UK billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, owner of petrochemical giant Ineos, is expected to soon conclude a deal to acquire a 25% stake in English soccer giants Manchester United after the sudden withdrawal of Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani from negotiations to take over the club.
The United board, made up of the six Glazer siblings (the Florida-based Glazers bought United in 2005), all majority shareholders, is due to vote to accept the bid from Ratcliffe, worth around £1.3 billion ($1.58 billion), over the next week, making the value of the whole club £6.2 billion. The deal also reportedly involves Ratcliffe taking full charge of the club’s sporting operations.
The Glazers, who bought United for £790 million in 2005, announced last November they were considering selling, after years of coming under fire from the United fanbase over the club’s poor performances and the owners' lack of investment.
The announcement led to a flurry of interest, with the two offers from Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim becoming frontrunners with both bid around £5 billion to secure a full takeover of the club.
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However, negotiations have stalled in recent months, due to the Glazers reportedly demanding a total asking price of £6.4 billion. While the Qatari Sheikh pulled out over the weekend, believing the valuation is unreasonably high, Ratcliffe has offered to buy a minority stake in the club – at least initially – to break the impasse.
Jassim’s PR team, on the other hand, had always said he was only interested in a full takeover. His bid would have been a full cash offer, and – it is understood – would have cleared the club’s total debt, which at last count stood at £969.6 million.
Ratcliffe, meanwhile, will hope that this partial buyout is the first stage of a full takeover, as will United’s fanbase. Indeed, it was reported during the last round of the bidding process that Ratcliffe was prepared to accept 25% initially if there was an option to take full control and a majority stake in three years.
Why it matters
There have been mass protests against the Glazers’ ownership ever since they bought the club in 2005, in a deal which loaded the debt from the deal onto the club’s own balance sheet in a leveraged buyout.
United supporters have held demonstrations against the Glazer family inside and outside the home stadium of Old Trafford over the last few years, over the Glazers' ownership of the club.
Aside from the team’s in-general poor on-pitch form and accrued debt, United need investment to both upgrade Old Trafford and win the Premier League for the first time since a record 20th league title in 2013.
Anger against the ownership also grew after their involvement in the failed European Super League project in April 2021.
A Qatari takeover would have seen the end of the Glazers’ tenure, while Ratcliffe’s minority share dashes fans' hopes of a fresh start and new ownership.
In a statement following Sheikh Jassim’s withdrawal from the process, the Manchester Supporters Trust said: “MUFC is in desperate need of new investment and new majority ownership. We hope this news accelerates that process rather than delays it.
“Based on the last 11 months, no one can be quite sure. The Glazers need to make their position clear.”
Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis and consulting at GlobalData Sport, has commented: “The sale of 25% of Manchester United brings to an end the year-long saga which began as a ‘strategic review’ into the ownership of one of the world's biggest clubs.
“While details are still unclear, the acquisition of the stake gives Ratcliffe and the Ineos sporting group a path to complete ownership and makes Ratcliffe the single biggest shareholder in the club with the Glazer family shareholding split across the six siblings. While the commercial side of the club is still unparalleled, the fall in standards on the sporting side has led many to question the nearly two decades of ownership of the Glazer family.
“While the minority stake is not the full sale and removal of the Glazers that many fans had hoped for, it is likely the beginning of the end of the ownership of one of soccer’s most prestigious clubs by one of the most reviled ownership families.
“Given the debt foisted onto the club through the Glazers' initial takeover, United have been hampered by having to manage this debt – as well as the Glazers taking money out of the club while failing to invest in facilities, with both the stadium and training ground falling in disrepair.
“Many United fans will be hoping Ratcliffe can usher in a new era and return the club to the pinnacle of the sport. However, with nations states backing the likes of Manchester City and Newcastle United, the path to the top is likely to have a few bumps along the way.”
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