Qatar sheikh bids for Man Utd as billionaire Ratcliffe enters race

By Julian Guyer

A consortium led by Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani announced Friday that it had submitted an offer to take full control of Manchester United, with British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe also reported to have lodged a widely anticipated bid.

“Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani today confirmed his submission of a bid for 100 percent of Manchester United Football Club,” his press release said ahead of the Friday ‘soft’ deadline for bidders.

Ratcliffe’s Ineos company is the only other bidder to have officially declared an interest

The Daily Telegraph reported late Friday he had told the American merchant bank Raine Group conducting the sale he can be the “long-term custodian for the club”.

A BBC report said that Ratcliffe had submitted a bid before the 2200GMT deadline.

A bid from Saudi Arabia had also been expected.

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.

However, the price could reach a record $6 billion, according to reports.

That would be in contrast to the controversial 2005 leveraged takeover by the US-based Glazer family, the club’s current owners.

United currently have debts running at more than $620 million.

The bid announced Friday 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 Glazers announced in November they were open to a sale or investment of 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 expires.

United shares rose by close to two percent in after-hours trading following the Qatari bid announcement. They had closed down 1.9 percent on Friday on the NYSE.

Both Ratcliffe and 41-year-old Sheikh Jassim, educated at Britain’s elite Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, claim to be boyhood United fans.

A source close to his chemicals company Ineos told the Telegraph that locally born Ratcliffe wants “to put the Manchester back into Manchester United”.

Deeply unpopular with supporters since they saddled the club with huge debts in the £790 million ($961m) 2005 takeover, the Glazers further angered fans by backing the failed European Super League project in 2021.

The Telegraph reported sources close to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) were playing down the likelihood of a state-backed bid given their existing involvement at rival Premier League club Newcastle United.

A sale price of $6 billion for three-time European champions 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.

Any Saudi Arabian investment at 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”.

The emirate also controls French champions Paris Saint-Germain.

But a statement issued late Friday on behalf of Sheikh Jassim stressed he was a private individual with no links to the Qatar Sports Investment group that owns PSG.

United, one of the most successful clubs in English football history, have not won the Premier League since 2013 and have failed to win any silverware since 2017.

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 are also set to face Newcastle in the League Cup final at Wembley on February 26.

Thursday saw United draw 2-2 at Barcelona in the first leg of a Europa League knockout round play-off tie, with Ten Hag insisting the speculation about the club’s future would not prove a distraction to his side.

“We are following it,” Ten Hag said. “It’s our club…But we are focusing on football, on training and our way of play, on games.”

He added: “I focus on football.”

Agence France-Presse