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Qatar ready to increase Manchester United offer amid new strategy to secure takeover

EXCLUSIVE: A Qatari delegation, representing Sheikh Jassim, and Ineos have visited Old Trafford with a view to succeeding the Glazer family

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Tuesday 21 March 2023 16:33 GMT
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Qatar is expected to significantly increase their offer for Manchester United this week, with the big question being whether it will be enough to go beyond INEOS’ valuation of the club, and ultimately match that of the Glazer family.

That also reflects one of the considerations that has weighed over the entire process, which is whether the Gulf state will ultimately just put up the bid that “blows everyone out of the water”.

There has been some surprise that hasn’t been the strategy from the start, given that it would have been very easy for Qatar to go to the Glazers and say they would pay the necessary amount before it all got under way. Some industry figures believe that is down to not playing their hand so early.

Others, somewhat connected to that, believe it is part of a new strategy from the state to illustrate these are proper business investments.

“They will try to pay the right price,” one source says, “but they are adamant they won’t overpay.”

INEOS meanwhile have the money to challenge, but the issue is over what they see as prudent to pay for the club in this financial landscape. Obviously, any sportswashing considerations have a far higher value to Qatar.

That could all make the process go on much longer – and some figures believe Raine want a third round of bids in any case – but it would certainly have to go on much longer for anyone to buy 100 per cent of United.

Within INEOS, there has been frustration about how some of this has been presented. While the line has been peddled that Qatar is trying to buy 100 per cent of the club right now, that is not something that Raine can actually sanction. Anyone wanting the full shares would still have to go to individual shareholders and through the Singaporean stock exchange, in a process that could take months.

Much has similarly been made of how INEOS are only looking to buy the Glazers’s 69 per cent, but the Sir Jim Ratcliffe-led group are seeking to buy 100 per cent of the Class B shares, which would give virtually total control of the club.

One industry view is that going any further would be basically paying an extra billion to avoid a “few extra board meetings”.

A Qatar-backed sale of the Old Trafford club would be met with resistance (Getty Images)

While there is a widespread expectation that Qatar is willing to spend more money, one potential advantage around INEOS is that the deal is seen as “cleaner” to do. That is even before you get to the bigger concerns like sportswashing and the political use of the club, which are expected to grow as any deal gets closer.

Given the furore over Newcastle United, and just how financially uncatchable a Qatar-backed Manchester United could be, it is anticipated that there would be significant resistance to such a takeover from the rest of the Premier League. The view from one influential football figure was that it could “perpetually destroy the division’s competitive balance”.

None of this has yet come up in meetings over the sale, though. Those that took place on Thursday and Friday were more about the Glazers laying out all their operations for prospective buyers, such as the broadcasting deals and football set-up. While sources have been quick to say how “productive” these meetings have been, others have quipped that “it’s impossible for them not to go well – they’re just presentations”.

Raine did organise those meetings at relatively short notice, with just 10 days to prepare, but it was still seen as significant that Prince Jassim – the public face of the Qatari bid – did not appear. Much was made of how Ratcliffe insisted on going.

INEOS also feel there is an advantage in another area. While the Qatar group travelled without any sporting expertise, Ratcliffe brought Jean-Claude Blanc and Sir Dave Brailsford.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe at Old Trafford, the chemicals mogul would be a more popular choice with United fans (PA Wire)

The belief is that the two bids are incomparable in that sense. Qatar currently only really has the nebulous promise of big money and supporter images of Kylian Mbappe signing, but INEOS have given deep consideration to what the sporting structure of United would be.

Figures with knowledge of the bid feel that this is something that has not been given enough play in all of the discussion. The view is that, far from just immediately fulfilling Ratcliffe’s grand ambition and going straight to buy United, his group have steadily built up sporting expertise and understanding through Lausanne and then Nice. They have an awareness of the landscape, and have gone up a level every time.

They know exactly what the football side would look like, and have a number of names in mind for key positions. There is also no fear about debt or finances, since United generate so much money.

“There are different kinds of debt,” one source said. “It would not be like the Glazers. The club is one of the few in the world that is self-sustainable at that level.”

It remains unknown who will run the football side of the Qatari bid. Some sources expect figures who have worked with Qatari Sports Investments, who own Paris Saint-Germain, to be involved.

That is also why other football industry types away from United are preaching some caution, given that the French champions are widely seen as a “circus” whose structure often undercuts the effect of so much over-expenditure – “in a way that should be impossible in the modern game”.

Certainly, the Qatari-run club have shown none of the sophistication of their Gulf Blockade rivals in Abu Dhabi.

Underneath all of the same human rights and sportswashing questions about the Manchester City ownership, not to mention a series of Premier League charges, the general model imposed on the English champions is widely seen by those at the top end of the game as far superior to PSG.

This only makes more pressing the question of how separate this bid is from the Qatari state. While nobody should be under any illusions about its nature, since everything in Qatar goes back to the Emir, there are competing factions underneath that level.

It is just another element in this process, however, where there is a wait for more clarity.

There remain murmurs of a third bidder, but any details about that have yet to transpire. Some industry figures also expect a Saudi Arabian group to come in.

Joel and Avram Glazer would still like to raise money to buy out the rest of the family, but that would raise the next challenge of having to raise money to refurbish Old Trafford and the training ground.

That is essentially why we’re here. After almost 18 years and so much money made out of the club, the Glazers have reached the point where significant investment is required into the stadium at the very least.

Nevertheless talks about minority investment are also ongoing, and repeated sources say they should be given more credence than has been discussed.

That is why they have initiated this process, combined with the general climate, and conversations they had with Raine over how much the club will be sold for.

This week could tell a lot – starting with Qatar’s expected new bid.

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