British billionaire who owns Ineos eager to buy club he has supported since childhood
Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s richest men and a United fan, had been the first billionaire to declare interest when rumours first surfaced of a potential sale over the summer.
The owner of petrochemicals giant Ineos will now table a fresh approach – although he is wary about overpaying as insiders suggest the Glazers are looking for a price in excess of £5bn.
Ratcliffe previously contacted the Glazers in August but concluded at the time that a deal appeared unlikely. He also has experience dealing with broker Raine Group as they had been taking offers for Chelsea.
There is concern Raine will be pushing for a price beyond United’s natural value. It’s believed Ratcliffe’s failed bid to buy Chelsea over the summer was late because he had been waiting for the price to drop.
However, his renewed interest in buying United, having supported them since boyhood and attended the 1999 Champions League final, is said to be serious. The business empire will have already done due diligence on the club.
Ineos has a rule when launching takeovers that they expect investments to pay off or increase significantly in value after three years. Sources close to Ratcliffe says he always puts business logic before passion.
United were the only club who could change the mind of Ratcliffe after his company said earlier this month it was focusing on investments at OGC Nice.
Taking over the Old Trafford club would not necessarily mean Ineos would have to sell the French club, which has signed several English players. But, they would not be allowed to play against each other in Europe under Uefa rules. Ineos has invested in F1 and cycling, while their football clubs also include Swiss club Lausanne.
Ratcliffe had first said in August that his Ineos group would have been interested in the Glazers-owned club should it come up for sale.
Speaking at an FT conference in October, Ratcliffe said he had been told United were not for sale.
“I met with Joel and Avram, and they are the nicest people, and they don’t want to sell it,” he added.
“If it had been for sale in the summer, yes, we would probably have had a go, following on from the Chelsea thing. But we can’t sit around hoping one day Manchester United will become available.”
Other sources indicated, however, that the owners have been actively exploring the potential sale of Manchester United since the summer. United’s share price increased for a second day on Wednesday and it is anticipated that some of the parties who bid for Chelsea could come to the table.
United released a statement on Tuesday night announcing that the Glazers were seeking new investment either through a partial or full sale of the club, raising the prospect of the Americans ending their controversial 17-year ownership.
Sources said that, while all avenues would be explored and the Glazers were open to minority investment if it represented the right strategic partnership and value, there would be reluctance to relinquish control of the club without a full sale.
The family have been majority shareholders of Manchester United since 2005, and Joel and Avram Glazer are co-chairmen of the club.
Although the news comes barely a fortnight since it emerged that Fenway Sports Group, fellow architects in the failed European Super League plot last year, were looking to offload Liverpool, the Glazers have been looking into a sale of United for months.
“I would say this goes back to the summer,” one source said, adding that news of United’s availability could put a “spike” in the Liverpool process.
Sources close to Qatar Sports Investments, meanwhile, have categorically ruled out any interest in United, saying their long-term commitments remain at European rivals PSG.
The American billionaires Josh Harris and David Blitzer, owners of the Philadelphia 76ers NBA franchise and minority shareholders in Crystal Palace, were among those who bid for Chelsea.
There have been estimates in recent months that the Glazers – whose ownership has seen gradual decline on the pitch and triggered mass protests by fans – could seek as much as £8 billion or £9 billion for United but sources would only say: “This is a club that has enormous potential”.