Manchester United: Early bidders present competing visions

Three months after Manchester United was put up for sale by the Glazer family, two potential bidders have emerged with competing visions. They are looking to acquire one of the most important sporting teams in the world and an iconic British cultural asset.

Friday night saw the public go public. Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani (the son of Qatar’s former prime Minister) announced his intention to purchase the club he has supported since he was 10.

Sheikh Jassim’s father is Sheikh Hamad Bin Jaber Al Thani. He is one of the richest men in the small Gulf state. Many know him as HBJ. He was responsible for a Qatari investment spree that included Harrods department shop and the Shard building. He was also the head of the Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Within hours, Sir Jim Ratcliffe (the billionaire founder and CEO of UK chemicals company Ineos) confirmed that he had also made an offer to purchase the Glazers’ controlling share in his boyhood club.

Raine, the Investment Bank that managed the sale process for the Glazers has not revealed if there are any other interested bidders. Raine, who handled the record-breaking auctions of Chelsea FC and Olympique Lionnais last year, has remained tight-lipped about whether there are other bidders. It declined to comment on any offers.

There are many options available to interested parties who seek funding. According to sources familiar with the matter, MSD Partners and Oaktree have expressed interest in financing potential suitors.

This price will likely surpass the $4.6bn spent last year on the Denver Broncos NFL team, which is the current record for a sports team. The club’s enterprise value has increased to $5bn since November, when plans were made for a sale. The Glazers haven’t committed to a complete sale and leave open the possibility for a minority investment.

Both Sheikh Jassim, Ratcliffe and Ratcliffe expressed their determination to win supporters with their initial public pitches. Still, both sides were clear about the divisions related to the perceived flaws in the Glazer’s tenure.

Chair of Qatar Islamic Bank Sheikh Jassim stressed plans to strengthen Manchester United’s balance sheets and ageing infrastructure. His previously unnamed Nine Two Foundation promised a “debt-free” purchase, which he said would be “invested in the football teams and the training centre as well as the wider infrastructure.”

Although the source of funding for Qatar’s bid remains unknown, it is probable that Qatari officials have large pockets. People involved in Sheikh Jassim’s bid insist that no money comes from QIA.

Through Qatar Sports Investments, the Qatari state already has French champions Paris Saint-Germain. Uefa is Europe’s football governing body. It prohibits clubs from competing with each other.

United fans have criticized the Glazer family for accumulating acquisition debt and extracting dividends in excess of 100 million pounds since 2005’s leveraged buyout.

United’s infrastructure is no longer an envy, with Old Trafford, the 74,000-seater stadium, and the Carrington training field. The Manchester United Supporters Trust sent an open email in December to potential investors, stating that the club required “urgent capital investments” in the stadium.

Ratcliffe acknowledged the need to invest, but his opening pitch focused more on rebuilding ties with United fans and stopping foreign ownership of English football. Only a few of the 20 Premier League teams are British-owned.

Ineos released a statement on Saturday saying: “We would consider our role as long-term custodians for Manchester United in the best interests of the fans and wider community.”

Ratcliffe’s company also acknowledged the imminent release of a white paper by the UK government, which will detail the scope of a new regulator for football. After two years of trying to start a breakaway competition called the European Super League, which was launched by the Glazers and five other Premier League owners, the demand for an independent body to supervise the game was made.

Ineos stated that football governance in the country was at a crossroads. “We want to lead this next chapter and make English football a beacon of modern, progressive, fan-centred ownership.”

Ratcliffe has already hired JPMorgan Goldman Sachs and Goldman Sachs as his advisers. However, he has yet to outline how a bid would get funded. Ratcliffe must also deal with his potential conflict since Ineos owns Nice’s French club.

Ratcliffe might also need to get rid of any doubts that he is serious. After the formal process had reduced the number of bidders to two, Ratcliffe tried to gatecrash last year’s auction for Chelsea. He launched a last-gasp deal for the London club.

He also leaned heavily upon the idea of a British bid in a sale process that was forced on the club by British government sanction after Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner, was banned.

The club was sold to Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly within one month. This is a record for a football team that will likely be broken if Manchester United goes through with its full sale.