Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani and UK billionaire Jim Ratcliffe have officially submitted bids to buy English Premier League soccer giants Manchester United.
The offers were made on Friday (February 17), meeting a soft deadline set by Raine Group, the US investment firm running the sale on behalf of the club's owners, the Glazer family.
Al Thani confirmed that he has bid for 100% ownership of Manchester United, while Ratcliffe has bid for 69%, the stake currently owned by the Glazers. The family would not be involved if Ratcliffe was to buy the club.
The Glazers, who have been generally unpopular with the club’s fanbase since they took control in 2005, said in November that they had begun a process of looking at strategic options for United moving forward, including the option of a full sale.
According to reports in his homeland, Al Thani’s bid is worth around £5 billion ($6 billion).
A statement released on his behalf read: “The bid plans to return the club to its former glories both on and off the pitch, and – above all – will seek to place the fans at the heart of Manchester United Football Club once more.
“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 center, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience, and the communities the club supports.
“The vision of the bid is for Manchester United Football Club to be renowned for footballing excellence, and regarded as the greatest football club in the world. More details of the bid will be released, when appropriate, if and when the bid process develops.”
If successful with the takeover, Al Thani, who is chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank, one of the leading financial institutions in the country, said he will “prioritize long-term and sustainable investment in all the club’s men’s and women’s teams, with a particular focus on youth development.”
He added that the bid will “significantly upgrade the club’s infrastructure – including the stadium and training facilities – and create meaningful long-term benefits for the wider Manchester community” and “involve no debt.”
Al Thani, who claims to be a lifelong Manchester United fan, was previously a board member of major international bank Credit Suisse. He is also the son of the former prime minister of Qatar.
His group is separate from Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), the firm which has owned French soccer giants Paris Saint Germain since 2011, and the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) sovereign wealth fund.
UEFA, the sport’s European governing body, has strict regulations around multi-club ownership.
Ratcliffe confirmed his intention to submit a bid for Manchester United last month (January) and has followed through with an offer via his petrochemical company Ineos.
Despite only bidding for a majority stake, Ratcliffe could seek to buy the rest of the shares, which are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, in the future.
In a statement of its own, Ineos said: "We would see our role as the long-term custodians of Manchester United on behalf of the fans and the wider community.
"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."
It added: "We also recognize 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-centered 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."
Ratcliffe already has a substantial sporting portfolio. At points over the last decade, he has been the UK’s richest man, and the 2022 Forbes Billionaires List had his net worth estimated at $16.3 billion.
He owns top-tier French outfit Nice and Swiss side Lausanne-Sport, as well as the Ineos Grenadiers cycling team. At the same time, Ineos also has partnerships in place with Tottenham Hotspur and Mercedes, the dominant Formula 1 motor racing team of the last decade.
Although he claims to have been a Manchester United fan since childhood, Ratcliffe had been associated with a potential takeover of their Premier League rivals Chelsea.
In May, the billionaire made an unsuccessful bid of £4.25 billion to buy the London club, only to be eventually beaten to the punch by US businessman Todd Boehly, who was leading a consortium.
It was also revealed on Saturday (February 18) that US investment group Elliott Management also lodged a proposal regarding Manchester United with the Raine Group before Friday's deadline.
The proposal is not a bid for the club but a proposal for possible financing and a minority stake.
The Glazers are seeking a full or partial sale or a partnership with third parties. Elliott manages £46 billion of assets and owned Italian giants AC Milan from 2018 until August last year when it sold the Serie A champions to private equity group RedBird Capital Partners.
Meanwhile, the Manchester United Supporters' Trust (MUST) has raised questions over the two bids in terms of sporting integrity, debt levels, and human rights records.
After the offers were submitted, the group issued a statement outlining a "clear list" of demands for prospective owners.
MUST say it wants a new owner to invest in the team, wider club, Old Trafford, and "ensure financial stability," adding that these principles have been backed by 150 Manchester United fan groups from across the world.
The supporters' trust has raised doubts over sporting integrity “given the exceptionally close links between some bidders and the owners of other European clubs including PSG and Nice.”
The Glazers (five brothers and one sister) have been the owners of Manchester United since July 2005, when the late family patriarch Malcolm Glazer bought the club for £790 million.
They have since become highly unpopular with fans, partly to do with on-field performances during the last decade and partly due to the mechanics of the deal – a leveraged buyout through which their own debt following the takeover was loaded onto the club.
Aside from the team’s poor on-pitch form and accrued debt, the owners are also unpopular due to their involvement in the failed European Super League project in April 2021 and because of their lack of serious investment in the club’s Old Trafford stadium (although redevelopment plans for the venue are reportedly in the offing).
A Qatari takeover of United would put the team next to local rivals Manchester City, as well as Newcastle United, in being owned by Gulf-based entities.
Since 2008, City have been owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, while Newcastle were taken over by a consortium whose main financial backer is the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund in late 2021.
Any takeover will need Premier League approval, which in the Newcastle case took a considerable length of time.
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