British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is close to acquiring a significant stake in Manchester United which would see his INEOS team have “sporting influence” at Old Trafford, sources have told ESPN.
A source with knowledge of the process has told ESPN that Ratcliffe was “more savvy in his deal execution” than rival bidder Sheikh Jassim, a Qatari billionaire who withdrew his interest in buying United on Saturday after failing to negotiate a full takeover of the club from their American owners, the Glazer family.
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Sheikh Jassim’s exit from the race to buy the 20-time English champions has paved the way for Ratcliffe, the founder of chemicals company INEOS, to seal a deal to acquire a 25% shareholding from the Glazers, who own 69% of the club. The remaining shares are owned by smaller investors on the New York Stock Exchange.
As part of the deal, Ratcliffe, 70, is willing to pay an inflated price in exchange for control over certain decision-making, which would not usually be guaranteed by a minority investment.
Ratcliffe, according to a source, is willing to pay between £1.3 billion ($1.576bn) and £1.5bn for the stake despite United’s current market value sitting at around £2.6bn.
The agreement, which could be signed off as early as this week, would ensure that the Glazers retain a majority stake.
It is likely to antagonise a large section of United supporters who were eager for the family, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to commit to a full sale.
However, sources have told ESPN that the Ratcliffe share purchase would be the first step in a proposal to eventually take full control of the club.
Ratcliffe, who also owns French club Nice and Swiss team Lausanne-Sport, was born and raised less than 10 miles from Old Trafford and grew up as a United supporter.
While Sheikh Jassim’s bid was initially regarded as the most likely to succeed at the beginning of the process due to the funds at his disposal, sources told ESPN that Ratcliffe has structured his bid in a way that suits the Glazers and enables brothers Joel and Avram, United’s co-chairmen, to remain involved.
Ratcliffe’s deal would also satisfy the desire of the four other Glazer siblings — Bryan, Kevin, Edward and Darcie — to reduce their stake in the club.
The Glazers’ own valuation of United of more than £6bn saw Ratcliffe’s primary competitor Sheikh Jassim walk away from talks.
Sheikh Jassim and his Qatari consortium were willing to pay around £5bn for 100% of the club, while also committing to wiping away the debt incurred during the Glazers’ ownership. They also pledged to invest in the stadium, training ground and the playing squad.
One source close to Sheikh Jassim’s bid branded the Glazers’ valuation as “fanciful and outlandish”.
While Sheikh Jassim’s team have always maintained they were only interested in a 100% buyout, Ratcliffe and INEOS have modified their offer during the bidding process, which began in November.
Ratcliffe initially offered to buy the Glazers’ 69% share, but amid doubts about whether all six Glazer siblings want to sell — particularly co-chairmen Joel and Avram Glazer — he redesigned his approach to target a minority stake.