Football: Qatar launches bid for Manchester United

Manchester United is said to be the fourt richest soccer club in the world. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON – A member of the Qatari royal family has submitted an offer to acquire Manchester United, formally starting the bidding process for the English football giants.

Jassim bin Hamad bin Jaber Al Thani, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank and son of the country’s former prime minister, confirmed his bid to acquire the Premier League club in an e-mailed statement on Friday.

United are the fourth-richest football club in the world, according to Deloitte, and are widely seen as one of the most prized assets in all of sport.

A deal for the 20-time English champions could represent the biggest takeover of a professional sports club on record, potentially surpassing the US$4.65 billion (S$6.21 billion) paid in 2022 by a group led by Walmart Inc. heir Rob Walton for the Denver Broncos National Football League team.

The Qataris’ opening offer could value United, currently owned by the US Glazer family, at about £5 billion (S$8 billion).

“The bid plans to return the club to its former glories both on and off the pitch, and – above all – will seek to place the fans at the heart of Manchester United Football Club once more,” Sheikh Jassim wrote in the statement.

“The vision of the bid is for Manchester United Football Club to be renowned for footballing excellence, and regarded as the greatest football club in the world.”

The debt-free offer includes investment in the men’s, women’s and youth teams, stadium, training centre and wider infrastructure, and will be made via Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation. The amount of the offer was not disclosed in the statement.

Sky Sports also reported that Sheikh Jassim intends for “all profits to be reinvested in United and the community”.

Initial bids for the club closed at 10pm GMT on Friday (Saturday 6am, Singapore time).

The Qatari offer faces competition from British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, who has already lined up financing from banks JPMorgan Chase & Co and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The Ineos boss had also submitted his proposal, saying that he sees himself and his company being the “long-term custodians of Manchester United”.

The Qatari group includes Sheikh Jassim’s father, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who was head of the Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund as well as prime minister.

Sheikh Jassim, who was previously a Credit Suisse Group AG board member, was educated in Britain at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and is a lifelong United fan.

New York bank Raine Group is advising the Glazers on the sale of the club, whose New York-listed shares have doubled since November as buyout speculation has grown, giving the company a market value of about US$4.3 billion.

The Glazers bought United for £790 million in 2005 as part of a highly-leveraged deal.

The club have said they expect to generate up to £610 million of revenues in their 2023 fiscal year and adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) of up to £140 million.

British and European teams are increasingly attracting interest from investors abroad. That includes the £2.5 billion acquisition of Chelsea by a US group led by Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly.

Buoyed by Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup, Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) has considered bids for United, Tottenham and Liverpool. QSI already owns French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

If successful, Sheikh Jassim’s group might have to persuade Uefa, European football’s governing body, that it is sufficiently independent from QSI for PSG and United to play in the same European competition.

In the Premier League, Manchester City are backed by Abu Dhabi while Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, owns 80 per cent of Newcastle United.

On Thursday, the Daily Telegraph reported that Saudi Arabia has also submitted a bid for United, but there has been little information on its offer.

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