Qatari investor Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani and INEOS founder Jim Ratcliffe confirmed bids for Manchester United on Friday, the soft deadline set by Raine Group, which was hired in November to explore “strategic alternatives” for the 20-time English champions.
Al Thani and Ratcliffe are the only parties to publicly declare their intent, but several other bids had already been submitted, according to people with direct knowledge of the deal, who were granted anonymity because the details are private.
Al Thani is the chairman of Qatari bank QIB and the son of the country’s former prime minister. Bloomberg reported that the opening bid was expected to be roughly £5 billion ($6 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,” Al Thani 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.”
The “debt-free” declaration is meant to appeal to United supporters who feel burned by the tenure of the Glazer family, which bought the team in 2005 in a leveraged buyout for £790 million (about $1.5 billion at the time). The club was debt-free before the sale, but the team’s balance sheet was saddled with more than $1 billion in long-term debt shortly after the Glazers’ arrival. Fans lamented the high debt payments that hindered transfer spending, as well as the dividends paid to the Glazers.
Ratcliffe’s statement made its own appeal as an alternative bid to the Qataris, with a nod to English football fans who want local ownership after the influx of Russian oligarchs and oil-rich nation-states. The 70-year-old Ratcliffe is the majority owner of London-based chemical giant INEOS and the UK’s richest person with a worth of $15.3 billion, per Forbes. He is a lifelong United fan.
“We would see our role as the long-term custodians of Manchester United on behalf of the fans and the wider community. We are ambitious and highly competitive and would want to invest in Manchester United to make them the number one club in the world once again,” INESOS said in a statement. “We also recognise that football governance in this country is at a crossroads. We would want to help lead this next chapter, deepening the culture of English football by making the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership.”
INEOS bought Swiss first-division soccer club FC Lausanne-Sport in 2017 and OGC Nice, of France’s Ligue 1, in 2019. It has also been the principal partner of the Mercedes-AMG Formula One team since 2020.
Raine is now expected to present the current bids to the Glazer family. Last month, Sportico valued Manchester United at $5.95 billion—26% ahead of second-ranked Liverpool ($4.71 billion)—in our Premier League team valuations. The record sale price for a sports franchise was the $4.65 billion Rob Walton paid for the Denver Broncos last year.
Manchester United’s stock jumped 10% on Thursday as reports of the Qatari bid surfaced, and it has more than doubled since November. On Friday, shares fell 2% but ticked back up in after-hours trading. The current enterprise value of the club, including net debt, is $5.2 billion.