LONDON (Feb 18): A consortium led by a Qatari banker is leading the chase to buy Manchester United, with British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe joining the race after confirming his bid for the Premier League club today.
Sheikh Jassim Hamad Al Thani confirmed his submission of a bid for “100 per cent of Manchester United Football Club” ahead of Friday’s “soft” deadline for offers.
Ratcliffe had already expressed interest in United several weeks ago and his Ineos company followed the Qatari offer by officially submitting their own bid.
The 70-year-old is keen to expand a sporting portfolio that already includes French side Nice and Swiss team FC Lausanne-Sport, as well as the cycling team Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky.
“We can confirm that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS have submitted a bid for majority ownership of Manchester United Football Club,” Ineos said in a statement to AFP.
Ratcliffe, born in Failsworth, Greater Manchester, is one of Britain’s wealthiest people, with an estimated net worth of £12.5 billion (US$15 billion) following the success of his global chemical company.
The boyhood United fan, who made an unsuccessful bid to buy Chelsea last year, has vowed to restore the Old Trafford club to their former glory after 10 years without a Premier League title triumph.
“We would see our role as the long-term custodians of Manchester United on behalf of the fans and the wider community,” the Ineos statement said.
“We are ambitious and highly competitive and would want to invest in Manchester United to make them the number one club in the world once again.
“We also recognise that football governance in this country is at a crossroads. We would want to help lead this next chapter, deepening the culture of English football by making the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership.
“We want a Manchester United anchored in its proud history and roots in the North-West of England, putting the Manchester back into Manchester United and clearly focusing on winning the Champions League.”
US merchant bank the Raine Group are conducting the sale on behalf of United’s American owners, the Glazer family, with the cost of purchasing one of the world’s most iconic teams expected to reach around US$6 billion.
That would smash the record fee for a football club, set by Chelsea last year.
A consortium led by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and private equity firm Clearlake Capital paid £2.5 billion for the Blues, with a further £1.75 billion promised in further investment in infrastructure and players.
A bid from Saudi Arabia had also been expected, but offers other than Ratcliffe’s and the Qatari bid have yet to be confirmed.
‘Completely debt free’
The statement from Sheikh Jassim, chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB), did not give any details on the amount proposed in the bid for United.
The bid will be “completely debt free” via Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation, which will “look to invest in the football teams, the training centre, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports”.
The 41-year-old Sheikh Jassim, educated at Britain’s elite Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, claims to be a long-time United fan.
The Glazer family announced in November they were open to a sale of or investment in the record 20-time English champions, prompting talk of a bidding war between Qatari and Saudi Arabian interests.
But with United’s shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), brokers acting for the club will be obliged to consider offers even after Friday’s “soft” deadline.
United shares rose by close to two per cent in after-hours trading following the Qatari bid announcement. They had closed down 1.9 per cent on Friday.
Any Saudi Arabian investment in United would prompt outrage from human rights groups, who have spoken out against the Gulf state following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A Qatari takeover would be opposed on similar grounds, with Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s economic affairs director, saying it would represent “a continuation of this state-backed sportswashing project”.
Concerns have also been raised about a Qatari bid by human rights group Fair Square and Manchester United LGBTQ+ fan group Rainbow Devils.
Deeply unpopular with supporters since they saddled the club with huge debts in the £790 million 2005 takeover, the Glazers further angered fans by backing the failed European Super League project in 2021.
The Daily Telegraph reported that sources close to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) were playing down the likelihood of a state-backed bid given their existing involvement with rival Premier League club Newcastle United.
United, one of the most successful clubs in English football history, have failed to win any silverware since 2017, struggling to keep pace with bitter rivals Manchester City since the retirement of legendary boss Alex Ferguson in 2013.
They sit third in the Premier League, after an improvement in form under manager Erik ten Hag, who took over before the start of the current campaign.
United return to action for the first time since the bids when they face Leicester at Old Trafford in Sunday’s Premier League fixture. – AFP