The race to buy Manchester United became a little clearer on Friday when a consortium led by Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank, announced that it had submitted an offer to take full control of the Premier League club.
“Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani today confirmed his submission of a bid for 100 per cent of Manchester United Football Club,” his press release said ahead of the Friday “soft” deadline for bidders.
The statement did not give any details on the amount proposed in the bid for the club but the price could reach a record $6 billion, according to reports.
United currently has debts running at more than $620 million (580 million euros).
However 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 centre, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports”.
The American Glazer family, who completed their takeover of the 20-times English champions in 2005, announced in November that they were open to a sale or investment, prompting talk in Friday’s Daily Telegraph of a bidding battle between Qatari and Saudi Arabian interests.
British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos company is the only other bidder to have officially declared an interest.
But with United’s shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, brokers acting for the club will be obliged to consider offers even after Friday’s “soft” deadline expires.
The Glazers had signalled they were open to both minority investment and a full takeover.
But the latter now appears to be their preferred option, with American merchant bank Raine brought in to assist United in assessing offers.
Deeply unpopular with supporters since they saddled the club with huge debts in a £790 million ($961m) leveraged takeover in 2005, the Glazers further angered fans by backing the failed European Super League project in 2021.
The Telegraph reported sources close to the country’s £515 billion Public Investment Fund (PIF) had played down the likelihood of a state-backed bid to the regime given their existing involvement at rival Premier League club Newcastle.
According to reports, the Glazers are seeking £6 billion for the three-time European champions, which 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”.
A successful Qatari bid would raise sporting questions as well, given the emirate also controls French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
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 are third in the Premier League this season 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 and of course we are committed.
“But we are focusing on football, on training and our way of play, on games. That is what we are focusing on.”
Asked if he had spoken to United chief executive Richard Arnold or any of the Glazer family about what could happen with the takeover, Ten Hag said: “No. Just, I will say, from the start, yeah, they involved me, how the process will (be) going.
“I focus on football. They are focusing on other parts, departments of the club. How to get everything, for instance, financed.”