How Man Utd’s takeover was hit by Qatari confusion

Manchester United‘s share price spiked on the New York stock exchange as “opportunistic” investors anticipated the club would soon be in the hands of Sheikh Jassim bin Al-Thani, the Qatari banker bidding to buy out the unpopular Glazer family.

But in Doha and Monaco, where rival bidder Sir Jim Ratcliffe resides, they are still awaiting a call from Raine, the New York bankers charged by the Glazer family with extracting the biggest bid for the world’s most famous football club.

“We’re all still in the dark,” one source close to the process told i on Tuesday after a fresh flurry of speculation partly prompted by a report in Al Watan, a Qatari outlet part owned by Sheikh Jassim’s father Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, that the Nine Two Foundation proposal had been granted coveted “preferred bidder” status.

Bid insiders said they didn’t recognise those reports, labelling it “total speculation”. They did add, however, that all of the bidders for the club are hopeful that exclusivity will finally be granted before the weekend.

The club’s share price is at its highest price for months as hype around the Qatari bid builds. The value was up as much as 22 per cent in early trading on Tuesday, which kept the cycle of conjecture spinning around what would be football’s biggest ever buyout.

i can reveal that optimism around the Qatari bid is based partly on the feeling that Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos proposal, which would allow some of the Glazer siblings to retain a minority stake, has proved complicated to thrash out after weeks of detailed talks.

Ratcliffe’s offer would use loans and bonds drawn from some of the biggest banks in the world to fund it and with the debt market “a nightmare” in the words of one source, it is far from a straightforward process.

It also emerged that Ratcliffe was keen on a so-called “put and call” arrangement with the Glazers which could compel them to sell their stake by 2026. But a source close to the process pointed out to i there would have to be an agreement on how the club’s valuation would be calculated in that scenario.

“Who decides that? It is far from straightforward and all of this stuff perhaps explains the delay in making a decision,” the source said.

They felt the Glazers, despite holding their cards close to their chest, had deliberately drawn out the process to extract a premium price for the club.

“Raine and the Glazers have tried to inject jeopardy into this process from day one in an effort to raise the offers on the table. But at this point that tactic is no longer successful and it’s time to make a decision. Because as we’ve seen, without one there’s a vacuum that is filled by a lot of unhelpful speculation.”

And industrious city traders, too, who are positioning themselves to make a big profit if Sheikh Jassim’s offer is accepted. The club’s share price, just $12 in November when the tortuous process was kick-started by the Glazers, had rocketed to close to $25 by Tuesday afternoon.

“If the Sheikh Jassim bid goes ahead it’s likely he’ll buy 100 per cent of the shares, probably offering somewhere in the region of $28 or $30 and therefore there’s a lot of money to be made if you’re the owner of one of those shares,” football finance expert Kieran Maguire told i.

“What we’ve seen is speculative purchases taking place in post-market trading which has led to this significant increase.”

Sheikh Jassim’s bid team are desperate for a swift conclusion to the process because Premier League approval could take another two to three weeks even after a sale is agreed. All of this eats into Erik ten Hag’s wiggle room in a transfer window that is crucial as the club plays catch-up with their all-conquering city rivals.

The Qataris believe their bid is the cleanest transaction and offers the potential for a new start. They also believe their valuation in excess of £5bn represents a very good deal for the Glazers who many suspect are now ready, finally, to cash out rather than fund expensive squad building and stadium renovation plans.

What the club needs most is clarity. Sources have indicated to i that the club is looking to back Ten Hag with a marquee striker signing, with interest in Harry Kane ongoing.

But the uncertainty around the takeover means no-one is quite sure what capacity they have to meet Tottenham’s inflated valuation. The same applies to whether they would insert themselves in the unfolding Kylian Mbappe drama in Paris.

Their move for Mason Mount is progressing but United are still far apart from Chelsea’s valuation, despite personal terms having been agreed with the England international last week. There is a feeling that the Mount deal will be done, but Chelsea’s £70m demand will have to be lowered.

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