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Who are the potential bidders for Manchester United?

The Telegraph has named the two likely candidates to launch a takeover bid

by Seth Dooley

Yesterday’s official statement delivered by Manchester United on behalf of the Glazer family included the following: “the Board will consider all strategic alternatives, including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the Company.”

With such fateful words, rumours have already circulated about who will be the primary candidates to take over United. The well-sourced Muppetiers have reported since the summer that the Glazers were eyeing an exit. However, Fabrizio Romano confirmed this morning that the move and preliminary discussions are, without doubt, already underway.

This epoch-defining news welcomed by fans comes only a few days after the main sponsor, TeamViewer, was reported to have already told the club they want to revise the $47 million per year deal.

The Glazer family has plunged United into a debt of approximately $1.6 billion after 17 years of absurd mismanagement and dividend-looting.

James Ducker of The Telegraph has reported about the potential suitors who could pursue a majority stake in United. According to Ducker’s sources: “it is anticipated that some of the parties who bid for Chelsea could come to the table.”

Raine Group is acting as Glazer’s executive advisor. The investment banking firm brokered Chelsea’s takeover last spring.

Ducker reinforced this standpoint again: “Sources said they would not be surprised if some of the groups who failed in their efforts to buy Chelsea now showed interest in United” before naming the two viable contenders to bid for the club.

Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (Josh Harris & David Blitzer)

Josh Harris and David Blitzer were shortlisted by Raine Group in the final complement of appropriate bidders, out of which Todd Boehly ultimately came victorious.

Harris and Blitzer are well-associated with sports investment. The pair are involved in many franchises worldwide, most notably as owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and as minority stakeholders of Crystal Palace, and operate individually or together as Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE).

Blitzer has shares in many football clubs, including Bundesliga outfit Augsburg, Netherlands side ADO Den Haag, and Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake.

As part of his introductory press conference at Real Salt Lake, which he acquired for around $400 million in January, Blitzer stated:

“I invest in businesses for a living and, for my entire career, it’s always been about finding incredible people and letting them do their jobs. That doesn’t mean that you don’t get involved in particularly major decisions. But on that gritty day-to-day, I let the management teams do their jobs.”

In keeping with this measured and committed style of operating a sporting organisation, Harris and Blitzer appear to be well-versed in how they approach these various clubs, which all hold particular importance.

During their campaign to purchase Chelsea as principal backers of Sir Martin Broughton’s bid, one associate of HBSE told The Athletic:

“They don’t cut corners; they’re long-term investors in sports and not looking to make a quick profit before upping sticks and leaving.

“These (clubs) are legacy opportunities for them. They like to invest in opportunities where they can grow and sustain long-term success in the field and the local community.

“The Sixers (NBA franchise Philadelphia 76ers) had been going through a period of mediocrity when they came in, much like the (top-flight ice-hockey team New Jersey) Devils when they purchased them in 2013. But they have solidified the Sixers’ infrastructure and restored the brand to what it once was.

“And, while they are looking long-term in so much they do, don’t think they are not shy in investing in on-court, on-ice, on-field talent.”

Although operating primarily through their firm HBSE, Harris holds a. net worth estimate of $7.05 billion, whilst Blitzer is alleged to be sitting on ae of $1.1 billion aside from his many sporting endeavours. It can be presumed that a consortium would be built or partners would be found for HBSE to front a takeover bid.

INEOS Group Limited (Sir Jim Ratcliffe)

The second richest person in Britain has been sought after by United fans over recent months to become the club’s new owner.

Following Bloomberg‘s breaking news on August 17th that the Glazer family would be open to selling a minority stake in United, Ratcliffe immediately responded.

A spokesperson for Ratcliffe released a statement via The Times the following day:

“If the club is for sale, Jim is a potential buyer. If something like this were possible, we would be interested in discussing long-term ownership. This is not about the money that has been spent or not spent.

“Jim is looking at what can be done now, and, knowing how important the club is to the city, it feels like the time is right for a reset.”

Because of INEOS’ industrial power status and Ratcliffe’s fortune and net worth of $7.6 billion and $28.2 billion, respectively, the Manchester-born business magnate appeared to be an ideal fit – especially given his last-minute interest in acquiring fellow Premier League giant Chelsea.

In an interview last month, however, Ratcliffe poured cold water on any proposed bid. INEOS has become more actively engaged in their Ligue 1 side OGC Nice.

In October, Ratcliffe cleared the air: “I’m a lifelong Manchester United fan. I was there in ’99. Manchester United is owned by the Glazer family, who I have met. They’re friendly, and they don’t want to sell.

“We can’t sit around waiting for Manchester United to become available.”

The stage appears to now be set for Ratcliffe to stop waiting.

The billionaire continued: “If it had been for sale in the summer, we would probably have had a go […] we should have a premier club as an asset.”

Joel Glazer was said to be reluctant to lose his piggy bank in the summer, whilst his siblings have been content for some time to cut ties with United.

Although Ratcliffe confirmed his strong interest in acquiring United or an elite football club, his partners are cautious about such a move. Mike Keegan of the Daily Mail tweeted:

“Heard a couple of weeks ago that Jim Ratcliffe was carrying out a feasibility study on the cost to buy United & redevelop Old Trafford & Carrington. He was met with a flat denial by his people who said they were purely concentrating on Nice.”

With the Glazers publically announcing their desire to sell, however, Ratcliffe and INEOS may reignite their interest despite Keegan’s claim. To realise such an opportunity of purchasing Manchester United may become a case of ‘why not?’ for the 70-year-old lifelong fan.

Indeed, Old Trafford’s last redevelopment was completed in 2007 (commissioned before the Glazers’ arrival) and is slated for its sub-par condition and facilities. Proposals for construction on the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand alone were quoted to cost around $300 million. Carrington has – now rather infamously – not been upgraded since Cristiano Ronaldo’s first spell at the club.

Chief executive Richard Arnold revealed to fans last year that the club would need external investors to redevelop the poor-quality facilities.

Alongside a purchase price of around $7 billion (any transaction would need to value the club at anywhere between £5bn and £9bn to persuade the owners to sell, according to Sky News), any suitor would need to not only have but also be committed to spending vast amounts of money on the club.

For such reason, Dubai has been linked.

State-owned clubs have increased over recent years (Manchester City and various clubs affiliated with The City Group, Paris-Saint Germain, Newcastle United) and given the country’s vast sovereign wealth, Dubai – or Dubai-based businesses – appear to be a seriously viable candidate to complete such an astronomical takeover.

It is, however, unlikely that United supporters’ groups would advocate for such a bidder given the philosophies associated with the club, its aim, and its community.

As Chelsea’s two-month takeover displayed, more severe news can be expected to arrive quickly and consistently in the coming weeks.

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