Man Utd takeover latest: Secret bidders, trade-offs and Glazer’s gamesmanship all part of countdown to potential sale
TEAMtalk have been speaking to trusted journalist Ben Jacobs about the latest on the potential sale of Manchester United and all the moving parts involved in such a huge process.
A Qatari bid fronted by Sheikh Jassim is one of two stand-out proposals received by investment bank Raine Group, with INEOS founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe the other early favourite to buy the Old Trafford club.
There have been other offers, with US hedge fund Elliot Management lodging a proposal for potential financing. But it’s now up to Raine to assess the offers over the coming weeks.
But in our weekly chat with Ben Jacobs, the journalist has revealed exactly what stage talks are at and how things can still change significantly in the coming weeks and months, in what is still likely to be a lengthy process.
Jacobs told us: “There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the Manchester United sale process, whether that’s for an outright new owner or minority investment and I think that many fans are wrongly viewing this process like a transfer and they’re wondering why there’s been a relative radio silence since the soft deadline by the New York merchant bank, Raine Group.
“And the reality is that takeovers take time. They’re not done overnight. And this process has a number of steps.
“So the soft deadline, first of all, is only that. It means the Glazers can wait and see whether somebody else comes forwards and certain groups may intentionally be choosing to keep quiet, be secretive, or not even yet enter the race for Manchester United because they want to try and work out the lay of the land and what other groups are doing.
“And then after any bids, depending on how the groups are tabled, or if nothing has been placed yet, there is further engagement between the Raine group and any interested party.
“Once that point has passed, the Glazers and Raine Group then have to assess what they’ve got and determine whether the so-called indicative offers are right for the Glazers and Manchester United football club.
Sorting the wheat from the chaff
For United, it’s now about identifying those that are serious bids and those that are not, as Jacobs explains further.
He added: “So this isn’t about an acceptance or a rejection of a certain bid. This is really about filtering what is credible, and what is non credible. And the focus is being drawn on to two groups in particular – Qatar and Sir Jim Ratcliffe, because they are the only two public bidders at this stage.
“Any groups involved in the process should be respectful of the secrecy that the Glazers want. But also should not be talking in terms if they make public statements that suggest it’s about restoring glory, or repairing the relationship between the fanbase and football club.
“Because even if those points are true, you’re effectively entering into a process to do business with the Glazers, and you’re saying at the same time that they’ve not done the best possible job or they’ve not created the best possible mood. And that doesn’t go down very well with either Raine Group or the Glazers, which is why it’s about playing the process.
“Those that succeed in takeovers are usually the ones that don’t shout and scream the loudest. And the next step in all of this is going to be for certain groups to be put through. And after they’re put through, they will undertake due diligence. And that’s really the most important part in all of this.
“This is why before I said, don’t look at it like transfer, because with the transfer, you put down a number, you’ve already valued the player, you’re hopeful of doing business, and then it’s a power dynamic and a negotiation between buyer and seller to try and get a deal done. And it can obviously happen very quickly, particularly when towards the end of the window.
“But with a takeover, the groups that are bidding are still quite blind, because they’ve not done the due diligence. So the key point in all of this is there is a gulf in valuation between those that have bid and the Glazers’ valuation of Manchester United football club, which is normal for two reasons.
“One, because the Glazers are going to estimate their valuation is higher because they’re trying to get the best possible price, and two, because those bidding don’t want to show their true hand.
Due diligence key to working out true Man Utd value
“But also the Glazers know all of Manchester United’s numbers and the bidders don’t. So after the due diligence, we’ll find out whether the Glazers are accurate in their valuation or it’s just gamesmanship, and we’ll also find out whether the suitors are prepared to go higher because once they’ve seen the numbers, they realize that the football club is actually worth more and at that point, it will be clearer as to whether there is a group that meets the Glazers expectations for outright sale.
“But there remains some skepticism from both the public groups that have said that they’re in this process as to whether the Glazers do want to sell 100% of their 69% stake in the club.
“And that I think, is normal, because when Jim Ratcliffe spoke to the Glazers before this process started, he left that conversation thinking that the Glazers did not want to sell the football club, and we’re only six or seven months on from that conversation. And now Jim Ratcliffe is in the process, the question that he will be asking is what’s changed?
“The offers that have been placed are indicative. So technically, they can go up or down. And in addition to that, there’s gamesmanship here because the Glazers want a higher number, and the bidders want to stick to their valuation. So it’s a more complex process.
“And until the next step, we simply won’t know how serious the Glazers really are about selling.
Glazers, Raine Group have full control over timescale
Jacobs also revealed how the Glazers and Raine Group are still in control of how long the process will take, all the while that due diligence is taking place.
He added: “I think the final thing to just say is that everyone wants to timescale and it is true when this process first started that the Glazers were considering Easter as the earliest possible timescale, but it takes as long as it takes. Because right now the Glazers and Raine Group have got all the power because they’re the ones setting deadlines. They’re the ones inviting people to do further due diligence.
“But if a group becomes credible, further down the line, when they then enter into direct engagement, and potentially a period of exclusivity, the power dynamic switches. Because at that point, it’s clear by putting them that far advanced in a process that the Glazers are open to whatever deal is on the table, whether outright or minority investment.
“At that point, the group involved becomes a frontrunner, and then they can change the terms, they can change the speed, they can ask to dig a little bit deeper. They can ultimately dismiss the deadline and say that they want more time, because if everything is heading in the right direction, then the group that are potentially incoming to Manchester United get a lot more flexibility and freedom because this is not like the Chelsea sale.
“It doesn’t have the government involved. It doesn’t have the hard deadline. It doesn’t have an urgency because Abramovich had to leave the football club, whereas the Glazers don’t so the next step is going to be really important clarifying the process.
“And ultimately Manchester United fans, as we head into the month of March, will get more of a sense as to what the Glazers want to do and who stands a credible chance of succeeding.
“So this next step should be viewed as credible versus not credible and narrowing down of groups and even potentially a pairing of groups together, because those that are unsuccessful might be invited to join another group but it should not be viewed like a transfer as success or failure or win or lose because that’s jumping steps in the process.”
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