A son of Qatar’s former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, one of the Gulf state’s richest men, has submitted an offer for Manchester United, as bidding gets under way for the Premier League club.
The son, Sheikh Jassim, confirmed his bid for one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious football clubs in a statement to the Financial Times.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, billionaire founder of UK chemicals group Ineos, has also made an offer to buy the club, according to a person familiar with the process. Ratcliffe has hired JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs to be advisers and plans to position himself as the British alternative now that one of the UK’s most famous cultural assets is preparing to change hands.
A takeover of United is likely to break the record price paid for a sports team set by the Denver Broncos American football side last year. Billionaire Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart retail fortune, acquired the NFL franchise for $4.6bn.
Sheikh Hamad, known as HBJ, is a billionaire and was one of Qatar’s most powerful figures in the 1990s and 2000s, serving as prime minister and foreign minister.
As Qatar used its gas riches to snap up trophy assets in the 2000s, he headed the Qatar Investment Authority and was the face of a UK spending spree that took Doha stakes in London’s Shard skyscraper, Chelsea Barracks, Canary Wharf, London Stock Exchange and the Berkeley and Connaught hotels.
However, HBJ’s influence waned when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani surprised the Gulf by stepping down as emir and handing power to his son, Sheikh Tamim, the current ruler, in 2013.
HBJ was swiftly replaced as prime minister and head of the QIA, the sovereign wealth fund. However, he oversees a huge personal fortune and has continued to be an active investor. Forbes magazine estimates he has a net worth of $1.3bn.
The Qatari bid is for full possession of the club, which is owned by the Glazer family, the American sport investors. It will be debt free and transacted through a foundation set up by Sheikh Jassim.
While Ratcliffe will struggle to match the financial firepower of the Qatari offer, he has sought to emphasise his local roots, promising a “progressive, fan-centred” approach to ownership, said a person close to the bid.
Ratcliffe also touted a “British bid” when he tried to gate-crash the bidding for Chelsea FC last year, although the last-minute nature of the offer raised doubts over his seriousness.
Merchant bank Raine Group is leading the sale, having picked up the mandate after conducting the £2.5bn auction of Chelsea. Raine did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Confirmation of the two bids comes on the day of the first deadline in the takeover process.
“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,” a statement from a spokesperson representing Sheikh Jassim said. United have not won the Premier League since 2013 when legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired after winning his final title.
“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.”
Qatar has invested billions of dollars in sport over the past two decades to project its image on the global stage, and last year it successfully hosted the Arab world’s first football World Cup.
In 2011, Qatar Sports Investments, a state-controlled vehicle, acquired French club Paris Saint-Germain.
Speculation has been rife that either the QSI or QIA were interested in buying a stake in Manchester United. But any majority bids would have been complicated by rules under Uefa, European football’s governing body, which prevent any entity controlling two clubs competing in the same competitions.
A person familiar with the Manchester United discussions said no government-related entity, including QIA and QSI, was bidding for United. Neither was the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, or his close relatives.
The QIA had discussions with United and Liverpool months ago about a possible minority stake, but decided that it did not make financial sense, the person said.
The Glazer family has owned the Red Devils, who are 20-time English league champions, since 2005, when their £790mn leveraged buyout damaged relations with the club’s fan base from the start. The Glazers confirmed they were considering a sale as part of a wider strategic review announced in November last year.
The auction is seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to acquire one of the biggest sport brands in the world and take a seat in the small club of owners in the Premier League, the world’s top football division by revenues.
The New York-listed club’s shares have soared to record highs above $26.50 this week, valuing the company at about $4.4bn by market capitalisation. The stock traded at roughly $13 before the Glazers revealed in November that they were considering a sale.
A spokesperson for the Qatari bid declined to comment on its value.