Following the withdrawal of Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani from negotiations to buy English Premier League soccer giants Manchester United, sole remaining bidder Sir Jim Ratcliffe is expected to conclude a deal to acquire a 25% stake in the coming days.
The United board is set to vote to accept the bid from Ratcliffe, worth around £1.3 billion ($1.58 billion), over the next week, it has been reported. The 25% takeover would value the whole club at £6.2 billion, and reportedly also involves Ratcliffe, owner of petrochemical giant Ineos, taking full charge of the club’s sporting operations.
The on- and off-field performance of the club under its current owners, the Florida-based Glazer siblings, who initially instigated a review process and the consideration of a sale in November last year and employed the Raine Group to handle the process, has been a source of serious discontent amongst the United fanbase for many years.
The United board is made up of the six Glazer siblings, all majority shareholders. If accepted, the bid from Ratcliffe (who has been the UK’s richest man at various points over the last decade), will then be formally ratified.
Ratcliffe’s partial bid is now the only one remaining for the Glazers to consider following Sheikh Jassim’s formal withdrawal from the process. Both parties submitted initial bids at the same time.
UK media has widely reported that the Qatari Sheikh pulled out after the Glazers made their total asking price – believed to be £6.4 billion – for the club clear, with Jassim believing that valuation was unreasonably high.
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With both groups having bid in the region of £5 billion for full control, Jassim then refused to up his price to meet the Glazers demands, while Ratcliffe reworked his offer to a bid for an initial 25%.
Jassim’s PR team had always said he was only interested in a full takeover, and he has now walked away from further discussions.
His bid would have been a full cash offer, and – it is understood – would have cleared the club’s total debt, which currently stands 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' time.
There have been mass protests against the Glazers’ ownership ever since they bought the club for £790 million in 2005, in a deal which loaded the debt from the deal onto the club’s own balance sheet in a leveraged buyout.
Ineos and Ratcliffe already own French top-tier side Nice, and Swiss club Lausanne, while outside soccer they have a minority stake in Formula 1 motor racing team Mercedes, as well as owning sailing team Ineos Britannia.
Ratcliffe has outlined at several points over the last year that he is a United fan, despite a failed attempt to buy fellow Premier League heavyweights Chelsea in early 2022.
Since launching the strategic review process in November, with the Raine Group as advisors, the Glazers have made no public comment on the process.
Last week, however, club chief executive Richard Arnold told a fans forum meeting: “All I can say at this moment is the work is ongoing.”
United currently lie 10th in the 20-team Premier League after a disappointing start to the season and have lost both of their opening games in the pan-European UEFA Champions League competition.
The club would normally have released their end-of-financial-year results by this point but has not yet done so – no specific reason has been given for this delay.