Qatar vs INEOS: What deal is best for Man Utd?

Grey Whitebloom
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is the face of INEOS' bid for Manchester United
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is the face of INEOS' bid for Manchester United / BERTRAND GUAY/GettyImages

A vocal proportion of Manchester United's fanbase has despised the club's owners, the controversial Glazer family, since the first whispers of their leveraged buyout emerged.

After 18 years of increasing unrest between distant, despotic owners and beleaguered supporters, Manchester United fans may finally be able to fold away the bed sheets with Glazer scrawled across them after the American family revealed a willingness to sell their shares in November.

Two bids for England's most successful football club have been publicly declared before the soft deadline of Friday, 17 February. Here's how the statements of interest launched by QIB's Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani and INEOS billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe compare.

Key figures behind each bid

Both Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe were all too keen to point out their life-long support of Manchester United when launching their bid.

However, aside from an undying love for the Red Devils - and one or two trips to Old Trafford - not much is known about Al Thani. According to the Mail on Sunday, the "spokespeople working for him don't know his age, whether he is married or how he made a supposed fortune measured billions".

Sheikh Jassim - the son of a former prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabar Al Thani - is the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB), one of the nation’s leading financial institutions since its foundation the same year Al Thani was born, 1982.

Ratcliffe is practically an open book compared to his rival. The 70-year-old Manchester-born billionaire is the founder, chairman and majority shareholder of the chemicals behemoth INEOS.

What is each bid offering

Details on the exact figures for the purchase of the club are vague as the Glazers only held a soft deadline last Friday. Once all interested parties have been granted access to Manchester United’s accounts, more precise sums may emerge.

Sheikh Jassim’s bid “confirmed his submission for 100%”. The stake INEOS are targeting only accounts for 69% of the club but would still give Ratcliffe decision-making responsibilities.

Only the bid headed by Sheikh Jassim directly addressed the debt Manchester United were lumbered with when the Glazers gained a majority stake in the club almost two decades ago. The Glazers borrowed £525m at varying rates of interest to buy Manchester United in 2005. The club still owe £580m.

Sheikh Jassim promised a bid that "will be completely debt free" via his Nine Two Foundation - supposedly named in homage to Manchester United's Class of '92, which included the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers.

Ratcliffe's group skirted around this issue but "provided assurances that no 'fresh debt' (ie, any money borrowed to acquire United) will be landed onto the club’s balance sheet and will instead be borne by INEOS" according to The Athletic.

Both bids outlined their desire to improve Manchester United's infrastructure. INEOS released a statement which read: “Football governance in this country is at a crossroads. We would want to help lead this next chapter, deepening the culture of English football by making the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership.”

While Sheikh Jassim's contingent explicitly stated it "will look to invest in the football teams, the training centre, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports".

Unsurprisingly for a strong advocate of Brexit, Ratcliffe’s offer is leaning upon his British roots. As part of its bid, INEOS pledged: "We want a Manchester United anchored in its proud history and roots in the north west of England, putting the Manchester back into Manchester United and clearly focusing on winning the Champions League.”

Previous football investments of both bidding parties

Theoretically, this will be the first time Sheikh Jassim has dipped his toe into the world of football investment. However, there are a number of links between Sheikh Jassim - who is the chair of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) - the state of Qatar and Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), which owns Paris Saint-Germain.

The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which is the sovereign wealth fund of the state of Qatar, retains a 17.17% stake in Sheikh Jassim's QIB. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chairman of QSI and president of PSG, sits on the board of QIA.

Ratcliffe's association with a Ligue 1 team is far more straightforward. OGC Nice are one of three clubs in INEOS's portfolio, along with Swiss side Lausanne and the Ivory Coast outfit Racing Club Abidjan.

Ratcliffe’s investment vehicle also owns the sailing team Ineos Britannia and has multi-year partnerships with Formula 1 team Mercedes and the cycling group Team Sky.

Moral concerns

Even if we suspend disbelief and accept that Sheikh Jassim's bid is independent of the state of Qatar, which came under global scrutiny from a myriad of human rights groups for its treatment of migrant workers working on the construction of the 2022 World Cup, Al Thani's father was the prime minister of the country between 2007 and 2013.

Homosexuality is criminalised in Qatar. When news of Sheikh Jassim's interest in Manchester United emerged on Friday, Rainbow Devils - the club's officially recognised LGBT supporters group - released a statement which read: “Rainbow Devils believe any bidder seeking to buy Manchester United must commit to making football a sport for everyone, including LGBTQ+ supporters, players and staff. We therefore have deep concern over some of the bids that are being made. We are watching the current process closely with this in mind.”

Ratcliffe's treatment of his workers, particularly when making alterations to pension plans, has resulted in numerous strikes.

INEOS, Ratcliffe's chemical company, has also come under scrutiny for its environmental impact. A report in 2021 from Food & Water Europe “found that many of the facilities had accidents, safety lapses, chemical leaks, substantial pollutant releases and even fires and explosions”. Between 2003 and 2016, INEOS paid nearly £3m in environmental and workplace penalties and fines.

Neither bid, therefore, is squeaky clean.