SIR Jim Ratcliffe DOES want to buy Manchester United after the Glazer family announced it was ready to sell the club.
But Britain’s richest man will NOT be held to ransom and will demand a fair market price for the Old Trafford outfit.
The Glazers signalled the imminent end of their 17-year reign on Monday when the club announced its American owners were “looking to explore strategic alternatives”.
That sparked a fury of speculation over potential suitors, with many supporters wanting Ratcliffe, head of petro-chemical giant Ineos and a self-confessed boyhood United fan, emerging as the popular choice.
Suggestions of an asking price of between £6bn and £8bn for a club that cost £790m when Malcolm Glazer took control in 2005 had indicated that a Middle East state’s Sovereign Wealth fund might be the most probable purchaser.
But it has now emerged that, despite the figures being quoted, Ratcliffe DOES want in – as long as he is not being ripped off.
Ratcliffe revealed last month that he had made a private approach to the Glazers in August, when the first rumours of a possible sale began to surface and after he had been rebuffed in his attempt to gatecrash Todd Boehly’s Chelsea purchase.
He explained: “The club is deeply etched in my mind.
“I have met Joel and Avram (Glazer), who are the nicest people, proper gentlemen, really nice people – and they don’t want to sell.
“If it had been for sale in the summer, yes, we would probably have had a go, following on from the Chelsea thing.
“But we can’t sit around hoping that one day Manchester United will become available.”
Now, though, United ARE available and Ratcliffe was first out of the blocks, although there were also rumours that Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega, owner of the Zara fashion chain, is also a contender.
The United sale is being handled by the US-based Raine Group, who also acted for Roman Abramovich when he disposed of Chelsea.
But Ratcliffe believed that Raine were demanding too much for the Stamford Bridge outfit and believed that the asking price would drop before the deal with Boehly went through.
And while Ratcliffe does have that emotional attachment to United, he is determined not to pay over the odds – with the initial valuation unlikely to be one he is willing to match.
That business acumen and logical approach could still end up counting Ratcliffe out of the equation – but also leave the Glazers with a small field of alternatives.
Spaniard Ortega would represent a wild card but the price indicates a more likely alternative would be oil money from the Middle East.
However Premier League and Uefa competition regulations effectively rule out a bid from Qatar – who own Champions League contenders PSG – Saudi Arabia, after the £300m purchase of Newcastle, or Abu Dhabi, whose reign at neighbours City has supplanted United’s place as the pride of Manchester.
That would leave possible Sovereign Wealth options from Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain or Oman, although United fans might not be too impressed at finally getting rid of one set of unwanted owners and replacing them with an even more remote and unaccountable model.