Qatari bidder 'very confident' of winning race for Manchester United

Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani
Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani

Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani is said to be “very confident” his debt-free bid to buy Manchester United can win over the Glazer family as the £5 billion takeover battle enters its defining stage.

Rival bidders have until 9pm on Wednesday to submit second offers as hopes grow among United fans that the end of the Glazers’ controversial 18-year reign is nearing.

The British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is still expected to table a rival bid but the Qataris are now of the firm belief they have the upper hand in what would be a landmark deal.

A crisis in debt markets in the wake of the Swiss banking crisis will only add to the appeal of the only bidder not reliant on financing, City insiders believe.

United are said to be braced for bids in excess of £5 billion that would obliterate the world record price for a sports team, should the club’s deeply unpopular American owners give the greenlight to a sale. The Denver Broncos American football franchise were sold for a record £3.8bn last year.

Sheikh Jassim’s main competition comes from Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of the petrochemicals giant Ineo, who remained in talks with close aides on Tuesday night.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe at Old Trafford - Jon Super
Sir Jim Ratcliffe at Old Trafford - Jon Super

As many as eight groups are said to have met with United officials as well as representatives of the Glazers and Raine, the merchant bank running the process, over the past 10 days.

However, it is only the Qataris who are known to be able to do a deal without Wall Street lending of some sort and they believe they are on a very strong footing.

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase and Co are understood to be helping bankroll Ratcliffe's offer with bonds and loans beyond the value of United’s existing gross debt of £680m.

The Oldham born businessman’s track record of successful investments makes him as safe bet as anyone for loans. But the rescue of Credit Suisse by arch rival UBS over the weekend - and associated write off of $17 billion of loans - means investment banks are wary about exposing themselves to losses.

In recent days, Barclays has shelved two loans for Ratcliffe's Ineos Enterprises, according to Bloomberg. Sources close to the billionaire were dismissive of the prospect market conditions could in any way hamper his bid.

Ratcliffe did acknowledge this week that he will not be sucked into paying a “stupid” price for United. While refusing to discuss the financial details of his bid, he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview: “How do you decide the price of a painting? How do you decide the price of a house? It’s not related to how much it cost to build or how much it cost to paint. What you don’t want to do is pay stupid prices for things because then you regret it subsequently.”

Sources close to the Qataris, meanwhile, have told Telegraph Sport that Sheikh Jassim - the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank - is “very confident” his bid is the outstanding offer on the table and will be the “most beneficial” for the club.

In addition to a likely purchase price in excess of £5bn that he hopes will convince the Glazers to sell, Sheikh Jassim is prepared to invest huge funds in a new stadium and training ground in addition to heavy backing for the men’s and women’s teams and academy that could mean a total commitment of around £7bn. “Our capital investment plans will be on top of what is paid for the club,” one source said.

They added that their second bid will be informed by the very productive and positive discussions they held over 10 hours with United last Thursday.

Sheikh Jassim did not attend in person but his Qatari delegation included Shahzad Shahbaz, who is president of the newly-created NineTwo foundation which would run the club, in addition to Fady Bakhos, a senior personal advisor to the Sheikh, Sam Powers, a global head at Bank of America who are advising their bid, Yasir Shah, managing director at Bank of America and lawyers from firm Macfarlanes.

The Qataris came away in high spirits after talks with United and their confidence about the prospect of buying United has only hardened in the days since.

Although Sheikh Jassim is said to be financing his bid from his own private wealth via his Nine Two Foundation, his close family links to Qatar’s ruling elite have raised questions about the size and source of those funds, both of which remain unknown. He is the son of former Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who is one of the richest men in the Gulf state.

Those close to his bid have waved away suggestions it is essentially a state project ultimately funded by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the gulf nation’s sovereign wealth fund estimated to have more than £370bn of assets and which already helps to back Paris Saint-Germain through its subsidiary Qatar Sports Investment (QSI).

Sheikh Jassim is confident any buyout at United would not fall foul of rules prohibiting clubs with the same owner playing in the same competition. Such an issue could yet be rendered academic, though, given that Uefa president Alesander Ceferin revealed this month that European football’s governing body were considering a rule change that would allow clubs with the same owner to play in the Champions League simultaneously.

As for Ratcliffe, who was at Old Trafford last Friday with his Ineos team and held fruitful talks with United, he is still expected to table the main rival bid for an outright takeover with a second offer by Wednesday evening. A number of hedge funds, such as Elliott Management, have also held discussions with United and are prepared to offer financing for a potential bidder.