Bidders for Manchester United expect Friday 10pm to be a hard deadline on final offers, with the Glazers next deciding which they will go with – if any at all.
The big question going into the last day of the process is what any Qatari bid will look like. Will it “blow everyone out of the water”, as was once the main expectation, or will it just further the growing optimism around the Ineos proposal?
Many involved figures did sense a shift in tone in the last two weeks, after a period of relative silence since the second deadline. The process went from a situation where it was seen as an inevitability that Qatar would eventually outbid everyone, to one where the Glazers were most strongly considering minority investment, and now - right at the end - a new confidence about Sir Jim Ratcliffe. The British billionaire has been “exploring all options”, including offering Avram and Joel Glazer a 20 per cent stake.
It has been stressed, however, that the Ratcliffe bid has always been “about control” even if it is not 100 per cent. The strategy could yet prove persuasive.
Many industry figures have been impressed with the willingness of Ineos to be “creative”, although opinions are mixed on whether it can emerge as the preferred bid. Those opinions nevertheless correspond to constant murmurs that Ratcliffe may actually have outbid the Sheikh Jassim-led bid in the second round. That is again speculation, but it is certainly true that Raine did not get back to any bidders and say they had to seriously up their offer because they were way off Qatar. This is what many expected with the Sheikh Jassim bid.
It has led to a certain dismissiveness from some quarters about the Qatari bid now. This has also played into confidence around Ratcliffe. Such thinking might be a mistake, though, given that there was a similar dismissiveness about even the possibility of any Qatar bid at all before the February bid. It was then disregarded as noise, only to cause the biggest headlines of all.
It is still possible that, having tested the landscape and gone to the end of this process, the Jassim bid now puts in their “real” offer. It’s just that would mark an abrupt change in strategy from everything we've seen so far. There hasn't yet been evidence of the outlandishness that has gone hand in hand with breathless briefings about who they would sign.
Some sources have derided this as "the easiest PR in the world, that too easily dazzles people". It could yet prove true, though, even if such a change in strategy would also bring an abrupt change in discussion.
If United are to be the third Premier League club owned by a state or a state-linked group, there would be resistance from the rest of the clubs as well as human rights groups. The story would move onto a whole other stage. Many Premier League club executives have been discussing this privately, as the view grows that state ownership represents an existential threat.
Ineos have been stressing their bid can be much “cleaner” in that regard, even allowing for the fact it would not be an outright sale.
Whatever happens, the uncertainty around the club is reflected in their basic planning.
Erik ten Hag doesn’t really know what budget he has for the summer, and United have to plan for a few situations. The Dutch coach has sought assurances regarding a No.9, a centre-half and a ball-playing goalkeeper. The priority position of the striker sums it up. Even if United are sold to Ratcliffe, let alone Qatar, they should have the funds to go for someone like Napoli’s Victor Osimhen as well as other targets. If not, Atalanta’s Rasmus Hojlund is seen as an option. Ten Hag meanwhile admires Southampton’s Romeo Lavia as a potential long-term successor to Casemiro.
What that future exactly looks like will greatly depend on Friday night.
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