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Manchester United Begins Sifting Through Numerous Bids for Club

The English soccer giant received two public offers and several more private proposals to acquire the club from the Glazer family, which has owned it since 2005

Three months after announcing that they were open to selling one of the most prized assets in sports, the Glazer family received a set of preliminary bids for soccer giant Manchester United before a deadline on Friday evening. Though two were made public by the bidders, several more offers poured in for both partial stakes in the club and to acquire the team outright, according to a person familiar with the process.

United itself hasn’t commented on the sale process since the initial deadline on Friday, and the valuations of the bids aren’t known. The multiple offers—including one from the chairman of a Qatar bank and the other from a British billionaire—could put the Glazers in a position to capitalize on a hot market that has recently pushed the valuation of top sports properties to new record highs.

The current record mark belongs to Chelsea, which sold to a group led by American investor Todd Boehly for around $5.3 billion last May. A month later, the North American record fell when a Walmart heir struck a deal to buy the Denver Broncos for $4.65 billion. Manchester United, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, currently has a market value of more than $4 billion.

Manchester United’s advisers, the New York-based Raine Group, are expected to take the next week or so to sift through the proposals and eliminate those that don’t measure up.

The two public bidders are well known to anyone who has followed the roster of wealthy interests still interested in buying sports properties at the new, elevated price levels.

The first came from Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank and the son of the country’s former prime minister. In his proposal, he pledged to wipe out the club’s debt and upgrade United’s aging infrastructure, including the 74,000-seat Old Trafford stadium.

The second was from Jim Ratcliffe, the chairman and founder of the Ineos petrochemical company and Britain’s richest man. A self-confessed lifelong Man United fan, Ratcliffe is already heavily involved in sports through his ownership of the OGC Nice soccer team in the French top tier, FC Lausanne-Sport in Switzerland, and the Ineos Grenadiers cycling team, among other interests. Ratcliffe also made a late, unsuccessful effort to take over Chelsea last spring.

Whether Ratcliffe would be the sole investor is unclear.

Another unusual factor in the bidding process has also emerged in the sale landscape. An American investment group, Elliott Management Corp. has declared itself willing to help anyone in the mix. Elliott, which had previously acquired AC Milan in Italy in 2018, has indicated to prospective bidders that it would consider financing a bid but it has no plans to make its own offer for the team, according to a person familiar with the matter. Elliott isn’t currently aligned with any particular bidder, the person said.

Both public bids so far come with their own sets of issues, stemming mainly from their ties to other European clubs. While Sheikh Jassim’s bid is independent from Qatar’s sovereign-wealth fund, according to a person familiar with the structure, the Premier League would require him to show definitively that there was no overlap in control or influence. The sovereign-wealth fund already owns Paris Saint-Germain—the free-spending team that boasts Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, and Lionel Messi—and governance rules prohibit shared ownership of two clubs in the same competition, such as the pan-European Champions League.

Ratcliffe would face a similar conflict if United and Nice both ended up in the Champions League or second-tier Europa League.

That said, the Premier League has already proven itself to be accommodating when it comes to questions of operational independence for prospective owners. When the league greenlit the sale of Newcastle United to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in 2021, it was only because it received what it called “legally binding assurances” that PIF would run the club without state influence—despite PIF’s chairman being Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The sale process has left Manchester United fans with mixed emotions. While they are unequivocally excited to see the end of the Glazer era, 18 years after the family acquired the club for around $940 million in a massive leveraged buyout, supporters are also concerned about what a new owner might usher in.

“There are questions about sporting integrity given the exceptionally close links between some bidders and the owners of other European clubs including PSG and Nice,” the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust said. “There are also questions about whether any bids will also be based on high levels of debt.”

United fans have been fretting over debt ever since the Glazer takeover, which they protested from Day One. And while the Glazers led the club through domestic and international success in the late 2000s, they have come to be associated with a much longer period of decline through the 2010s. The lowest point of all came in 2021, when United became one of the primary movers behind the doomed European Super League project, which saw a dozen of the game’s most powerful clubs band together to break away from the Champions League and guarantee themselves higher revenues.

United fans erupted in protest and even invaded Old Trafford. The Glazers eventually apologized for their part in the Super League. As it turned out, the project’s failure was a major factor in their decision to sell off the club.

“Owners of football clubs, just as all other supporters, should be giving to their club rather than taking from it for their own benefit,” the supporters’ trust wrote in an open letter to bidders. “The present owners have taken hundreds of millions out over a prolonged period of time, during which the club has been failing. There should be no rewards for failure.”