Manchester United sale: Will bidders call the Glazers’ bluff?
Five months after Manchester United’s owners, the Glazers, fired the starting pistol on a potential sale, bidding is finally expected to draw to a close on Friday.
The Glazers’ bankers, the Raine Group, surprised some earlier this month by extending the process to a third round of offers for the 20-time English champions.
It has set up a race to get any off-field deal done before the United men’s and women’s teams conclude their seasons on the pitch over the next few weeks.
Competitive tension in the United process has not been as strong as in last year’s sale of Chelsea, which was also run by Raine and saw several bidders vying for the club.
That is in large part because there are only two parties interested in buying all of the Glazers’ 69 per cent stake: British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani.
Others, such as former AC Milan owner Elliott Investment Management, are offering minority investment, finance for projects such as stadium improvements, or both.
What competitive tension there is rests mostly on the notion that United’s publicity-shy custodians are vacillating between a full exit and a smaller play.
The sale process has been peppered with suggestions to that effect, with the idea that they are leaning towards a minority sale gaining traction in recent weeks.
That may indeed be the case, but in any case it does not harm their chances of achieving the £6bn that they are said to be seeking.
Except not everyone is buying it. At least one bidder is sceptical that United’s owners want minority investment or finance, industry sources told City A.M.
“The Glazers want all the money now or all of it later. The options are a full sale or no sale. Talk of a minority sale is a bluff,” they said.
So could we see Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim call their bluff this week, refuse to significantly hike their bids and dare the Glazers to blink first?
What is less in question is that the clock is ticking on any takeover and any further delays would risk driving bidders away from the negotiating table altogether.
Clubs have already drawn up their summer transfer window strategies. Any new owner will want to be active yet is currently unable even to plan effectively.
With a buyout set to need regulatory approval from the New York Stock Exchange as well as the Premier League, any deal would need to conclude in early May, sources said.
The club’s fanbase has also been vocal in calling for the widely unpopular Glazers to wrap up a sale “without further delay”.
In a statement issued two weeks ago, the Manchester United Supporters Trust added: “We are in dire need of new investment, which undoubtedly requires new ownership.”
While Old Trafford once revelled in “Fergie Time”, fans and would-be buyers alike are keen to hear the final whistle in what has already felt like a needlessly drawn-out process.