The battle to take over Manchester United was plunged into chaos and confusion on Wednesday night after the deadline for the second round of bids for the club was dramatically extended at the last minute.
Representatives of the Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani and the Ineos owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, had earlier claimed that their bids had gone in before Wednesday night’s 9pm deadline. However, it later emerged that it was not the case and that at least one bid – Ineos – had asked for more time.
A new deadline is yet to be confirmed but Ineos are expecting to make their bid in the next 24 hours. The Qatari bidders, meanwhile, are now awaiting to hear from the Raine Group, the banking firm charged with brokering the sale, before going back in.
Both the Qatari consortium and Ineos are planning to make offers in excess of the highest first-round bid, which was believed to be approximately £4.5bn. However, well-placed sources are cautioning that they are still likely to be well short of the Glazers’ desired asking price of somewhere near the upper end of £5bn to £6bn.
As things stand there are only two publicly declared offers, with Sheikh Jassim having bid for 100% of the club and Ineos targeting the combined Glazer shareholding of around 69%. A third option for the Glazers would be to retain the club but sell a minority stake to a US hedge fund – a decision that would appal United’s fanbase.
The delay could yet be to the Glazers’ benefit as it puts pressure on potential suitors to ramp up their offers. However, it also further drags out a saga that began in November when the Glazer family confirmed that they were considering selling United.
Last month Sheikh Jassim’s Qatari consortium officially confirmed their interest as they pledged to “return the club to its former glories both on and off the pitch”.
Sheikh Jassim, a chairman of Qatari bank QIB and the son of a former prime minister of Qatar, also promised “to invest in the football teams, the training centre, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports”.
Ratcliffe, who was born in Failsworth in Greater Manchester, has repeatedly stressed his deep links with the club he supported as a boy.
The 70-year-old billionaire, whose sporting portfolio includes the Ligue 1 club Nice, the Ineos cycling team and a five-year partnership with Formula One team Mercedes, has also promised to be “a British custodian for the club” and to “put the Manchester back into Manchester United”.