MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - As the footballing world looks to on-field activity in Qatar, the business world is turning its attention to off-field activity in Europe’s domestic leagues.
With England’s most successful teams, Liverpool and Manchester United, both effectively being put up for sale, and PSG’s Qatari owners saying they are open to offers for a partial stake in the French club, deep-pocketed investors are looking to make deals.
Both Manchester United, with its self-proclaimed worldwide fan base of more than 1bn people, and Liverpool FC – the most successful English club of all time, are considered crown jewels of football investment.
With reported price tags of between $5 billion and $10.56 billion there are few credible investors that could afford either club.
Obvious choices such as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund and a bid from Qatar can be ruled out. Each has already purchased a team, with Newcastle and PSG already owned from these quarters.
Abu Dhabi, similarly, can’t make a move as it has already invested in Manchester City and would not pursue a conflict when it is already performing so well on and off the pitch.
Dubai, then, has emerged as a leading contender when discussion of a sale of either Liverpool or Manchester United is considered.
It is familiar territory for Liverpool.
Dubai made an attempt to purchase Liverpool, with a bid in 2007 falling through. Dubai International Capital “almost signed” for a takeover of the club in 2007 for $360 million, the former DIC boss told Arabian Business in an exclusive interview.
There has been widespread speculation in the UK press for months that a Dubai investment fund could now turn attention to Man Utd.
The funding, opportunity and desire is there and a bid could emerge sooner rather than later.
Any potential bid would not be without competition, however.
‘Credible’ Man Utd bidders
The UK’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, has an estimated $14.4bn fortune, is a life-long Man Utd fan and has gone on record as saying he wants to buy the club.
So far, he is the leading contender and the most forthright in his public stance.
Having been beaten by US investor Todd Boehly in the race to sign Chelsea earlier this year he identified Man Utd as his primary target.
Elon Musk is a left-field contender as the next owner of Man Utd.
In August the world’s richest man said he was buying the club.
But it was a statement made on Twitter, and not everything he says on Twitter is entirely serious. Also, with the best will in the world, he probably has enough on his hands trying to make sense of the social media giant. He admitted it was a joke, adding that if he did buy a club it would be Man Utd.
He is not the only tech giant to be linked, however.
Jim Ratcliffe will bid to buy Manchester United after the Glazer’s formally put the club up for sale, although there remains a considerable difference between valuations.
The Ineos owner’s August comments are now seen as the start of a long negotiation process. While the Glazers want £6bn, and the Raine bank mandated to oversee any sale is expected to push for the highest price in a manner they did with Chelsea, Ratcliffe is seeking to buy it for under £5 billion.
The petrochemicals billionaire already owns Nice, and The Independent can reveal that he has already been offered the chance to buy Liverpool in the last few months but turned it down in order to get the running of the French club right. Mostly influencing that was also his childhood support of United, and Mr Ratcliffe now believes the opportunity is “too tempting and unique” to not engage in the process.
He is expected to have competition from at least two other parties, one who also attempted to buy Chelsea, but that list is expected to grow as potential buyers now announce their intentions.
The Independent has similarly been told that it was Fenway Sports Group that greatly influenced the Glazers’s surprising decision to confirm the club was for sale.
Reports on Wednesday said that Facebook and Amazon had both being listed as credible investors.
Tech giants Facebook and Amazon pose as “credible” and “serious” suitors to buy Man Utd according to both the Sun and Daily Mail newspapers in England.
Both tech firms have made no secret of their interest in sports before. Amazon, in particular, has invested billions of dollars already in sports in all parts of the world.
But previous investments have been for streaming rights. It is an area Facebook has heavily hinted at before as well. Investing in media rights and investing in the teams themselves are very different prospects.
Despite being called “credible” and “serious” contenders made by UK media, the chances of either Facebook or Amazon making a move to buy Man Utd are remote.
Both are losing staff in record numbers and diversifying into sports ownership at this time would be a risky move, even considering the rewards available for investors.
Which leaves Dubai in poll position to go head-to-head with Jim Ratcliffe unless new bidders emerge.
While the processes could take months, and even up to a year, those with knowledge of the situation say it is currently a “dead heat”. It is also anticipated that they will take buyers away from each other.