Football: Saudi Arabia enters race for Manchester United – Telegraph

Qatari Royals are readying an opening bid of roughly 5 billion pounds (S$8 billion) for the club, according to a report by Bloomberg News on Thursday, citing people with knowledge of the matter. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON – Saudi Arabia has joined the race to buy Manchester United ahead of Friday’s nominal deadline, according to a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, raising the stakes in what could be the most lucrative deal in the sport’s history.

The American Glazer family, who completed their takeover of the 20-time English champions in 2005, announced in November that they were open to a sale or investment.

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos company officially joined the race to buy the club in January – the only bidder to publicly declare an interest so far.

There have, however, been numerous suggestions of a possible Qatar bid, with The Guardian reporting that the state’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, is expected to put in a £5 billion (S$8.03 billion) offer.

Suitors have been asked to submit a bid amount and proof of funds by Friday, sources said. Raine Group, the investment bank running the process, will then draw up a shortlist.

It remains to be seen if there will be information released on Saturday regarding the serious bidders – expected to be close to five, including Ratcliffe, the Qataris and the Saudis.

There had been talk of American investors, Twitter owner and Tesla boss Elon Musk was also mentioned – although unlikely – and even buyers from China and Singapore.

The Glazers had signalled they were open to both minority investment and a full takeover but the latter now appears to be their preferred option.

Sky Sports reported that the sale could be done by April.

United had previously partnered Saudi Telecom, the country’s biggest telecommunications company.

The Telegraph reported sources close to the country’s £515 billion Public Investment Fund (PIF) had played down the likelihood of a state-backed bid, given their existing involvement at rival Premier League club Newcastle United.

This means that if the Saudis were to make a bid, they could be private investors.

According to reports, the Glazers are seeking £6 billion for the three-time European champions, which would smash the record fee for a football club set by Chelsea in 2022.

A consortium led by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and private equity firm Clearlake Capital paid £2.5 billion for the Blues with a further £1.75 billion promised in further investment in infrastructure and players.

Any Saudi investment at United would prompt outrage from human rights groups, which have spoken out against the Gulf state following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A Qatari takeover would be opposed on similar grounds, with Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s economic affairs director, saying it is “a continuation of this state-backed sportswashing project”.

A successful Qatari bid would raise sporting questions as well, given the country also controls one of United’s European rivals, Paris Saint-Germain.

But a source with knowledge of the bid said the bidders are not connected to the owners of PSG.

United fan Ratcliffe has sought out Wall Street giants JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs Group to help finance and advise him on his bid. But there is a possibility he may not be able to compete with the riches from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

United have not won the Premier League since 2013 and have failed to win any silverware since 2017.

They are third in the Premier League this season after an improvement in form under manager Erik ten Hag, who took over in the summer. AFP, REUTERS

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