagues, one UEFA Europa League, one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup. In 1998–99, the club became the first in the history of English football to achieve the treble of the Premier League, the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League. In 2016–17, by winning the UEFA Europa League, they became one of five clubs to have won all three main UEFA club competitions. In addition, they became the only professional English club to have won every ongoing honour available to the first team that is organised by a national or international governing body.
The 1958 Munich air disaster claimed the lives of eight players. In 1968, under the management of Matt Busby, Manchester United became the first English football club to win the European Cup. Alex Ferguson won 38 trophies as manager, including 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups and 2 UEFA Champions Leagues, between 1986 and 2013, when he announced his retirement. José Mourinho is the club's current manager, having been appointed on 27 May 2016.
Manchester United was the highest-earning football club in the world for 2016–17, with an annual revenue of €676.3 million, and the world's most valuable football club in 2017, valued at £2.86 billion. As of June 2015, it is the world's most valuable football brand, estimated to be worth $1.2 billion. After being floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1991, the club was purchased by Malcolm Glazer in May 2005 in a deal valuing the club at almost £800 million, after which the company was taken private again, before going public once more in August 2012, when they made an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. Manchester United is one of the most widely supported football clubs in the world, and has its strongest rivalries with Liverpool, Manchester City and Leeds United.
Manchester United was formed in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR Football Club by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR) depot at Newton Heath. The team initially played games against other departments and railway companies, but on 20 November 1880, they competed in their first recorded match; wearing the colours of the railway company – green and gold – they were defeated 6–0 by Bolton Wanderers' reserve team. By 1888, the club had become a founding member of The Combination, a regional football league. Following the league's dissolution after only one season, Newton Heath joined the newly formed Football Alliance, which ran for three seasons before being merged with the Football League. This resulted in the club starting the 1892–93 season in the First Division, by which time it had become independent of the railway company and dropped the "LYR" from its name. After two seasons, the club was relegated to the Second Division.
In January 1902, with debts of £2,670 – equivalent to £270,000 in 2018 – the club was served with a winding-up order. Captain Harry Stafford found four local businessmen, including John Henry Davies (who became club president), each willing to invest £500 in return for a direct interest in running the club and who subsequently changed the name; on 24 April 1902, Manchester United was officially born. Under Ernest Mangnall, who assumed managerial duties in 1903, the team finished as Second Division runners-up in 1906 and secured promotion to the First Division, which they won in 1908 – the club's first league title. The following season began with victory in the first ever Charity Shield and ended with the club's first FA Cup title. Manchester United won the First Division for the second time in 1911, but at the end of the following season, Mangnall left the club to join Manchester City.
In 1922, three years after the resumption of football following the First World War, the club was relegated to the Second Division, where it remained until regaining promotion in 1925. Relegated again in 1931, Manchester United became a yo-yo club, achieving its all-time lowest position of 20th place in the Second Division in 1934. Following the death of principal benefactor John Henry Davies in October 1927, the club's finances deteriorated to the extent that Manchester United would likely have gone bankrupt had it not been for James W. Gibson, who, in December 1931, invested £2,000 and assumed control of the club. In the 1938–39 season, the last year of football before the Second World War, the club finished 14th in the First Division.
In October 1945, the impending resumption of football led to the managerial appointment of Matt Busby, who demanded an unprecedented level of control over team selection, player transfers and training sessions. Busby led the team to second-place league finishes in 1947, 1948 and 1949, and to FA Cup victory in 1948. In 1952, the club won the First Division, its first league title for 41 years. With an average age of 22, the back-to-back title winning side of 1956 were labelled "the Busby Babes" by the media, a testament to Busby's faith in his youth players. In 1957, Manchester United became the first English team to compete in the European Cup, despite objections from The Football League, who had denied Chelsea the same opportunity the previous season. En route to the semi-final, which they lost to Real Madrid, the team recorded a 10–0 victory over Belgian champions Anderlecht, which remains the club's biggest victory on record.