Ever since the Glazers signalled their willingness to sell Manchester United, a number of parties have emerged as potential bidders. A wealthy individual? A consortium? A multinational company? An oil state?
Bids are expected by the end of next week as the process to weed out the tyre-kickers intensifies. Here are some of the interested parties…
Sir Jim Ratcliffe
The Ineos owner, one of Britain’s richest man, has confirmed his interest in buying United some time ago. Or rather, his spokesman did: “We have formally put ourselves in the process.”
According to The Telegraph, Ratcliffe has been working with two investment banks, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, to secure the funding to make an offer the Glazers may deem as acceptable. Those partners are ‘prepared to back his offer with bonds and loans beyond the value of the club’s existing debt of £659million’
Ratcliffe is seeking backing because buying the club with his own cash would be a stretch – The Sunday Times valued Ratcliffe’s wealth at £6.075billion, with the Glazers looking for between £5billion and £6billion to relinquish control.
Ratcliffe’s interest dates back some time, with the 70-year-old having supported United since he was a boy. That didn’t stop him from attempting to buy Chelsea but his £4.25billion offer was rejected under the sale process overseen by the British government. The Manchester-born billionaire also owns Ligue 1 side Nice, FC Lausanne-Sport in Switzerland, cycling team INEOS Granadiers, and he also has has a third of the Mercedes F1 team. But United would be, bar far, his biggest sports investment to date.
Private investors linked to the Qatari royal family are reported to have registered their interest in buying United with the Raine Group, the advisors appointed by the Glazers to help oversee the sale of the club.
These investors are believed not to be linked to Qatar Sports Investments, the group that owns Paris Saint-Germain. And Sky Sports reckons they won’t overpay or go near the Glazers’ £6billion valuation when the New York Stock Exchange valuing the club at just over half that amount. But Qatari investors could seek backing from Qatar Investment Authority, which is said to be worth around £360billion.
Not everyone would be happy to see United fall into Qatari hands. Some fans have said they would walk away from the club, while Amnesty International have state their concern.
“Coming in the wake of the World Cup and strenuous efforts from the Qatari government to fashion a glitzy new image for the country, it seems highly likely that any Qatari bid for Manchester United would be a continuation of this state-backed sportswashing project,” Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s economic affairs director, told Press Association. “We saw only limited reforms on migrant workers’ rights in Qatar in the lead-up to the World Cup, and there’s been no movement whatsoever in ending the disgraceful criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people or institutional discrimination against women.
“It’s been nearly 18 months since the hugely controversial Saudi takeover of Newcastle United and a Qatari bid for Manchester United would be yet another wake-up call to the Premier League over the need to reform its ownership rules. We’re not necessarily opposed to the involvement of state-linked overseas financial consortia in English football, but the Premier League must urgently strengthen ownership rules to ensure they’re human rights-compliant and not an opportunity for more sportswashing.”
Investors from Saudi Arabia are said to have registered an initial interest in buying United. The country’s Public Investment Fund has been credited with an interest before but any fresh offer would have to come from private investors in the wake of PIF taking ownership of Newcastle. Interested parties in Qatar are certainly expecting a scrap with Saudi rivals over the keys to the Old Trafford door.
Back in November, the Saudi sports minister told the BBC: “From the private sector, I can’t speak on their behalf, but there is a lot of interest and appetite and there’s a lot of passion about football.It’s the most-watched league in Saudi and the region and you have a lot of fans of the Premier League. We will definitely support it if any [Saudi] private sector comes in, because we know that’s going to reflect positively on sports within the kingdom.”
Some reports suggest there will be four groups making ‘serious’ bids for United and other suggest it will be five. Among them, it is expected that heavy interest will come from financier-led consortiums in the United States.
That being true, these American bidders are keeping their cards close to their chest while interested parties are getting a look at United’s books. The Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs MLB franchise and one of the final four bidders for Chelsea before Todd Boehky and his pals won the race, are understood not to be in the running.
Investment firm Sixth Street, based in San Francisco with links to Barcelona and Real Madrid, were rumoured to be interested in buying a minority share in United. But they were happy to deny that while everyone else across the Atlantic keeps shtum.
As part of our sports investing franchise, Sixth Street maintains active dialogues with top organizations across multiple sports and around the world. But at this time Sixth Street is not looking to buy Manchester United and is not in any active discussions to do so.
— Sixth Street (@SixthStreetNews) January 18, 2023
Other groups or individuals previously credited with an interest in buying or investing in Man Utd:
It was widely reported at the back end of last year that tech giants Apple are interested in buying United for £5.8million. Apparently, CEO Tim Cook was ‘keen to explore the opportunities owning United could provide’. United would become the richest club in the world with Apple’s net worth estimated at around £2trillion, though sales at their Liverpool store might take a hit. The windows too…
Forbes ranks Ortega, the chief of the Inditex group that owns Zara, as the 19th-richest person in the world. The 86-year-old Spaniard is apparently worth £61.3billion and the Manchester Evening News says he informed senior executives of his interest in buying the club. Ortega has no sporting investments in his portfolio, with real estate said to be the primary source of his wealth.
A consortium led by former Goldman Sachs boss and United fan, Lord Jim Neill, tried to tempt the Glazers into selling the club for £1.25billion 12 years ago but were ultimately unsuccessful. The Manchester Evening News spoke to O’Neill, who said he would be interested in getting the band back together. But not unless the Glazers reduce their current demands. When asked about a possible price of £5billion, O Neill said: “I don’t think that’s realistic, especially as the few smart people that might be vaguely capable of putting those kinds of sums together can see the same information the Glazers can see.”
India’s richest man was mentioned by the Daily Mail as a possible suitor, seemingly on the basis that his Scrooge McDuck pit contains around £76billion. The founder of Reliance Industries, and owner of IPL team Mumbai Indians, has been linked with a bid for Liverpool but his spokesperson denied he was interested. Apparently, his son is an Arsenal fan, which may or may not be relevant.
The Tech giants were ‘credible’ and ‘serious’ bidders for United, according the Daily Mail. Both companies have invested heavily in sports previously, though buying a team or franchise, especially the most expensive one in the world, is a different prospect entirely. Seems… unlikely.
The former United midfielder has a few quid in the bank but he can’t pull it off on his own. The FT said Becks was ‘open to holding talks with potential bidders’, including Ratcliffe, or perhaps the pair below. Rio Ferdinand spoke to Beckham at the England game against USA last year and the former defender reckons his ex-team-mate will team up with parties with much greater resources: “When you mention someone like Becks’ name, he’s obviously a part-owner of Inter Miami, but he doesn’t come (alone). It’s not his money. It’s not him in terms of putting his hand in his pocket. He comes with a consortium. He comes with people who have the deep pockets who have the ability to go and execute on a deal like that. So that’s the way he’ll be approaching it, and rightly so.”
Stephen Pagliuca and Larry Tanenbaum
The FT suggested the pair who made the shortlist to buy Chelsea before Todd Boehly secured a deal as potential bidders for United. Pagliuca is a private equity billionaire and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, while Tanenbaum is the chair of the NBA.
United’s former executive vice-chairman won’t be fronting an offer himself but the Daily Mail suggested he could play a vital role in advising potential buyers. Apparently, Woodward ‘has been approached by groups aiming to buy the club’. And United fans thought they were rid of him…