Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United linked to £1.5bn sell-off

By Jim Gracey

First the World, then Barcelona, now Manchester United. The tiny Gulf state of Qatar is now believed to be lining up an amazing takeover bid for the Old Trafford club.

United are the oil-rich kingdom's latest £1.5billion target after controversially landing the 2022 World Cup Finals and then singing up Barcelona in a £125million shirt sponsorship deal.

Many fans would have been hard-pressed to find Qatar, a country the size of Wales, on the map before last month, but now the desert state is heading for global football domination in terms of promoting their brand name.

The United link follows a hint by Old Trafford non-executive director Mike Edelson that unpopular American owners, the Glazer family, may be prepared to sell the club.

Edelson, a close confidante of the Glazers, is reported to have revealed at a private business gathering: “It's no secret that, at some time, the family will sell.”

He also stressed that day is a “long way down the line”.

But the Qataris play a long game to get what they want as they proved with their ultimately successful bid, initally against all odds, to win the right to stage the 2022 World Cup.

They followed that by persuading Barca to sell their shirt sponsorship rights for the first time.

Now the Qatar royal family, headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, are seeing the opportunity opening up to buy United.

They are already believed by global financiers to have provided the £252million which Glazers recently paid off from the £752m of debt they saddled the club with.

Having bought United for £790million five years ago, the Americans now stand to double their money if they accept the expected £1.5billion Qatar offer.

It will not go down well with United fans to see the Glazers profiting but they'll surely accept that to see the back of them, coupled with an influx of oil money to match the Arab investment in neighbours City.

Qatar's royal family has an estimated £40bn of assets.

That would give United manager Sir Alex Ferguson enviable spending power over his Premiership rivals.

A Middle East football finance expert, today said that Qatar Holdings — the business arm of the country's royal family — have been hovering around United waiting to strike.

The source said: “They have made tentative moves before with little success but this time it looks like they could be going for it.

“Now they have landed the 2022 World Cup, the country wants to expand its influence in the game across the globe.”

The Glazers have in the past rebuffed a £1.5bn offer from an unnamed Qatari group.

Attempts by a group of investors, the Red Knights, to join forces with the Manchester United Supporters' Trust and table a bid to buy out the Glazers also failed.

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