Ratcliffe poised for $33-a-share stake in Manchester United


Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the Glazer family are on the brink of finalising a $33-a-share deal that will see the petrochemicals tycoon acquiring a 25% stake in Manchester United Football Club.

Sky News can reveal that months of talks between the Ineos billionaire and the Red Devils’ controlling investors for the last 18 years have settled on a price of roughly $33-a-share.

If confirmed, it would represent a premium of more than 75% to Thursday’s New York Stock Exchange closing price of $18.43, which gave the Old Trafford club a market capitalisation of $3.04bn (£2.44bn).

People close to the process cautioned on Friday that the deal had yet to be finalised and remained the subject of ongoing negotiations.

A transaction between the two parties is, however, close to being concluded almost exactly a year to the day since the Glazers confirmed a Sky News report that they were initiating a strategic review of Manchester United‘s ownership.

Sources said it could be announced as soon as Monday, although it could slip by a couple of days.

The Glazers are said to be keen to finalise the deal before the US Thanksgiving holiday begins on Thursday.

Sir Jim’s Ineos Sports plans to acquire 25% of both the listed A-shares and the B-shares, which carry greater voting rights and are held exclusively by the Glazers.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe at Manchester United
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is seen visiting Manchester United’s facilities earlier this year

Earlier this week, the club confirmed that chief executive Richard Arnold is to leave after just two years in the job, in what is being viewed as a sign of Sir Jim’s influence.

Patrick Stewart, United’s general counsel, will become interim chief executive.

While United won its first trophy for six years by beating Newcastle United to win last season’s Carabao Cup, the last year has largely been one of turbulence on and off the pitch.

Sky News revealed earlier this month that Sir Jim is to commit $300m (£245m) from his multibillion pound fortune to overhauling United’s ageing infrastructure, in addition to more than £1bn he will spend on acquiring a 25% stake.

The funds will be financed by Sir Jim personally and will not add to Manchester United’s existing borrowings.

Reports in recent weeks have suggested that the billionaire will take immediate control of football matters at the club, alongside Ineos Sports colleagues including Sir Dave Brailsford, the former cycling supremo.

Many United fans have expressed disquiet at the prospect of Sir Jim buying a minority stake given that it paves the way for the Glazers’ continued presence at Old Trafford.

The family, who paid just under £800m to buy the club in 2005, has remained inscrutable throughout the process and has said nothing of substance to the NYSE since the process of engaging with prospective buyers kicked off.

Avram Glazer (L) and Joel Glazer
Avram Glazer (L) and Joel Glazer

Earlier iterations of Sir Jim’s offers for the club, which focused on gaining outright control, included put-and-call arrangements that would become exercisable three years after a takeover to enable him to buy out the remainder of the club’s shares.

The Monaco-based billionaire, who owns the Ligue 1 side Nice, pitched a restructured deal last month in an attempt to unblock the ongoing impasse over United’s future.

Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani withdrew an offer to buy 100% of the club after reaching an impasse over price.

In addition to the competing bids from Sir Jim and Sheikh Jassim, the Glazers received several credible offers for minority stakes or financing to fund investment in the club.

These include an offer from the giant American financial investor Carlyle; Elliott Management, the American hedge fund which until recently owned AC Milan; Ares Management Corporation, a US-based alternative investment group; and Sixth Street, which recently bought a 25% stake in the long-term La Liga broadcasting rights to FC Barcelona.

Manchester United fans
Manchester United fans have opposed the Glazer family’s ownership from the beginning

Part of the Glazers’ justification for attaching such a huge valuation to the club resides in the possibility of it gaining greater control in future of its lucrative broadcast rights, alongside a belief that arguably the world’s most famous sports brand can be commercially exploited more effectively.

United’s New York-listed shares have gyrated wildly in recent months as reports have suggested that either a deal was close or that the Glazers were poised to formally cancel the sale process.

The Glazers’ tenure has been dogged by controversy and protests, with the absence of a Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager in 2013 fuelling fans’ anger at the debt-fuelled nature of their takeover.

Fury at its proposed participation in the ill-fated European Super League project in 2021 crystallised supporters’ desire for new owners to replace the Glazers.

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Confirming the launch of the strategic review last November, Avram and Joel Glazer said: “The strength of Manchester United rests on the passion and loyalty of our global community of 1.1bn fans and followers.

“We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future.”

The Glazers listed a minority stake in the company in New York in 2012.

“Love United, Hate Glazers” has become a familiar refrain during their tenure, with supporters critical of a perceived lack of investment in the club, even as the owners have reaped large dividends as a result of its ability to generate sizeable profits.

Manchester United and a spokesman for Ineos both declined to comment.

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