Manchester United Q&A: could Qatari investors realistically buy the club?

<span>Photograph: Peter Powell/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Peter Powell/Reuters

Are United about to have Qatari owners?

According to the Daily Mail on Wednesday, a group of “individual Qatari investors” will imminently bid to buy Manchester United, the 20-times champions of England. The Qatari offer, the Mail claimed, would “blow the competition out of the water”. Qatari interest in United has been confirmed by the Guardian, with Jamie Jackson reporting that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is interested in buying the club. However, he will not be blowing anyone out of the water and instead believes a £4.5bn valuation of United is fair, which is under the £6bn figure the Glazer family, who have owned United since 2005, are reportedly after.

How likely is the bid to become reality?

It depends on whether there is one Qatari bid or two. No one on the Qatari side denies that the Gulf state is exploring investment opportunities in football beyond ownership of Paris Saint-Germain and a stake in Portuguese side SC Braga. Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, the chief executive of the Qatari Investment Authority (QIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, confirmed as much at Davos last month. “You will not be surprised if we invest in this [football],” he said. England is of particular interest but whether United is the right club and a full takeover the right deal remains to be seen. Mischievous sources even suggest news of Qatari interest might have surfaced because the Glazers are having trouble selling the club and looking to flush out bids.

Who else is in the race to buy United?

With the Glazers having set a self-imposed deadline of mid-February for initial offers, there is currently just one in the public domain. Ineos, the petrochemical and fracking giant owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a lifelong United fan and UK tax exile, announced last month that it had “formally put ourselves into the process”. There have been rumours of interest from US investment groups, with the firm Sixth Street reported to be interested in a minority stake in the club. In a statement Sixth Street, which has funded financial restructuring at Real Madrid and Barcelona, said it was “not looking to buy Manchester United and … not in any active discussions to do so.”

Sir Jim Ratcliffe
Lifelong fan Sir Jim Ratcliffe is keen to buy Manchester United. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Could there be a problem with Uefa?

If and when a bid of Qatari provenance is successful in acquiring United, there will undeniably be questions to answer. First and foremost, Uefa will have to determine whether the owners of United are suitably distinct from the owners of PSG so as to avoid a risk of sporting collusion should the two face each other in European competition. Uefa rules state: “No individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a Uefa club competition.” The governing body defines control as holding a majority share in a club, the ability to appoint or remove senior members of staff or “being able to exercise by any means a decisive influence in the decision-making of the club”. It’s this last clause that would seem most significant.

Is there a way around the problem?

PSG are owned by Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), which would not be able to acquire anything more than a minority stake in United. But QSI is in turn funded by QIA and if another company under the QIA umbrella, say the Qatar National Bank, were to make a bid it is possible the same restrictions would not apply. These would be difficult considerations for Uefa and its Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) to make. A possible precedent can be found in the decision to allow Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig to both play in the 2017-18 Champions League. Both sides are owned by the energy drink manufacturer, Red Bull GmbH, and Uefa investigators found the company exerted a strong influence over both clubs. However, the CFCB found there was not enough grounds to believe there was influence running between the two clubs after certain members of staff linked to Red Bull and loan arrangements between the teams had been removed.

So a Qatari takeover of United is doable?

Never say never in football, and in the interests of completion, it should be noted that Nasser al-Khelaifi, president of PSG and QSI chair, sits on the executive committee of Uefa and was described by Aleksander Ceferin, Uefa’s president, as “a great man” who respects “football and its values” after PSG resisted the siren call of the European Super League. Ceferin thanked Khelaifi “from the bottom of my heart” for taking that stance.