The owners of Manchester United are more than just club administrators.
For, with its long history of gathering prizes, revamping the group after the 1958 Munich air calamity and self-declared 1.1 billion fans around the world, Manchester Joined is “apparently England’s generally important donning, maybe even social, resource,” as Simon Chadwick, teacher of game and international economy at SKEMA Business college, tells CNN Game.
As a result, a multi-billion dollar bidding war spanned the financial sector, geopolitics, and soccer when United’s American owners, the Glazer family, announced almost four months ago that they were considering selling the team.
Additionally, it pushed the share price up from $13.03 on November 21 to a 52-week high of $27.34 on February 16, despite the fact that it started falling once more as reports began to surface questioning the club’s true value.
Therefore, what will transpire with the world-famous club in the upcoming weeks, why is its potential sale so significant, and is it possible that the Glazers will remain its owners after all this?
Who is in the running?
There are only two confirmed bidders for the club at this time, despite all the rumors that have been floating around: Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe. According to multiple reports, a soft deadline of February 17 set by the Raine Group, the bank handling the sale, prompted both to publicly confirm their intention.
The Telegraph and Reuters reported that parties from Saudi Arabia have also reportedly entered the race to own the club. Additionally, the US-based hedge funds Elliott Investment Management and Ares Management Corp. have submitted their own proposals to provide financing for a bid.
In addition, the Glazers retain control of the entire procedure, despite the fact that their leveraged buyout of United left the club with a net debt of $626 million, making them deeply unpopular with United supporters.
Fans have held marches against the Glazer family at Old Trafford and hung banners reading “Love United, Hate Glazer” at home and away games for years.
Alex, a United supporter and co-host of the podcast “American Red Devils,” tells CNN Sport that “the relationship between the fans and the Glazer family is irreparably harmed.”
Ed Barker, host of the podcast “No Question about That,” describes Glazer’s ownership as a “disaster for the club” among other fans.
The Glazers’ ownership was not discussed by Manchester United, which referred CNN to a statement it issued in November announcing the club’s “strategic review” and potential sale.
The chairman of a Qatari bank
On February 17, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB), Sheikh Jassim, made an official bid for “100% of” Manchester United in an effort to “return the club to its former glories,” according to his statement. The statement went on to say that “Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation 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,” and that additional information about the bid would be made public as necessary if the process progressed.
Sheikh Jassim is said to have been a Manchester United fan his entire life. He is the son of Qatar’s former Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
Kieran Maguire, a specialist in soccer finance, tells CNN Sport that his proposal would “effectively… take the club private again,” get rid of all of the debt, and buy out “not just the Glazer family, but everybody else that owns shares in Manchester United as well.”
CNN sought clarification from the club and the Raine Group, but did not receive a response right away.
Why a Qatari owner would be controversial
Concerns have been expressed regarding Sheikh Jassim’s candidacy by a number of fan groups and the human rights organization FairSquare.
Since he announced his candidacy, Sheikh Jassim’s connections to the Qatari government have been scrutinized as a member of the royal family.
Sheikh Jassim, according to Chadwick, is “far away enough to not be considered part of the state apparatus but still close because there are only 3,000 royal family members in Qatar and he will have a position in the hierarchy.” Chadwick would describe Sheikh Jassim in this way.
Both his association with the government’s much-maligned human rights record and the fair play regulations of the Union of European Football Associations, the sport’s governing body in Europe, have significant implications for Sheikh Jassim’s bid.
UEFA rules state that no “individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club” participating in the competition “to ensure the integrity” of UEFA competitions, including the Champions League.
Qatar Sports Investment (QSi), the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, owns Paris Saint-Germain, which regularly competes alongside Manchester United in the Champions League.
In his statement, Sheikh Jassim said that the sale will be funded by his own foundation, a non-digital organization. In the meantime, despite having some connections to QSi, the bank he heads, QIB, is a separate entity.
As of Walk 2022, the Qatar Holding LLC, the speculation arm of Qatar Venture Authority (QIA) was the single biggest investor of QIB, possessing 16.7% of the bank, while Nasser Al-Khelaifi, leader of PSG, is a board part at QIA.
Since it won the World Cup last year, Qatar’s human rights record has been criticized, particularly its stance on LGBTQ+ rights and migrant workers.
In Qatar, relationships between people of the same sex are against the law and can result in a seven-year prison sentence. As recently as September of last year, cases of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBTQ+ individuals and subjecting them to “ill-treatment in detention” were documented in a Human Rights Watch report that was released in October 2022.
Barker stated to CNN Sport, “I think there’s almost entirely negative aspects to a state bid,” highlighting that his perspective is not representative of all fans.
“I don’t think that’s good for United or football,” the author asserts.
On February 17, the official LGBTQ+ Supporters Club of Manchester United, The Rainbow Devils, posted a tweet expressing its “deep concern over some of the bids that are being made” and its belief that “any bidder seeking to buy Manchester United must commit to making football a sport for everyone, including LGBTQ+ supporters, players, and staff.”
The British billionaire from Manchester
Jim Ratcliffe, who grew up in the city and claims to be a Manchester United supporter, first expressed interest in purchasing the team in August, before it was even up for sale.
In a statement sent to CNN on February 18, he confirmed that his company had submitted a bid “for majority ownership.”
The statement said, “We would see our role as the long-term custodians of Manchester United,” highlighting the “modern, progressive, fan-centered approach” of the bid.
It went on to say, “We want a Manchester United that is 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.”
Maguire predicts that Ratcliffe’s offer for “majority ownership” would require borrowing money to acquire the Glazers and would buy out the Glazers.
Ratcliffe owns a majority stake in the chemical group INEOS, which also owns the Ineos Grenadiers cycling team, the Swiss club Lausanne-Sport, the French soccer club Nice, and the Mercedes F1 team.
His bid is also controversial because, like Sheikh Jassim’s, it questions the idea of multi-club ownership because his company already owns two soccer teams that play in different domestic leagues than United and are less likely to qualify for the Champions League than PSG.
In the interim, a Greenpeace UK representative told CNN, “It’s stressing that the Man Utd offering process has transformed into a messy derby between substances connected to petroleum derivatives,” referring to Ineos’ creation of “plastic, synthetic compounds and non-renewable energy sources,” as well as the QIB’s incomes from oil and gas.
The spokesperson continued, “Oil and gas is now invading the world of sport desperately looking for popular brands behind which to hide its climate-wrecking business, kicked out of museums and art galleries.” The climate will not come out on top in this derby, no matter how it ends.”
CNN was referred to Ineos’ multi-billion dollar investments in carbon capture, carbon storage, and green hydrogen, as well as its plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, when it was asked for comment.
Barker states, “That probably matters to a small group of fans, but some who are informed about what the company is.”
Saudi Arabia connection
Other parties may be interested in purchasing the club in addition to these two confirmed bids.
According to sources close to the situation, Reuters reported that the US-based hedge fund Elliott Investment Management plans to provide financing for a bid to take over the club, despite having ruled itself out of a full takeover.
When CNN inquired, Elliott Investment Management declined to comment.
Reuters, citing three people familiar with the situation, says that Ares Management Corp., which invests in leveraged loans, private debts, and other types of investments, also offered funds to support a takeover. It also stated that the terms of one bidder’s rejection of Ares’ funding were unappealing.
When CNN inquired, Ares declined to comment.
The Telegraph reported last month that a number of private groups in Saudi Arabia also made their own bids for Manchester United.
How much will it cost?
The Glazer family is seeking between $7.2 and $9.6 billion from potential buyers, according to multiple reports, despite the fact that Forbes valued the club at $4.6 billion, making it the third most valuable professional soccer team in the world.
Maguire gauges the ongoing proposals to be “some place in the district of $4.8 to $6.04 billion.”
An ownership group led by Todd Boehly bought Premier League club Chelsea for $3.02 billion last year with a promise to invest $2.1 billion more.
United is expected to fetch a higher price, according to some experts.
Maguire adds, “Manchester United is a much bigger football club than Chelsea.” It has a larger area of ground. It has a larger following. It is a brand that is much more well-known.
Offers in this district could overshadow the $4.65 billion that a consortium headed by Walmart successor Ransack Walton purportedly paid for the NFL’s Denver Horses – a record sticker price for a North American games establishment, as per ESPN.
United, like Chelsea, needs money to renovate its training facility and stadium, Old Trafford.
What happens next?
Fans of Manchester United can anticipate months of uncertainty as the Glazers weigh competing offers and decide whether to sell the team.
Maguire explains, “It’s a little like putting your house up for sale and giving a rough guide price.” The Glazers expect between $7.2 and $9.6 billion. It probably isn’t worth that, and it depends on how much each party is willing to give up or pay for additional financial commitments.
Although the British government announced in a white paper in February that it would establish an independent football regulator with “new tests for owners and directors,” the plan has not yet been put into action.
A potential owner’s integrity, financial stability, and wealth sources would be examined in these proposed tests. In order to increase transparency and determine whether a potential owner or director is politically exposed, the regulator would also require clubs to declare their “ultimate beneficial owner.”
However, considering that human rights issues are not mentioned at all, it does not appear likely that the upcoming regulator will be able to seriously impede any of the United takeover bids.
Bidders are said to be meeting with Raine Group and club representatives in the coming weeks, and Ratcliffe was seen at Old Trafford on March 17.
Barker says with a focus on the summer transfer window, “the more likely it is that United won’t be able to do the kind of business that the club wants” the longer it drags on into the summer.
“For the club, there is no positive outcome that would delay this process.”
These upcoming negotiations are critical to redeveloping the stadium and training ground, signing new players, investing in the team, and the more abstract political stakes.
However, Alex, host of the “American Red Devils” podcast, asserts that the owner of the storied club will represent “a hard bargain for United fans to make.”
“It’s critical to isolate a proprietor from the club and all that it addresses,” he adds. ” Because Manchester United is more than just a sports team; it represents so much to so many people, I truly believe that if you own the club, your role is to be a custodian.