Chinese investor eyeing United stake

LONDON • A mystery Chinese investor is attempting to buy a stake in Manchester United, amid mounting rumours of a split in the Glazer family over ownership of the club.

Intermediaries claiming to act for an unnamed Chinese billionaire have made approaches to some of the club's biggest independent shareholders to gauge their interest in selling.

The talks have not yet resulted in formal discussions to sell a block of shares, sources said, but a confluence of forces suggests it is only a matter of time before a sizeable stake changes hands.

The Glazer family owns about 80 per cent of the economic interests in the club.

But the six children of the late Malcolm Glazer, who bought the club for £790 million (S$1.4 billion) in 2005, hold opposing views on whether to sell their shares.

Sources close to the family said there was no prospect of the club being sold in its entirety.

United is considered a trophy asset by Joel and Avram Glazer, who serve as co-chairmen. Their brother Bryan is also said to be keen to keep his stake. But Edward, Kevin and Darcie are said to be interested in selling.

One source said about 8 per cent of the club was being offered for sale last week by an American broker. The underlying owner of the stake was unclear.

Football clubs continue to be attractive trophy assets for billionaires around the world - despite ballooning prices. Chinese buyers have acquired a host of English clubs in recent years.

Last year, the entrepreneur Lai Guochuan bought West Bromwich Albion, while Aston Villa was acquired by Tony Xia.

The conglomerate Fosun snapped up Wolves for £45 million last year and investment company Lander Holdings is in talks to buy Southampton. A China-backed consortium has also been linked with a move for Liverpool.

Although Beijing has imposed strict controls on the flow of capital leaving the country, dampening expectations of further large-scale investments, China experts say many of the country's top entrepreneurs have enough cash stashed internationally to continue doing deals.

In June, United was hailed the world's most valuable football club by Forbes magazine, with reported revenues of £513.6 million last year, and record operating profits of £68.9 million.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese investor eyeing United stake'. Print Edition | Subscribe