Soccer-Latest 'deadline' looms in Man Utd takeover saga

Soccer Football - General views outside Old Trafford - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - June 8, 2023 General view outside Old Trafford REUTERS/Carl Recine/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester United fans can be forgiven if they refrain from eagerly checking the news on Friday as the latest "deadline" looms in the meandering seven-month saga of the club's sale that is beginning to resemble the final series of TV's Succession.

In this real-life battle of the billionaires, Qatari Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani and Briton Jim Ratcliffe have each seemingly taken turns to be the preferred bidder, but in what has been something of a vacuum of confirmed news, and against virtual silence on the matter from the club, almost their every move comes with the caveat of "reportedly."

Britain's Daily Mail said this week that Sheikh Jassim, the son of a former Qatar Prime Minister, has made a "fifth and final" offer of more than five billion pounds ($6.28 billion) for total control of the club, with a deadline of Friday, after which he will not enter any further negotiations. That comes two months after a "third and final offer" was said to have been tabled.

Representatives of the Sheik did not reply to Reuters' request for clarification of their current bid status on Friday, as The Guardian reported that the bid would remain on the table beyond the deadline.

The current owners, the American Glazer family, initially invited bids for United, arguably still the biggest "brand name" in the world's most popular sport, in November.

Media reports in the UK suggested that the Glazers are seeking six billion pounds ($7.5 billion), which would be a world record for any sports club or franchise, but that neither bid is that high.

American Todd Boehly's consortium bought fellow Premier League club Chelsea for 4.25 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) last year - despite a late bid by Ratcliffe - while the Washington Commanders NFL franchise sale is said to be nearing completion for a figure of around 4.8 billion pounds ($6.1 billion).

Representatives of both bidders met officials from Raine Group, the American banking operation overseeing the sale, at Old Trafford in March and were given access to details of the club's finances, after which both sides made second, improved bids.

Further bids followed, up to the Qatari's earlier this week, which is said to include clearing nearly a billion pounds of club debt and a commitment to a major redevelopment of Old Trafford.

Manchester-born Ratcliffe, who owns clubs in France and Switzerland as well as the Ineos Grenadiers cycling team, is "reported" to be the preferred bidder at the moment, potentially because his plan would allow Joel and Avram Glazer, the executive co-chairmen, to retain a 20 percent stake for an undisclosed time period.

Britain's Times newspaper reported last month that Ratcliffe is set for "final talks" with the Glazers and Raine Group, who did not comment on the current status of the deal when approached by Reuters on Friday.

United's fans are desperate to see the back of the hated Glazers, who they accuse of running the club purely for personal gain, but also want the deal done as soon as possible to allow United to get moving in the imminent transfer window as manager Erik ten Hag seeks to strengthen their squad ahead of a return to the Champions League next season.

Manchester City's appearance in the final against Inter Milan on Saturday, when the petrodollar-fuelled "noisy neighbours" have the chance to match United's currently unique 1999 treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, merely hastens the fans' impatience to get their own billionaire backer in place.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)

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