Saudi Arabia has joined the race to buy Manchester United ahead of Friday’s nominal deadline, according to a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, raising the stakes in what could be the most lucrative deal in sports history.
The American Glazer family, who completed their takeover of the 20-times English champions in 2005, announced in November that they were open to a sale or investment.
British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos company officially joined the race to buy the club last month — the only bidder to publicly declare an interest so far.
There have, however, been numerous suggestions of a possible Qatar bid, with The Guardian reporting the state’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, was interested in buying United, just weeks after the energy-rich Gulf nation hosted the World Cup.
But with United’s shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, brokers acting for the club will be obliged to consider offers even after Friday’s ‘soft’ deadline expires.
The Glazers had signalled they were open to both minority investment and a full takeover but the latter now appears to be their preferred option.
Deeply unpopular with supporters since they saddled the club with huge debts in a £790 million ($961m) leveraged takeover in 2005, the Glazers further angered fans by backing the failed European Super League project in 2021.
United have partnered with Saudi Telecom, the country’s biggest telecommunications company, before.
The Telegraph reported sources close to the country’s £515 billion Public Investment Fund (PIF) had played down the likelihood of a state-backed bid to the regime given their existing involvement at rival Premier League club Newcastle United.
According to reports, the Glazers are seeking £6 billion for the three-time European champions, which would smash the record fee for a football club set by Chelsea last year.
A consortium led by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and private equity firm Clearlake Capital paid £2.5 billion for the Blues with a further £1.75 billion promised in further investment in infrastructure and players.
Any Saudi Arabian investment at United would prompt outrage from human rights groups who have spoken out against the Gulf state following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A Qatari takeover would be opposed on similar grounds, with Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s economic affairs director, saying it would represent “a continuation of this state-backed sportswashing project”.
A successful Qatari bid would raise sporting questions as well, given the emirate also controls one of the club’s European rivals, Paris Saint-Germain.
Manchester United have not won the Premier League since 2013 and have failed to win any silverware since 2017.
They are third in the Premier League this season after an improvement in form under manager Erik ten Hag, who took over before the start of the current campaign.