Sir Jim Ratcliffe will fight it out with private Qatari investors and US consortia for Manchester United, having secured two of Wall Street’s biggest lenders to bankroll his deal.
At least four serious contenders have emerged ahead of a soft February 17 deadlinewith formal offers expected beyond £5 billion to tempt the Glazers into a full sale.
Senior dealmakers say Saudi Arabia is also in the framebut the most serious Middle East-based interest appears to be across the border in the city of Doha.
Telegraph Sport understands that a high-powered Qatari individual and other wealthy investors are seriously considering an offer independent of the Paris Saint Germain ownership.
Ratcliffe, meanwhile, has given his strongest indication yet that he has funding in place, having been working with two prolific investment banks for several weeks. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are prepared to back his offer with bonds and loans beyond the value of United’s existing debt of £659 million.
However, the British billionaire may be forced to accept high interest payments on the debt financing provided. Investment bankers on both sides of the Atlantic are grappling with a dearth in dealmaking since central banks increased interest rates to tackle inflation.
Ratcliffe has sought additional investment
Next Friday’s deadline for offers allows the club to stick with its instructions to have a deal completed before the end of the current season. With that in mind, different prices depending on Champions League qualification could be factored in. Formal bids will be taken for total buyouts as well as minority stakes.
Ratcliffe has amassed a £6.33 billion personal fortune, but United have been uncertain of whether he is willing to meet the Glazers’ asking price, having initially walked away from talks with Chelsea last year. Sources now confirm that he has sought additional investment to table an offer that would dwarf any of his previous investments in sport.
Wall Street’s biggest banks have become increasingly active in football, largely thanks to the boom in the game in the US. JPMorgan has previously underwritten plans for a European Super League breakaway and had also acted for the Glazers on the sale of some shares in United. Goldman Sachs is separately working alongside Morgan Stanley with the owners of Liverpool FC on the possible sale of the club.
Of Ratcliffe’s potential rivals for a deal, sources underline the Qatari individuals are separate to the Qatar Sports Investment group, which owns PSG. No such guarantees were offered when asked whether the investors would draw on any money from the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign fund worth £360 billion.
The QIA’s chief executive, Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, declined to rule out a United deal when asked by an American broadcaster about investment last month. In the US, meanwhile, fresh approaches have been known from groups who missed out on Todd Boehly and Clearlake in the race to buy Chelsea last year.
Ricketts family unlikely to bid
It is understood that the Ricketts family – whose consortium was one of the final four shortlisted Chelsea bids – will not be among the bidders for United, though. The Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs baseball team, had partnered with US billionaires Ken Griffin and Dan Gilbert but ended up withdrawing from the process.
Telegraph Sport reported yesterday how “several” US financier-led consortiums have privately provided assurances that they will bid. However, given commitments to secrecy as part of the bidding process, few are willing to be named.
There have also been reports of potential investors from Saudi entering the bidding and being given access to United’s finances. The Saudi government confirmed publicly in November that they would accept private sector bids from the country for United and Liverpool. Much like the Qatari/PSG conundrum, it is unclear how any prospective Saudi deal for United would work in practice, however, given their involvement in Newcastle United.
Saudi interest in United is nothing new. It is understood that the country has twice explored the prospect of a full takeover at Old Trafford in the past. Sources told Telegraph Sport that on those occasions the Glazers were only ever open to selling a 20 percent stake in the club and so the situation never advanced.
United has partnered with Saudi Telecom, the country’s biggest telecommunications company, before.
They also agreed a strategic partnership in 2017 that saw United helping Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority to develop its football industry as part of its Saudi Vision 2030 and plans to diversify the Saudi economy and develop its public sectors.
A £5 billion-plus valuation has been described as steep by the likes of Sir Martin Broughton, but the involvement of the Middle East may prove a significant factor in deciding a ceiling on price.
New York-based investment bank the Raine Group, which declined to comment when contacted by Telegraph Sport, remains the first port of call for interested parties. Richard Arnold, the Manchester United chief executive, said recently that any new investors in the club will be urged to work closely with fans and expressed hope that a potential full or partial sale would prove a “positive” step forward. The club aims to complete a deal within the first quarter or by the end of April.