·9 June 2023
·9 June 2023
The stage is set, the players primed. A two-horse race in the world of business, the prize – the ownership of Manchester United, a giant of the footballing world. On the one side, we find British billionaire, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, founder of the Ineos petrochemicals empire. In the opposite corner, stands Qatari royal Sheikh Jassim, frontman for the Nine Two Foundation. As reported by David Ornstein in The Athletic, Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, one of football’s powerhouses, finds himself in the midst of this epic showdown, not as a bidder, but as a pivotal advisor.
Last November, when the Glazer family opened the floodgates, putting Manchester United up for sale, the initial advice sought by Sheikh Jassim’s team from Al-Khelaifi revolved around the valuation of the club. The Glazers had set their sights high, demanding a hefty $8 billion (£6.4bn). However, Al-Khelaifi’s role has evolved, the PSG supremo now finds himself acting as a linchpin, a link between the Glazers and Sheikh Jassim.
Even as frustration mounts over the slow pace of the sales process and the momentum seems to swing in Ratcliffe’s favour, Sheikh Jassim’s team, with Al-Khelaifi’s support, have presented a resolute front. They recently submitted their fifth and final bid, a statement that underscores their determination to stay in the race.
Valued at around £5 billion, Sheikh Jassim’s bid covers the entirety of the club, including minority shareholders’ stakes. This move, if successful, would transition the Red Devils from the New York Stock Exchange back into private ownership, liberating them from the necessity of quarterly account filing and regular investor calls.
The counteroffer by Ratcliffe is a staged takeover strategy, retaining the Glazer siblings as minority shareholders initially, with a plan to buy them out at a later date. Interestingly, this approach would lead to a smaller upfront payment but an ultimately larger sum for the Glazers than the Qatari proposal.
Sheikh Jassim, the second son of Qatar’s former Prime Minister, is a relatively unknown entity outside the Gulf banking circles. This has raised concerns among the sellers about the driving force behind the bid. On the contrary, Al-Khelaifi’s public persona is well established. The former tennis professional and current chairman of the beIN Media Group, is an influential figure in the football landscape.
His association with the United bid, even if advisory, has raised a few eyebrows within the Premier League. There is a palpable apprehension around England’s largest club potentially coming under what could be perceived as state ownership.
The situation becomes more intricate considering Al-Khelaifi’s role as the boss of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority. Al-Khelaifi’s communication with Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy about a potential investment in the North London club earlier this year is a well-known fact. This has led to fears that Sheikh Jassim may merely be a facade for the Qatari state if he were to become United’s owner, a claim that Sheikh Jassim’s representatives strongly deny.
UEFA regulations prohibit two clubs under the control of the same entity from participating in the same competition, meaning that PSG and United couldn’t partake in the Champions League simultaneously under shared ownership. However, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has hinted at a possible revision of this prohibition, given the era of multi-club ownership.
As the takeover tussle continues, one thing is clear: Sheikh Jassim’s intent, as his team asserts, is singular – he wants to own Manchester United, independently, and without Al-Khelaifi.
As we await the final whistle in this high-stakes game of power and money, all key parties, including Al-Khelaifi, the Glazers, Raine, and Sheikh Jassim, remain tight-lipped, their strategies hidden under the cloak of silence.
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