If there is a calm before a storm, or if it is always darkest before the dawn, then the recent silence on the Manchester United takeover saga could indicate that something momentous is about to happen.
United’s majority shareholders, the Glazer family, invited bids to either buy or refinance the club back in November, but nine months later, a decision is still yet to be delivered by the would-be sellers.
According to The Athletic, the word on the street a couple of weeks ago was that Qatari bidder Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani had won the race, but the expected announcement was not forthcoming.
“The Premier League held its annual general meeting that week and the gossip among rival club executives at the breakfast buffet was that Sheikh Jassim was in front,” reporter Matt Slater says.
“Former Manchester United defender, and Visit Qatar ambassador, Rio Ferdinand heard the same whispers, as he told his YouTube channel that a Qatari win would be announced ‘within hours’.
“That deadline came and went but the coming days saw more stories and tweets about “imminent” announcements of a Sheikh Jassim takeover.”
Without completely nailing his colours to the mast, Slater suggests that Sheikh Jassim is still favourite, citing reports of his opponent’s bid – that of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS – being “dead in the water”.
Slater explains that “the INEOS bid is too cute and could leave the Glazers tangled up in litigation for years with those institutional investors who own 31 per cent of the company.”
In other words, because Sir Jim’s bid is not for 100% of the club, he can’t simply buy shares off the Glazers, he would have to offer the same price to all shareholders as he does to the Glazers – and since they want top dollar for their shares, so too will minority shareholders.
“[It] is the principle that all shareholders should be treated like in a takeover and you cannot offer one group a sweet deal for their shares while ignoring the rest,” Slater explains.
The journalist also seems to think that there is little likelihood of minority investment at this stage, in which the Glazers would retain power.
“The longer this process has gone on, the less buzz there has been about the ‘strategic stake’ option,” he says.
“And while their offers have not been withdrawn, they have not heard anything from the Glazers or Raine for two months,” although he notes that “Not that INEOS or Nine Two have heard anything, either. There has been no communication between the sellers and their potential buyers since Sheikh Jassim’s last bid in early June.”
The fact is that nobody knows what will happen next. Perhaps Sheikh Jassim is the only viable option, but the Glazers are just being slow in making the decision. Given the interminable amount of time it takes them to green light transfer deals, it would hardly be out of character for this one to take months.
It may also be that they are enjoying playing the market, by leaking stories that a deal is imminent in order to boost the share price and sell, then let the trail go cold for a while until the price drops and they or their friends can buy a few more. This would be insider trading, of course, but hard to detect if done smartly.
United fans can just sit and wait and hope that the sale goes through soon and that this 18-year dark era in the club’s history is finally brought to an end.