MANCHESTER, England (AP) — A Qatar-based bid for Manchester United was confirmed Friday, with Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani promising to rid the iconic soccer club of debt and return it to its former glories.
Sheikh Jassim, chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank, has submitted a 100% offer to buy out current owners, the Glazer family. He is the son of a former prime minister.
“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 center, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports,” a statement said.
“The vision of the bid is for Manchester United Football Club to be renowned for footballing excellence, and regarded as the greatest football club in the world.”
It did not mention what the bid would be.
While plans to invest in the Premier League team and redevelop Old Trafford will be well received by fans, there is likely to also be opposition after Qatar was heavily criticized for its treatment of migrant workers and human rights record ahead of hosting last year’s World Cup.
Prior to the Qatari announcement and with rumors of a potential rival bid from Saudi Arabia still circulating, Manchester United’s LGBTQ supporters’ group the Rainbow Devils raised “deep concern” regarding interest from countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized.
“Rainbow Devils believe any bidder seeking to buy Manchester United must commit to making football a sport for everyone, including LGBTQ+ supporters, players and staff,” the group said on Twitter. “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.”
Friday was the final day for serious contenders to step forward in the race to buy United, with the deadline expiring at 2200 GMT.
After months of speculation and soaring share prices, initial offers had to be presented to merchant bank Raine Group, which is handling the sale of one of the most famous soccer teams in the world.
By the end of the day, the Glazers might have an idea of how much they can expect to make on the club they bought for about $1.4 billion in 2005.
The price is now estimated to reach as high as $6 billion, with reported interest from Saudi Arabia seeing its value rise sharply as the deadline for bids approached.
While Friday was described as a soft deadline, Raine and the Glazers will have a clearer picture of potential buyers before moving on to the next stage of the process. The announcement from Sheikh Jassim comes after growing speculation about interest from the gas and oil rich Qatar.
It could be difficult to prove Sheikh Jassim’s investment vehicle is entirely separate from state-backed interests that fund Qatar Sports Investments at PSG.
The sale of Manchester United is set to test European rules designed to protect soccer from the integrity risks of owners controlling multiple clubs.
Previously only British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of petrochemicals giant INEOS, had publicly confirmed his intention to bid for the club he has supported from childhood. BBC Sport said it understood that Ineos had made a bid within Friday’s deadline. There was no official confirmation from Ineos.
Along with Qatar and the reported interest from Saudi Arabia, rumors persist that Elon Musk could be among a list of potential buyers from the United States.
Ratcliffe announced his intention to bid last month. That is a shift in strategy from last year when he launched a last-minute bid for Chelsea, but was not considered because he missed the deadline set by Raine, which also handled that sale.
Ratcliffe, who currently owns French club Nice, last year said he had no interest in another bid for a Premier League club after missing out on Chelsea and receiving little encouragement from the Glazers for United. But he would be a popular choice among fans because of his longstanding support of the club.
Several Americans bid last year to buy Chelsea, with Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital eventually paying $3 billion for the London club. Rival bids came from Chicago Cubs owner the Ricketts family, Boston Celtics part-owner Steve Pagliuca and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson.
No American bids for United have been made public, unless you consider a Twitter post from Musk.
The CEO of Tesla, Twitter and SpaceX wrote “I’m buying Manchester United ur welcome” last August. And although he then pointed out it was a “long-running joke on Twitter,” rumors of a bid have not gone away.
Third-place Manchester United hosts Leicester in the Premier League on Sunday with its manager insisting the developments will not serve as a distraction to him or his players.
“I focus on football,” Erik ten Hag said.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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