Qatari sheikh’s bid for Manchester United could hit $6 billion—the

Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad J.J. Al Thani didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry until late Friday night, around an hour after he issued a press release announcing his multi-billion-pound bid for Manchester United. 

The third son of Qatar’s former prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the royal family member has become the face of what some see as the leading bid for the renowned football club, and has hired Bank of America Corp. as one of the advisers. 

On Friday evening, Sheikh Jassim fired the first shot in what could become one of the year’s most high-profile bidding wars, potentially culminating in a record price paid for a sports asset. Jim Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s richest people with a fortune also made from natural resources, is bidding for a majority stake in Manchester United, with hedge fund Elliott Investment Management LP also emerging as willing to provide financing.

Sheikh Jassim, backed by almost unlimited wealth, could post a final offer that values Manchester United, currently owned by the Glazer family, at about £5 billion ($6 billion), Bloomberg News has reported. That would surpass the $4.65 billion paid last year by a group led by Walmart Inc. heir Rob Walton for the Denver Broncos NFL team. 

Unlike his father, known as HBJ, who was also a former head of the Qatar Investment Authority and owner of assets from luxury London hotels to stakes in Deutsche Bank AG, Sheikh Jassim has kept a lower international profile.

The 40-year-old has been involved in a string of business enterprises with close ties to the government. He’s had a seat on the boards of some of the largest Qatari companies since before he was 20, including many firms that embody the government’s strategic initiatives and which count on significant stakes from the state or its sovereign wealth fund. 

Sheikh Jassim became the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank, the country’s second-largest lender and one of the region’s biggest shariah compliant banks, in 2005. And he’s been on the board of Qatar Navigation since 2000 — a company that represents the country’s attempts to ship its liquefied natural gas among other materials. 

At just under 30 years old, he became a board member of Credit Suisse Group AG, becoming his family’s representative for his country after its sovereign wealth fund invested in the Swiss bank following the financial crisis, and stepped down in 2017. Vehicles linked to Sheikh Jassim’s father invested about $200 million in funds the bank ran with collapsed lender Greensill.

Sheikh Jassim’s family has been involved in major sports deals in the past — HBJ was prime minister in 2010 when Qatar won its controversial bid to host the 2022 World Cup. 

Sheikh Jassim will now have to navigate another family deal. The US-based Glazer family — led by Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, executive co-chairmen and directors of Manchester United — have been considering their investment in the club since last year.

The late Malcolm Glazer bought Manchester United in a 2005 leveraged buyout that saddled it with massive debts, and the family has faced distrust from hardcore supporters ever since. While this was mitigated in the early years of their ownership as the team continued to win trophies under storied manager Alex Ferguson, resentment has grown steadily after the coach’s retirement in 2013. 

Bidders now have access to confidential data concerning Manchester United’s revenue, and will be expected to post firm offers in the coming weeks. Ratcliffe has offered to buy the 69% owned by the Glazers, according to a person familiar with the situation, while Sheikh Jassim has put forward an offer for 100% of the club.

Sheikh Jassim will have to convince both Europe’s footballing organizer UEFA that the source of his wealth is not linked to Paris St. Germain — currently owned by Qatar Sports Investments, which has considered plays for Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool FC — as well as Manchester United, Bloomberg News has reported.

Qatar has been keen to state that QSI is not a subsidiary of QIA, currently the largest shareholder of the Qatar Islamic Bank, where Sheikh Jassim is chairman. 

If he succeeds, Sheikh Jassim will be sure to find rivals wherever he turns. Manchester City, despite facing scrutiny on its spending from the Premier League, is still the competition’s latest powerhouse. And on the other side of England, Newcastle United is currently undergoing a renaissance funded by its latest owners — the Saudi wealth fund. The two clubs are set to meet each other on Sunday in the English League Cup final.  

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