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Qatari bid for Manchester United ‘acid test of post-Brexit Britain’

Jadon Sancho celebrates his goal for Manchester United against Leicester City at Old Trafford on Sunday Reuters/Molly Darlington
Jadon Sancho celebrates his goal for Manchester United against Leicester City
  • Takeover would show UK ‘truly is open for global business’, says expert
  • Sheikh Jassim, chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank, is bidding for the club
  • His main rival is Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest man

Qatari investors’ bid to buy Manchester United FC is “an acid test of whether post-Brexit Britain truly is open for global business”, according to a leading sports academic.

Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Jaber Al Thani, the son of a former prime minister of Qatar, confirmed on Friday that his consortium had made an offer to buy the English Premier League giants.

Sheikh Jassim is chairman of one of the country’s biggest banks, Qatar Islamic Bank. His father, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, was prime minister of Qatar from 2007 to 2013.

“The bid plans to return the club to its former glories,” the Qatari consortium said in a statement.

“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.”

Billionaire businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the richest man in the UK according to Forbes, has also bid for United. The 70-year-old owner of chemicals company Ineos has a reported net worth of $15.3 billion.

Sheikh Jassim, who was born in 1982, and Ratcliffe both describe themselves as lifelong supporters of the club.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Paris, told AGBI: “Ratcliffe is a post-Brexit poster-boy for ‘Brand Britain’; the Qataris already have significant influence on inward investment into Britain. From this perspective, it’s an intriguing contest.”

Portrait, Head, Person
Sheikh Jassim Al Thani and Sir Jim Ratcliffe are both promising to free the Premier League club from its $600m debt. Pictures: Qatar Islamic Bank; Reuters/Eric Gaillard

Qatar Investment Authority already owns stakes in British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group, supermarket chain J Sainsbury and Barclays Bank. The country, excluding the personal holdings of individual royals, is the 10th largest landowner in the UK.

Qatar Sports Investments, a subsidiary of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and the owner of Paris Saint-Germain, has been linked with another Premier League club. The Times has reported that QSI’s bid for a stake in Tottenham Hotspur could go ahead even if Sheikh Jassim buys Manchester United.

“At one level, this is an acid test of whether post-Brexit Britain truly is open for global business, especially given United’s proximity to one of the government’s showcase freeport zones,” said Chadwick. 

“Yet the deal effectively cedes control of a key industrial asset to a foreign owner. There is also some resistance to further Qatari investment in Britain, both from within government and amongst fans.”

Manchester United has been owned by the American Glazer family since 2005. The family revealed in November that they were keen to find new investors or to sell the club. They are reported to be looking for $6 billion for an outright sale, in a process being led by merchant bank Raine Group.

The Glazers have been heavily criticised for their highly leveraged purchase and their track record as owners. The club was debt-free ahead of their £790 million takeover and now has debt in the region of £500 million ($601 million). It has cost more than £1 billion to service the debt.

Neil Joyce, founder and CEO of data consultancy CLV Group, said the structure of the proposed takeover bids should provide Qatar with an advantage.

“As of now the Qatari bid is the only one with the desire for 100 percent ownership and to wipe out all current debt,” he said.

“Compare this to Sir Jim’s bid, which based upon the information released would also release Manchester United from the current debt, but would be underwritten by Ineos – one would assume shareholders would want some level of dividend to be returned via Manchester United to Ineos to ensure that they would support such investment in the club.” 

He added that Ratcliffe’s proposal “is being supported by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, who again would be expecting some level of debt financing return provision from Ineos”.

There is a third bidder for Manchester United: US-based hedge fund giant Elliott Investment Management. 

“The fund has ruled itself out of a full takeover of the Premier League soccer club, though could both create a stalking horse for the Glazers and/or support a new debt finance deal for them or other parties considering bidding,” said Joyce.

Manchester United made revenues of $739.45 million in 2022, up 23 percent year-on-year, according to the Deloitte Football Money League. This included $332 million from commercial activities, $273 million through the club’s share of broadcasting rights and $135 million from match-day revenues.

United is at No 4 in Deloitte’s latest list, which is topped by local rival Manchester City.

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