Takeover offers for Manchester United are due to be tabled within the next 10 days, with the Glazer family still open to a potential deal that could be completed by April. As candidates prepare to declare their hands, Telegraph Sport details exactly what the potential sellers want – and who is willing to meet those demands.
How much do the Glazers really want for an outright sale?
Potential investors say an offer beyond £5 billion would be entertained – but a final price will become clearer this month as it is identified exactly who is bidding. The involvement of a Middle East sovereign wealth fund, for instance, would have a significant impact on the ceiling for a deal.
Some investors to express early interest were said to have pushed back on that price, pointing out Premier League rivals Chelsea sold last summer for £2.5 billion. However, others have since come to the market and there is belief that a £5 billion-plus price tag is achievable.
While brothers Joel and Avram Glazers are in overall charge at United, a sale would have to be agreed by all the siblings with stakes in the club and there have been notable differences of opinions within the family. There will be little opportunity to low-ball with full takeover offers under £5 billion. A top price is required to lessen any chance of disputes over whether to vote the deal through.
Only Sir Jim Ratcliffe has publicly declared formal interest – who else is in the running?
US bidders – including some of those who inquired about Chelsea – and a mystery Arabic investment group are seen as leading the running. As detailed by Telegraph Sport last month, candidates in America, the Middle East and even Asia have privately expressed formal interest.
Suggestions that Dubai is interested have been dismissed by insiders who point out the nation has been propped up by funds from Abu Dhabi, which owns Manchester City.
Instead, industry specialists point to Middle East countries where investment interest in football is fiercest – Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. State ownerships of Paris St-Germain and Newcastle United complicate matters, but there is growing appetite in Doha for a seat at the top table in the Premier League. Of those two nations, the involvement of a Qatar-linked investment group would be more palatable to a beefed up directors and owners’ testing system.
Can Qatar own two different clubs?
The Qatar Sports Investment group, which owns PSG, is actively exploring potential additional investment in the Premier League. However, given Uefa regulations against owning two potential Champions League rivals, sources play down the prospect of QSI launching an outright takeover attempt any time soon. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the most senior sporting powerbroker in Qatar, instead met up with Tottenham Hotspur’s Daniel Levy last month to test his interest.
However, other senior figures maintain a potential United deal involving Qatari investors should not be ruled out.
The Qatar Investment Authority is a sovereign fund worth £360 billion and its chief executive, Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, was asked by an American broadcaster about United investment last month. “Football clubs and the sport [in general] is becoming very commercialised,” he said during his trip to Davos. “At the same time, digitalisation is becoming very important for us… so the business models of these institutions are becoming very investment friendly.”
How about the Americans?
Much of the frenzy to buy Chelsea was in America last spring, and interest in Premier League investment remains red hot in the US. There is known to have been fresh approaches from groups who missed out to Todd Boehly and Clearlake in the race to buy Chelsea last year.
It is understood that the Ricketts family - whose consortium was one of the final four shortlisted Chelsea bids - will not be among the bidders for United, though. The Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs baseball team, had partnered with US billionaires Ken Griffin and Dan Gilbert but ended up withdrawing from the process.
Telegraph Sport understands "several" US financier-led consortiums have privately provided assurances that they will bid. However, given commitments to secrecy as part of the bidding process, few are willing to be named.
Where does that leave Ratcliffe?
The British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who owns the petrochemical giant Ineos, announced he had joined the process within an hour of formal talks with dealmakers for the first time.
Like the other parties involved, he has now signed forms committing to secrecy under a non-disclosure agreement. He is among many others who have reached that preliminary stage – but Ratcliffe knows he is the candidate who will be the easiest political sell as a lifelong United fan and Oldham boy.
Ratcliffe has amassed a £6.33 billion personal fortune, but United will be uncertain of whether he is willing to meet the Glazers’ asking price, having initially walked away from talks with Chelsea last year.
What price will he put on United? “Ratcliffe is never going to blow himself up to do it,” said one expert with close dealings with Ineos.
When could a takeover go through?
Senior figures have been pushing for interested parties to table formal offers by mid-February, with the end of next week pencilled in as a potentially ideal date. The timescale allows for the club to stick with its instructions to have a deal completed before the end of the current season.
With that in mind, different prices depending on Champions League qualification could be factored in. Formal bids will be taken for total buyouts as well as minority stakes.
New York-based investment bank the Raine Group, which declined to comment when contacted by Telegraph Sport, remains the first port of call for interested parties. Richard Arnold, the Manchester United chief executive, said recently that any new investors in the club will be urged to work closely with fans and expressed hope that a potential full or partial sale would prove a “positive” step forward. There appears still to be flexibility around deadlines, but the club aims to complete a deal within the first quarter or by the end of April.