LONDON: Manchester United’s owners were awaiting fresh bids Thursday from a Qatari banker and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe after a deadline passed for revised offers to buy the Premier League giants.
Reports said bidders were initially told they had until 2100 GMT on Wednesday to submit new offers, but that has now been extended. It is unclear when the new cut-off will be.
Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber AI Thani, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank, and Ratcliffe, the founder of chemicals giant INEOS, remain the front runners should the American Glazer family, who own United, give up control of the club.
Finnish entrepreneur Thomas Zilliacus threw his hat into the ring on Thursday, with a bid he said will give fans the chance to own 50 percent of the club.
“My bid is built on equality with the fans,” Zilliacus, founder and chairman of investment company Mobile FutureWorks, said in a statement.
“My group will finance half of the sum needed to take over the club, and will ask the fans, through a new company that is being set up for this specific purpose, to participate for the other half.”
The Glazers have angered many United supporters by saddling the club with huge debts since they took over in 2005. They appeared ready to cash out at an enormous profit when they invited external investment in November.
However, they could yet shun the option of selling a controlling stake in the club, with other parties understood to be interested in a minority shareholding.
The Times reported US hedge fund Elliott Investment Management, which sold AC Milan for $1.3 billion last year, had made a bid to buy a minority stake.
A first round of bidding took place last month and it has been reported there are as many as eight separate potential investors in the club.
The BBC said several other proposed investors made their submissions by the Wednesday deadline.
No figures have been revealed but one or more of the initial bids was understood to be in the region of £4.5 billion ($5.5 billion).
That would make Manchester United — who have not won the Premier League for a decade — the most expensive sports club in history, although it would be short of the £6 billion valuation reportedly placed on the Old Trafford side by the Glazers.
Sheikh Jassim is bidding for 100 percent control, aiming to return the club to its “former glories.”
A source close to Sheikh Jassim’s bid told AFP he remains confident his bid is “the best for the club, fans and local community.”
Ratcliffe, a boyhood United fan, wants to buy the combined Glazer shareholding of 69 percent of the 20-time English champions.
The 70-year-old told the Wall Street Journal this week he was not interested in paying “stupid prices” for one of football’s most iconic clubs.
Ratcliffe, who already owns French club Nice, said his interest in United would be “purely in winning things,” calling the club a “community asset,” rather than a financial one.
He visited Old Trafford last week along with INEOS representatives, a day after a delegation from Sheikh Jassim’s group toured the club’s stadium and training ground.
A Qatari purchase of United would boost the sporting profile of the Gulf state months after it hosted the 2022 World Cup.
Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City’s fortunes have been transformed since a takeover from Sheikh Mansour, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, in 2008.
In 2021, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund bought a controlling stake in Newcastle.
Amnesty International has called on the Premier League to tighten ownership rules to ensure they are “not an opportunity for more sportswashing.”
If Sheikh Jassim’s bid succeeds, it would also raise the question of whether Qatar is shifting its attentions away from Paris Saint-Germain — currently home to the trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe — who were bought by Qatari investors in 2011.
United, three-time European champions, have not won the Premier League since Alex Ferguson led them to a 20th English title in his final season before retiring in 2013.
But they are enjoying a renaissance under Erik ten Hag’s management this season and ended a six-year trophy drought by lifting the League Cup last month.