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Manchester United owners mull selling Premier League icon

Qatar Manchester United Reuters/Phil Noble
Qatar’s Sheikh had promised to invest more than $1.7bn to finance new stadium plans, new training centre facilities and buy players

Manchester United’s US owners have begun looking at options for the 20-times English soccer champions, including a potential sale or new investment in stadium and infrastructure redevelopment.

“As we seek to continue building on the club’s history of success, the board has authorised a thorough evaluation of strategic alternatives,” said Avram and Joel Glazer in a statement.

“We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximises the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future.”

The Premier League’s sale is likely to attract high-profile investors.

Interested bidders include British chemicals billionaire and long-time United fan Jim Ratcliffe, according to the Telegraph Sport. Elon Musk had also joked earlier this year about planning to buy the club.

The Financial Times also cited sources who said that David Beckham, who spent over a decade at the club and is currently star of Qatar Tourism’s latest marketing campaign, could be open to holding talks with potential bidders.

Other interested parties could include Asian tycoons, especially those from China, whose recent purchases include Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers and Italy’s Inter Milan.

Manchester United is the latest Premier League club to be put up for potential sale. Earlier this month Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group announced that it was exploring a sale of the club.

In May Chelsea Football Club was sold to an investment group led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital for $3.2 billion, and last October Newcastle United was sold to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund bought for £300 million ($335m). Abu Dhabi United Group has owned United’s arch rival Manchester City since 2008.

United could be sold for close to £7 billion ($8.44 billion), the Financial Times said, citing a banker close to the process, who added a bidding war could send it higher.

The company was worth $2.5 billion at the close of US trading on Tuesday. But at $17.76, the shares are not much higher than their 2012 IPO price of $14.

The Glazers, who also own the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Bucccaneers, bought Manchester United for £790 million ($939.07 million) in 2005 in a highly leveraged deal that has been criticised for loading debt onto the club. They sold 10 percent of their holding via the 2012 US listing and have sold more shares since.

Manchester United fans have been clamouring for a change of ownership and the Glazers have been the target of intense criticism as the team, which has a record 13 English Premier League titles, have gone five years without winning a trophy.

News of the potential sale follows the club’s announcement on Tuesday that star striker Cristiano Ronaldo would leave with immediate effect, marking a bitter end to the Portugal captain’s second spell at Old Trafford after he said he felt betrayed by the club.

The Telegraph reported rumours that Ronaldo may receive a lucrative offer to play in Saudi Arabia’s Pro League and could be used as the face of the kingdom’s bid to host the World Cup in 2030 with Egypt and Greece.