THE head of Qatar’s biggest bank has unveiled himself as the latest bidder to take full control of Manchester United.
Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, a member of the Gulf state’s ruling royal family, last night confirmed he has lodged an offer — believed to be up to £5billion — for “100 per cent” of United.
He also vowed to “return the club to its former glories” and make it “completely debt free”.
One of Britain’s richest men, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, and his Ineos group also made a bid ahead of last night’s 10pm ‘soft’ deadline.
Locally-born United supporter Ratcliffe, 70, has pitched that he will put “Manchester back into Manchester United” with a “British bid to make the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership.”
Saudi and US-led consortia are also believed to be in the contest.
Sheikh Jassim, whose father Hamad is a former Prime Minister of Qatar, made his formal approach to United’s bid supervisors, the US-based Raine Group.
The 41-year-old, educated at the elite Sandhurst military academy in Berkshire and who claims to be a lifelong United fan, emerged as the man behind the previously secretive Qatari bid.
And the decision by the Qatari, chairman of the QIB bank which has assets of £42bn, to put his head above the parapet could be the most significant of all in the battle for United.
Any deal at the £5bn mark would smash the record price for a sports team – with NFL franchise Denver Broncos currently the most expensive after a £3.8bn takeover last year.
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However the Qatari offer still falls below the Glazer family’s £6bn asking price.
In a statement issued on his behalf by a senior London PR company, Sheikh Jassim said he planned to “return the Club to its former glories both on and off the pitch”.
The statement added: “Above all, the bid will seek to place the fans at the heart of Manchester United Football Club once more.”
While United fans have grown increasingly angry at the Glazer family piling debt on the club, the potential Qatari owner is promising a very different strategy.
His PR group said: “The bid will be completely debt free via Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation, which will look to invest in the football teams, the training centre, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the Club supports.
“The vision of the bid is for Manchester United Football Club to be renowned for footballing excellence, and regarded as the greatest football club in the world.
“More details of the bid will be released, when appropriate, if and when the bid process develops.”
It is now up to Raine to take the next step, which is expected to see a shortlist of bidders made, as when the bankers sold Chelsea to Todd Boehly’s group.
The Qatari offer will raise questions over potential links with Paris Saint-Germain, owned by the £370bn Qatari Investment Authority.
Uefa has rules to bar clubs from its competitions in any season if owners have “decisive influence” over two clubs which qualify – as they did for year’s Champions League.
The QIA have a 17 per cent stake in Sheikh Jassim’s QIB bank, although his team say he is making the offer through his private wealth.
The Rainbow Devils, a United LGBTQ+ supporters’ group, have raised concerns about interest from Qatar, where same-sex relationships are criminalised.
A statement read: “Rainbow Devils believe any bidder must commit to making football a sport for everyone, including LGBTQ+ supporters, players and staff.
“We therefore have deep concern over some of the bids that are being made.”