On Friday night, The Athletic reported that Sir Jim Ratcliffe had made an official bid to take over Manchester United, joining Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani in making a bid for the Premier League club.
Ratcliffe, 70, is one of Britain’s richest men and the owner of petrochemical giant INEOS. His net worth is $13.6 billion (£11.3 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He describes himself as a childhood United fan, although he attempted to buy Chelsea when the club went up for sale in 2022.
Raine Group, the investment bank which is marketing the sale of Manchester United on behalf of the Glazer family, gave a soft deadline of 10pm (UK time) on Friday to put the official interest in writing. Ratcliffe’s indicative offer arrived just ahead of the deadline but was not officially announced until Saturday. The Glazers announced in November that they were looking at “new investment in the club, a sale or other transaction involving the company”, which would potentially spell the end of their 18 years as owners.
In a statement on INEOS, a spokesman said: “We can confirm that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS have submitted an offer for a majority stake in Manchester United Football Club. We would see our role as Manchester United’s long-term trustees on behalf of the fans and the wider community. We are ambitious and very competitive and would want to invest in Manchester United to make them the number one club in the world again.
“We also recognize that the governance of football in this country is at a crossroads. We want to help drive this next chapter and deepen the culture of English football by making the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership. We want a Manchester United that is anchored in its proud history and roots in the North West of England, that brings Manchester back to Manchester United and that has a clear focus on winning the Champions League.”
Here, The Athletic reveal new details about Ratcliffe’s bid and explore the key issues surrounding his bids to become the owner of Manchester United.
INEOS’ statement said Ratcliffe has made a bid for the majority stake in United. What does that mean?
That’s interesting because Sheikh Jassim’s competing offer said the Qatari had confirmed “his commitment for 100 per cent” of the club. However, the Ratcliffe bid is strictly against the shares held by the Glazer family, who make up 69 per cent of the club, which confer majority control and therefore the keys to decision-making at Old Trafford.
The Glazer family retains Class B shares, which are worth 10 times the voting rights of Class A shares, which trade on the New York Stock Exchange. As such, Ratcliffe doesn’t necessarily need to buy 100 per cent of the club to control matters.
In addition, sources close to Ratcliffe, who declined to be named when private conversations were shared, stated that Raine had marketed the club on behalf of the Glazers and therefore responded to this invitation to purchase shares in the Glazer family.
Manchester United owner Avram Glazer (left) and his brother Joel (right) (Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)
When United supporters heard Ratcliffe isn’t seeking 100 per cent control of the club, they may have been concerned it would mean he was doing business with the Glazers. However, the offer insists that the indicative offer made to Raine is to buy the Glazers out of the club entirely.
If successful, further discussions may be held with institutional investors on selling further shares, but it is recognized that those investors may want to stay if the company looks more hopeful under new ownership.
The Qataris are taking a different approach, with ambitions to buy the club outright to become the club’s sole owner and manager. They say they have the means and willingness to do so, while at this point the Ratcliffe side is content to acquire control rather than sole ownership.
Explained: Sheikh Jassim’s Manchester United takeover bid, the Qatar issue and what it means for Ratcliffe
How much did Ratcliffe bid?
Similar to Qatar’s bid, Ratcliffe has yet to reveal the figures related to the bid to take control of Manchester United. Reports in France on Friday night claimed the offer for the Qatari club was 4.5 billion euros (4 billion pounds, $4.8 billion). The Ratcliffe bid declined to state the value of his bid but said it was competitive.
Part of the reason neither party is disclosing numbers is because they have not yet been granted access to much of the club’s financial information, with further details and opportunities for due diligence available when invited by Raine and into the next round of the application process become the Glaser family.
Bidders may also want to show their hand to non-competing bidders, especially with the possibility of this becoming an auction.
On Saturday, the Ratcliffe bid confirmed that the kind of fortune available to a Qatari investor could ultimately win if it comes to a straight shootout over who has the most money, but Ratcliffe is trying to present himself as well done local businessman, with an offer to state intentions to “bring the Manchester back to Manchester United”.
Ratcliffe will frame his bid as a defining moment for English football, with the game having to decide whether to have a different ownership group suspected of having benefited from state wealth (the Qatari bid insists Sheikh Jassim own a person benefiting from private wealth) or whether it believes the time has come to take the leadership of English football in a different direction. The UK government is expected to soon announce an independent regulator of English football and Saturday’s Ratcliffe statement tapped into that.
Sheik Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani has also made an offer to Manchester United
The statement read: “Football leadership in this country is at a crossroads. We want to help drive this next chapter and deepen the culture of English football by making the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership.”
Sheikh Yassim’s bid stated in its statement that it intends to “invest in the football teams, training centre, stadium and broader infrastructure, fan experience and communities supported by the club”.
Ratcliffe’s bid statement was less specific, saying: “We want a Manchester United that’s rooted in its proud history and roots in North West England, that brings Manchester back to Manchester United and that has a clear focus on winning the Champions League.”
Sources close to the bid, who again spoke on condition of anonymity if relaying private conversations, later told The Athletic that Ratcliffe sees improving infrastructure at Old Trafford and at the club’s training ground as essential, and they added added that the proposal to Raine included a declaration of intent to invest in United’s women’s team. In addition, Ratcliffe’s bid states that INEOS and Ratcliffe are not currently working with any consortium or investment partners.
What about the debt?
As a result of the Glazers’ leveraged buyout in 2005 and the loan facilities, Manchester United’s net debt is £656m. This would need to be erased to put the club out of debt, although the club also owes more than £200m in transfer fees.
Qatar’s bid on Friday night spelled out their intention to clear the club of debt. They said, “The offering will be completely debt free through Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation.”
The Ratcliffe bid made no formal statement about debt, but behind the scenes it has given assurances that no “new debt” (ie money borrowed to take over from United) will enter the club’s balance sheet and will instead be borne by INEOS become .
However, Ratcliffe’s offer hasn’t said it will pay off United’s existing debt, which is difficult to overcome from a communications perspective. Debt has been seen as a dirty word at Old Trafford due to the years of huge repayments poured out of the club to serve the interests of the owners.
The Ratcliffe bid also failed to clarify whether United would be charged any interest owed on loans to acquire the club, although it would be highly unusual for another company to shell out on behalf of INEOS.
The downside to this is that it’s unusual (to say the least) for a multi-billion dollar takeover to happen with no debt. Even Elon Musk, for example, borrowed money to take over Twitter last year, and in the football world, outside of the world of sovereign wealth funds or Russian oligarchs, it’s unusual for deals not to be funded by debt. Ratcliffe is keen to explain that the debt will be his and not the club’s.
Ratcliffe’s bid insists he doesn’t want money from Manchester United and says he has a personal goal of controlling his youth team.
What happens next?
The bidders are under the impression that United’s owners want this to be resolved – one way or another – ahead of the start of the summer transfer window, when key financial decisions usually have to be made.
The next stage is to see if other bidders are showing up publicly and if Raine and the Glazers think the bids are high enough to gain entry for further due diligence.
The Athletic previously reported that two of the Glazer siblings, Joel and Avi, were most associated with the club and held talks with US private equity firm Apollo over the summer to see if they could raise the funding to buy her siblings from the club.
As a result, bidders remain unsure whether the offer of a minority stake, if it comes through, might ultimately appeal more to some of the siblings, whether to buy out their brothers and sisters or provide funds for the renovation or rebuilding of the club’s stadium. As for Ratcliffe, his team insists at this point that he is only interested in securing majority control, not a minority stake.
Manchester United poll: Two-thirds of fans want Sir Jim Ratcliffe to take over
There is a lot of talk about the Qataris having to prove separation from the state or Paris Saint-Germain. But what about Ratcliffe and OGC Nice?
This is an important question. Ratcliffe’s INEOS also controls French club Nice, which presents a challenge.
UEFA regulations complicate matters because two clubs majority-owned by the same entity cannot compete in the same European club competitions. For example, Qatar Sport Investments could not have taken over Manchester United and continued to lead PSG and Manchester United to the Champions League at the same time.
Ratcliffe could face similar problems if he were to take control of Manchester United as he already owns Ligue 1 club Nice, who have qualified for the Europa League and Champions League in recent seasons and this season in of the Europa Conference League.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe also owns Nice in France (Photo: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)
Away from football, is there anything United fans should know about Ratcliffe that has sparked controversy?
For his supporters, Ratcliffe is the son of a carpenter who grew up in a council house in Oldham, near Manchester.
For his critics, he is the man who secured the knighthood before relocating from Britain to Monaco in 2020, where he would benefit from lower taxes.
In an interview with the Sunday Times last week, Ratcliffe protested: “I didn’t move there until well into retirement age (he was 67). If I get out in the sun, I could live a little longer in a warmer climate.”
He has also been criticized by environmentalists for his support of fracking, which he said again in the same interview last week. He said: “The government should have had an intelligent conversation with technicians about whether fracking is right or wrong, but they didn’t. You’ve been listening to Vivienne Westwood and a few noisy, bloody protesters over slate.”
Didn’t he try to buy Chelsea a year ago?
He has placed a bid but also missed the deadline set by Raine, who also chaired the auction when Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government and banned from English football.
Ratcliffe has entered the sport since 2017 when he took over FC Lausanne-Sport and teamed up with Olympic sailing champion Sir Ben Ainslie to take part in the America’s Cup, which cost him more than £100million.
In 2019 he acquired the world’s most successful cycling team, Team Sky, renaming it Team INEOS before buying Ligue 1 Nice. He also became a principal partner of F1 team Mercedes and began sponsoring New Zealand rugby union All Blacks.
Now he’s after his ultimate prize from Manchester United.
(Top Photo: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images)