The Qatari group led by Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad J.J. Al Thani has withdrawn its bid to buy Manchester United, people familiar said, paving the way for British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe to eventually gain control of the storied football club.
The Qataris had offered more than £5 billion ($6,1 billion) for the team, compared to its current market value of $3.3 billion. The offer wasn’t enough to satisfy the demands of the club’s owners, the Glazer family, people familiar with their thinking said, who asked not to be named discussing private information.
The near-yearlong bidding process has been beset with delays, with offers failing to meet the £6 billion expectation of the Glazer family, splits among the owners about whether to sell and at what price, and fears of litigation from minority shareholders.
Bloomberg reported this week that Ratcliffe had emerged as the front-runner to buy into Manchester United, with the British billionaire’s recently revised offer giving him the edge over the Qataris.
Under terms being discussed, Ratcliffe could make an offer for some of the shares held by both the Glazers and minority investors in Manchester United, the people said. Ratcliffe may end up with an initial stake of roughly 25% in Manchester United in a deal that could value the club at more than £5 billion ($6.1 billion), they said.
Ratcliffe would then slowly increase his ownership of the club at steadily higher valuations, one person said.
Any offer from Ratcliffe could still risk opposition from minority shareholders.
“I will oppose anything that gives the majority Glazers a materially better deal than minority investors,” said Ricky Sandler, founder of hedge fund Eminence Capital. “That is for sure.”
Eminence, founded by Sandler in 1999, manages about $7 billion of investments, and is the third largest shareholder of Manchester United’s listed shares, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The Manchester United board is set to meet in the coming days. However, discussions are still ongoing, and the Glazers could decide to keep the club, strike a deal with Ratcliffe or institutional investors, or a combination of the above.
Any agreement would bring an end to the long-running battle for one of sport’s biggest prizes. Manchester United competes in the English Premier League and its rich history and sprawling global fan base mean it’s long been coveted by investors looking for a foothold in the world’s richest football league.
Ratcliffe’s proposal could give certain members of the Glazer family, including Joel and Avram Glazer, a chance to remain invested — at least in the short term. That would likely infuriate some supporters of Manchester United, who have blamed its US owners for presiding over years of under-performance on the pitch and want them out of the club.
“We have always been neutral between Jassim and Ratcliffe,” said Chris Rumfitt, head of Manchester United Supporters Trust. “But if the Ratcliffe deal maintained the Glazers’ ultimately in charge I think that is something fans would be very hostile to.”
The decision from the Qatar camp comes about 10 months after an interview by Bloomberg with Sheik Jassim’s father, former Qatar prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
Sheikh Hamad, 64, said he isn’t a fan of football and wasn’t initially in favor of his country sponsoring the World Cup.
The sale of Manchester United is being handled by bankers at US-based advisory firm Raine Group LLC. Representatives for Raine could not be immediately reached for comment. Spokespeople for Ratcliffe and Manchester United declined to comment.
Ratcliffe put forward an initial proposal earlier this year to acquire 69% of shares in Manchester United owned by the Glazers. That left little benefit for holders of the club’s remaining stock. A top-three shareholder in Manchester United previously sent a letter to the club’s board warning that independent directors could be at risk of being sued for recommending any bid that favors one set of shareholders over another.
Manchester United is one of England’s most successful football clubs, boasting a record 13 Premier League titles. But its dominance of English football has shifted in recent years to crosstown rival Manchester City FC, which has won multiple honors since being taken over by Abu Dhabi investors in 2008.