MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The race to buy Manchester United is taking shape.
Based on the publicly declared bids for one of the world’s most iconic soccer teams, the frontrunners are Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and local boy-turned-billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.
There is also the possibility that the current American owners, the Glazer family, could yet retain control of the team, despite raising hopes among supporters they would finally walk away after repeated attempts by fans to drive them out.
After a second round of bidding last week, Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe remain in contention for what is likely to be the biggest ever sale of a sports team, with the price estimated to reach up to $6 billion.
Sheikh Jassim’s latest offer was placed on Friday night, a person with knowledge of the bid said.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
American merchant bank Raine’s decision to extend the deadline for the rival bidders to fine-tune their second bids has added to the feeling that it is effectively a two-horse race if there is to be an outright takeover of the 20-time English league champions.
Raine is handling the proposed sale on behalf of the Glazers and is also exploring other “strategic alternatives” that may see the family remain in place by selling a minority stake or take up other funding options.
The Glazers, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, want the process to be completed in time for the start of the offseason transfer window, when prospective new owners would be expected to invest significantly in the team.
Finnish entrepreneur Thomas Zilliacus declared his interest over the past week. His plans include a 50% shared ownership scheme with fans.
But it is Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe who appear to be leading the way.
Sheikh Jassim is the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank and he is the son of a former prime minister.
He has submitted an offer to buy out the Glazer family, with the bid said to be completely separate from Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain.
Sheikh Jassim, who is described as a United fan, plans to buy the club through his Nine Two Foundation, which was named after the club’s famed Class of ’92 youth team that produced stars like David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. That was also the year he became a supporter.
While concerns have been raised about Qatar’s human rights record, Sheikh Jassim’s plans will appeal to fans on a number of levels.
He has promised to rid the club of debt, invest in the stadium, training center and playing squads in a bid to “return the club to its former glories both on and off the pitch.”
Meanwhile, supporters would hope a Qatar-based owner would be able to compete with the exorbitant spending of Manchester City, which is owned by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family and has dominated English soccer for the past 10 years.
The billionaire owner of petrochemicals giant INEOS is one of Britain’s richest people and a United fan since childhood.
Born in Failsworth, Greater Manchester, he says he is focused on United winning the Champions League for the first time since 2008 and making it the “number one club in the world once again.”
Ratcliffe has bid for the Glazers’ stake of about 69%, a person with knowledge of the offer said.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of the bid have not been made public.
INEOS says it is aiming for “a modern, progressive, fan-centered approach to ownership.”
Ratcliffe is said to be worth $15.1 billion and already owns French club Nice, cycling franchise Team INEOS, is one-third shareholder of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team and competes in the America’s Cup with sailing team INEOS Britannia.
Last year, he failed in a bid to buy Premier League rival Chelsea.
American investment firm Elliott Management is an interesting addition to the process, given it has not made a bid for a full takeover.
Elliott has, however, bid for a minority stake and is prepared to offer capital or finance to other potential buyers, a person with knowledge of the process said.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly about the bid.
A minority stake or capital investment could provide a way for the Glazers to remain in control, while carrying out necessary development of United’s iconic, but ageing, Old Trafford stadium.
Elliott took control of AC Milan in 2018, stabilized the storied Italian club’s finances and led it to its first league title in 11 years last season.
Milan was sold to RedBird Capital Partners for about $1.3 billion last year.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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