Manchester United: Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim withdraws from process to buy club

Fan protests at Old Trafford

Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani has withdrawn from the process to buy Manchester United, BBC Sport has been told.

The Glazer family, who bought United for £790m in 2005, announced in November 2022 they were considering selling.

British businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group was the other main bidder.

Sources have told BBC Sport, Ratcliffe is now hoping to conclude a deal for a minority stake in the club, thought to be 25%.

Earlier this month BBC Sport reported Ratcliffe was considering whether to offer to buy a minority stake in the club in an effort to break the impasse over the ownership situation.

The Glazer family’s announcement last year that they were considering selling United led to a flurry of interest but only two offers, from Ineos and Sheikh Jassim.

Both tabled bids of about £5bn.

Sheikh Jassim’s camp have always maintained he was only interested in buying the club outright.

United supporters have held demonstrations against the Glazer family inside and outside Old Trafford.

The club are 10th in the Premier League having lost four of their opening eight matches, and were beaten in their first two Champions League games.

It is understood that Sheikh Jassim’s bid would have been a fully cash offer and would have cleared all old debt. There would also have been more than £1.4bn to finance new stadium plans, new training centre facilities, buy players and also for community regeneration projects.

Figures in March showed United owed £969.6m through a combination of gross debt, bank borrowings and outstanding transfer fees with associated payments.

There has been no public comment from any party around this latest development.

The Glazer family have also made no public statement since launching their ‘strategic review’ around United in November, which they said could lead to a sale.

This was always viewed as one of a number of options but just by mentioning it – when they had never done so previously – they raised hopes among many fans who feel their ownership has held the club back since 2005 that they were willing to sell.

Numerous conflicting rumours have emerged over the past months, including that the whole process had been shelved, which sources were adamant was not the case.

Earlier this week, United chief executive Richard Arnold told a Fans Forum meeting: “All I can say at this moment is the work is ongoing.”

United would normally have released their 2023 end-of-year financial results by now.

As yet, no date has been confirmed for their release, with no reason given for it being later than usual.

Figures released in June showed United were heading for record revenues despite not playing in the Champions League last season.

Stronger matchday and commercial revenue meant United revised their annual revenue forecast from between £590m and £610m to between £630m and £640m, which would eclipse their previous best of £627.1m in 2019.

Analysis – ‘Glazers remain and that will be greeted with anger’

This process has been going on so long now, and the reports around it have been so conflicting, nothing can be completely taken at face value.

However, if Sheikh Jassim has withdrawn from the process and there is no going back, it means, in the short term, the Glazer family are staying.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has said he is willing to accept a minority stake as a first step towards getting a majority, which is what he wants – and there are issues over United’s complicated share structure to solve.

It is also possible at some point in the not-too-distant future another party will come in and make an offer the Glazers do find acceptable.

But for now, the Glazers remain – and that is something sure to be greeted with anger by a significant proportion of the United fanbase – including former skipper Gary Neville – who feel the ownership is the major reason why the club is in its current predicament.

This week, when asked if the Glazer family were aware of the majority view of them within the United fanbase, chief executive Richard Arnold told their Fans Forum the club was “transparent in its feedback to the owners”.

Evidently, they have thick skin and are content to remain, despite the protests against them.

And evidently, Sheikh Jassim feels what the Glazers want is not feasible to anyone wanting to buy the club outright.

The two great unknowns now are whether an alternative Qatari bid for another Premier League club becomes a reality – and also what makes the Glazers feel United is worth more than has been offered.

Lots of questions remain. Answers are in very short supply.

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