Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of one of Qatar’s biggest banks, has confirmed his foundation will bid to buy Manchester United.
BBC Sport understands that Ineos, owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, also officially made a bid before Friday’s 22:00 GMT ‘soft deadline’ for proposals.
Billionaire Ratcliffe had already stated his interest in buying United.
The Glazer family, who bought United in 2005, are considering selling as they “explore strategic alternatives”.
Sheikh Jassim’s Qatari consortium said: “The bid plans to return the club to its former glories.
“The bid will be completely debt free via Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation, which will look to invest in the football teams, the training centre, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports.
“The vision of the bid is for Manchester United to be renowned for footballing excellence, and regarded as the greatest football club in the world.”
Ineos has yet to release a statement, but it is understood the proposal will emphasise that Manchester-born Ratcliffe would be “a British custodian for the club” and would aim to “put the Manchester back into Manchester United”.
The Ineos group, owned by 70-year-old British billionaire Ratcliffe, has a history of investment in sport and owns French Ligue 1 club Nice and Swiss club Lausanne.
Its sporting portfolio also includes high-profile sailing team Ineos Britannia – led by Sir Ben Ainslie – which is aiming to win the 2024 America’s Cup for Great Britain.
Ineos also has a five-year partnership with Formula 1 team Mercedes and took over the British-based Team Sky in cycling in 2019.
Described as a life-long Manchester United fan, Sheikh Jassim is chairman of Qatari bank QIB and the son of a former prime minister of Qatar.
His consortium did not provide any details on the amount they proposed to purchase the club for.
There are also expected to be at least two offers for United from the United States, while there have been suggestions of interest from Saudi Arabia.
That means there could be up to five parties trying to negotiate a full sale, with others looking to make a smaller investment in return for a partial stake in the 20-time English league champions.
Paris St-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi is set to be a key figure in any Qatari ownership bid, even if he could have no direct involvement in the club.
Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), headed by Al-Khelaifi, had been looking at the potential for taking a smaller stake in a Premier League club.
However, because of Uefa rules that prevent prevent multi-club ownership, any Qatari bid to buy United in its entirety would have to come through private individuals or a different organisation.
The prospect of Qatari investment in a Premier League club – and two major European teams being owned by the Gulf country – has raised concerns among human rights and LGBTQ+ groups.
Discussion around dual ownership of football clubs and a potential conflict of interest between a potential Qatari purchase of Manchester United and their current ownership of PSG is being met quizzically in the Gulf state.
They estimate half of the clubs in the Premier League are involved in dual ownership of one type or another.
Manchester City’s presence in the City Football Group is one example. West Ham part-owner Daniel Kretinsky is also president of Sparta Prague who, like the Hammers, were in the Europa League last season.
They also note Ratcliffe’s intention to buy United and there is no sign of him relinquishing control at French club Nice, who are four points off a European qualification slot.
In addition, RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg have already been cleared by Uefa to enter the same European competitions.
Given PSG chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi is also chairman of the European Clubs’ Association, which has been working increasingly closely with Uefa, it is fair to assume any potential problem areas have been ironed out.
Nevertheless, sources are insistent this bid is totally separate from the ownership of PSG. It is also being stressed the bid is indicative. The data made available in United’s ‘data room’ has been disappointing, according to sources.
Now the full detail around the financial state of the Old Trafford club has to be made available.
It is being regarded as the start of the process rather than the end but, with plans also in place to invest in the wider Trafford area, Sheikh Jassim is serious in his desire to take the club out of the Glazer family’s control for the first time since 2005.
He is a United fan, who has been to games. He had the opportunity to get involved in the bidding for Chelsea – which sold for £4.25bn last year – but didn’t. He views this as an opportunity he couldn’t resist.
Concerns over Qatari involvement
Human rights group Fair Square wrote to Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin on Thursday, copying in Premier League chief Richard Masters, “to highlight several issues of serious concern” after reports that “entities linked to the Qatari government are proposing a bid that would enable them to take a controlling stake in Manchester United”.
The letter continues: “In line with Uefa’s rules aimed at protecting the integrity of its competitions, we would urge Uefa to outline a clear public position prohibiting any takeover of this nature.
“No consortium of Qatari investors capable of such an acquisition would be able to convincingly demonstrate their independence from the Qatari state.”
Manchester United LGBTQ+ fan group Rainbow Devils said on Friday: “Rainbow Devils believe any bidder which seeks to buy Manchester United must commit to making football a sport for everyone, including LGBTQ+ supporters, players and staff.
“We therefore have deep concern over some of the bids that are being made. We are watching the current process closely with this in mind.”
A precedent for the Premier League would be the Saudi Arabian-backed £305m takeover of Newcastle United in 2021, which was only completed once the league received “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the club.
Uefa has declined to comment but recently expressed concern about the potential “material threat” of multi-club ownership to the integrity of club competitions.
However, in 2017 Uefa did allow RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig to play in the Champions League, despite both clubs being closely associated with drinks giant Red Bull.
How much would United cost?
Last year Chelsea were sold for £4.25bn to a consortium led by American investor Todd Boehly and football finance expert Kieran Maguire believes United would be worth in the region of £5bn.
“We have seen United’s share price more than double over the course of the last few months since the Glazers made the announcement,” Maguire told BBC News.
“Presently the shares are valued at about £3.8bn, you add on the debts and we’re probably coming to four-and-a-half. You need to persuade people to sell, so I think the asking price if you ask the Glazers it will be seven or eight billion. But I think the offers are more likely to be in the region of five or just over five.
“Manchester United claim to have 1.1bn fans around the world and yet if you work out their revenues it comes to 500 million, so they are affectively getting 50p per fan per year.
“You have only got to double that, if you can make it £1 per fan per year, all of a sudden Man Utd become a billion pound a year business, so long as you keep control of costs.
“By costs we really mean player wages, then United go from a business that is broadly breaking even into one which is making spectacular profits and large returns for investors.”
What happens now?
Neither the the US-based Raine Group, which has been put in charge of finding new owners or investors, nor Manchester United are likely to make a formal statement once the deadline is passed.
It will be for the Glazer family to decide whether to proceed with a full sale. Co-chairmen Joel and Avi Glazer have always been viewed as the members of the family most interested in retaining some interest.
The initial aim had been to conclude a deal by the end of March, but confidence has been strong from the outset that it would certainly be done by the end of the season.
No United official has spoken about the process publicly but precedence dictates chief executive Richard Arnold will take questions from investors when the club announces its second quarter results at some point next month.