Last week, Manchester United opened its doors for potential buyers to check out senior officials from the club’s hierarchy.
It is the most significant public development since the Glazers announced the club was for sale in November.
Boots added to the ground of seriousness in the negotiations and the parties now have until the end of the game on Wednesday (5pm on the east coast; 9pm in the UK) to submit another bid.
First to visit Old Trafford on Thursday was a delegation representing Qatari royal Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani. The party included Shahzad Shahbaz, president of Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation, and Fady Bakhos, his most senior personal adviser.
Bakhos is very close to Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, better known as HBJ, the former prime minister and Sheikh Jassim’s father.
Next through the door on Friday was Sir Jim Ratcliffe, owner and founder of petrochemicals giant INEOS. He was joined by senior officials from his firm, including Sir David Brailsford, the former British Cycling executive who is now INEOS director of sport; INEOS co-owners Andy Currie and John Reece; INEOS Sport chair Rob Nevin and chief executive Jean Claude Blanc.
So, with another deadline fast approaching, what’s the state of play regarding a Manchester United sale?
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Who are the main bidders?
Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe are the two most public and high-profile bidders for United.
The Qatari royal, who is the son of a former prime minister and the chairman of Qatari bank QIB, said he was a lifelong Manchester United fan.
Ratcliffe is one of Britain’s richest individuals and grew up about seven miles north east of United’s Old Trafford stadium. In the 2018 edition of The Sunday Times ‘Rich List’, his wealth was estimated at £21.05billion ($25.4bn).
Are their initial bids the same?
They are — but neither is thought to exceed £5billion and the two bids are for different stakes.
Sheikh Jassim wants to complete a full takeover of United, meaning he will buy 69 percent of the Glazer family and then buy the remaining 31 percent, which is made up of smaller investors.
The Qatari has made several commitments to invest in specific areas of the club without loading United with debt after an all-money buyout.
Ratcliffe, however, is bidding for 69 per cent of the Glazers and, at this stage, is not offering to buy out the remaining shareholders.
He would need to borrow money to finance any takeover and INEOS is not committed to paying off the club’s debt, which stands at £656million, although those close to his bid have offered assurances that no new debt will be placed on the club .
How did the United bidders meetings go?
It was the “second phase” when bidders had a chance to look deeper into the books and ask questions of United officials.
Sheikh Jassim’s delegation spent 10 hours at the club, going through the accounts line by line and looking at the expected predictions. The tight meeting lasted until 7:30 in the evening.
Sheikh Jassim was absent and instead bankers and lawyers were there on his behalf.
Ratcliffe was met outside the stadium by Richard Arnold, United’s chief executive.
As INEOS already owns the football club — French side Nice — Ratcliffe’s camp went into the meetings with a good knowledge of United and the sports business in general, so there was no need to go through how deals work. on broadcast, player contracts and so on.
After they finished at Old Trafford, the INEOS delegation headed to Carrington, the club’s training ground, for further meetings.
Erik ten Hag, United’s first-team manager, happened to be in the building when Ratcliffe was there.
“I just met them, we shook hands but I was focused on the game,” said Ten Hag. “Others in the club are contacting potential investors.”
Ahead of United’s FA Cup win over Fulham on Sunday, the pre-match press conference was moved from the Jimmy Murphy Center to the main building at Carrington as the usual press facilities are being used for takeover meetings.
John Murtough, the club’s director of football, was part of the group presenting Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe. Collette Roche, the chief operating officer, and Cliff Baty, the chief financial officer, were also involved in the talks.
The Glazer family initially kept United’s hierarchy out of the loop but, as the process continued to evolve, there was a need for senior officials to get involved.
Is anyone else running?
So far, we know that Elliott Investment Management, the US hedge fund, has contacted Raine, the bank handling the sale for the Glazer family. Elliott has offered to help finance any acquisition and has indicated it would provide financing to the Glazers if a sale does not materialize.
For example, Joel and Avram Glazer could look to buy out their other siblings (Kevin, Bryan, Darcie and Edward), although that borrowing would likely be used against the club as opposed to the two individuals.
Other investment groups similar to Elliott – including Ares Management, which declined to comment on its involvement in a recent event – are also thought to be offering their capital to potential bidders and the Glazer family.
Will Raine still hope for any bid?
Absolutely. Competitive tension is driving up prices, which is why the Glazers have appointed the merchant bank to facilitate a potential sale. That is, at least publicly, yet to happen.
Although Raine is chaired by Joe Ravitch, Colin Neville is leading the process for the bank and is pictured in Manchester with the Qatari delegation.
What is the next significant date in the process?
Bidders will have until the end of the game on Wednesday to submit their next offers, and the two main parties have continued to insist they will not overpay for United.
It remains to be seen if their bids will be an improvement of what they submitted the first time around.
In the same way, the Glazers have set a price and if that is not met, then they will not feel any further pressure to sell the club.
(Top image: Getty Images)