Manchester United have been owned by the Glazer family since 2005, but in recent weeks have indicated a willingness to sell the club.
The controversial owners have not fully committed to a sale, but they have begun a process to sound out potential buyers should they choose to sell.
Whilst many fans are keen to move on from the Glazer era, the potential new owners may raise serious questions of their own.
Both of the main bidders involved have been accused by some of having an ulterior motive behind their purchases, whilst publicly stating their intentions are nothing more than a desire to restore the club to the successful eras of the past.
The winning bid is expected to be worth at least £4.5bn, which would make the sale of the club the most expensive in history, eclipsing the £4.2bn Todd Boehly spent when purchasing Chelsea last year.
Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar Islamic Bank
The chairman of Qatari bank QIB, al-Thani has been a Manchester United fan since the age of 10, and pledges to restore the club to its former glory.
Son of the former Prime Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, the younger al-Thani is enmeshed in the elite of the Gulf state, and this has raised questions over whether the bid is coming on behalf of the state itself.
There are no established links between the bid for the club and Qatar Sports Investments, the Qatar-based owners of French club Paris Saint-Germain.
Pledging to invest through his Nine Two Foundation, a not-so-subtle nod to the famous Class of ’92 who were a crucial part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s early success with the club, the Qatari has promised to leave the club debt-free and to bring significant investment.
There is to be no profit motive, though potential motivations may run deeper than club affiliation and could amount to an attempt at ‘sportswashing’, a term that describes states acquiring assets in other nations, allowing them to promote a positive global image on the world stage.
The bid is understood to be worth at a minimum £4bn, but there are serious questions surrounding whether this amount of wealth is available to al-Thani personally.
His father is known to be extremely wealthy, having taken personal stakes in many state-owned companies during his time in the Qatari government. Forbes estimated his personal wealth at $1.2bn, some way short of the funds needed for a successful bid, though some Gulf experts have opined that this is likely a very conservative estimate.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, INEOS
A lifelong Manchester United fan who also attempted to buy Chelsea when it became available, Ratcliffe has a stable of football clubs already under his ownership, but clearly covets a jewel in the crown.
The INEOS boss already owns OGC Nice in France, alongside FC Lausanne-Sport in Switzerland, where he generated significant backlash by attempting to include INEOS’ branding in a redesign of the club’s crest.
Ratcliffe’s wealth has spiked in the past decade, growing from an estimated $1.1bn to $16.3bn in 2022, according to Forbes, a figure that ranks him just outside the top 100 richest individuals in the world.
The petrochemical company he founded has grown to be the fourth largest in the world, yet much like the sportswashing accusations surrounding the Qatari bid, it has been suggested that Ratcliffe’s bid may be an attempt at ‘greenwashing’ the image of a company which is involved in industries that are polluting and destructive to the environment.
Ratcliffe has pledged, as has al-Thani, to not run the club for profit, and has gone further in suggesting a fan-led ownership.
Other clubs in the Ratcliffe stable have experienced mixed fortunes since he became the owner of their club, with Lausanne-Sport being relegated in his first season as owner, gaining promotion two seasons later before being relegated again last season after two seasons in the top flight.
Nice meanwhile have seen significant investment, and spending more on players than they have received for sales year on year. However, the four seasons since the takeover have seen little progress, with finishes of between fifth, sixth and ninth, and the club currently in eighth place.
Despite spending a shade under €250m since his arrival, there has been no improvement, something which may concern United fans who have spent the better part of a decade spending vast sums without improving the side. All three of Nice’s most expensive signings have come under Ratcliffe’s ownership.
Elliott Investment Management
The American hedge fund, who previously owned AC Milan and manage £46bn worth of assets came into the picture at the eleventh hour but are said to be uninterested in take charge alone.
The firm instead aim to provide financial support to other bidders who may not otherwise have had the financial might to put together a successful bid.
Their tenure in charge of Milan was ultimately successful, with the club winning a first title in over a decade before being sold on last summer for over £1bn.
Their role in other bids is not yet clear, but they may well become a partner of one or more of the major players in the bid process as it progresses beyond the initial stages.