Sheikh Jassim or Sir Jim Ratcliffe: Pros and Cons of Manchester United’s two prospective buyers

For many Manchester United fans, a day of a collective sigh of relief is nearing. After almost two decades under the much-derided Glazers’ ownership, the news of them wanting to sell the club was like a dark cloud being lifted from Old Trafford. 

Since that bombshell news, however, any progress in the sale process has been stuttery, which is to be expected in a deal of this magnitude.

Recent reports indicate that the fateful day of Manchester United finally seeing “Glazers out” could be coming.

After a lot of news, reports, and conflicting stories, it is possibly down to two candidates – Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, and local businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe. 

The fanbase was always united in their protest against the Glazers. However, the fans are equally as divided when it comes to who they want as the new owner. Political angles, sporting nuance, and financial power might, all play a significant role in this discourse.

Here’s an attempt to put everything in perspective by looking at the pros and cons of the two bidders becoming prospective owners of United.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe

When Chelsea were put up for sale and Sir Jim Ratcliffe made an eleventh-hour bid, United fans were surprised. Ratcliffe had always made clear he would be interested in buying United, so this bid for a rival came as a bolt from the blue. However, with the benefit of hindsight, it looks like that bid was just Ratcliffe sending a message that he was serious about making his presence felt in England. Now armed with the financial might of INEOS, he is making a run at buying United in what could be a dream story. 


A story that sells itself

The year is 1999. Manchester United are trailing Bayern Munich in the final of the Champions League as the hopes of a famous treble fade. Then in injury time, quick-fire goals from Sheringham and Solskjaer seal the win for United in arguably the greatest UCL final of all time. 

A kid from Failsworth, just 6 km away from Manchester city centre, was in the stands that night. Named Jim Ratcliffe, he was euphoric at seeing his team complete club football’s greatest achievement. 

There are rarely any stories of inspiration when it comes to billionaires, but this is as close as it gets. Sir Jim Ratcliffe buying United is the realistic version of a fan-owned model for the club in today’s Premier League. The court of public opinion often plays a crucial role when it comes to clubs that are at the heart of their community. In many ways, Sir Jim Ratcliffe would be the medicine for everything negative the Glazers stood for. 

No ulterior motives

If Sir Jim Ratcliffe manages to buy the club, United fans would rest easy knowing they aren’t part of a political debate on “sportswashing”. Despite all the hatred for the Glazers, fans have always held a high ground that their club hasn’t been used as a soft-power vehicle for entities/individuals of highly questionable ethics. 

Being bought by a local fan would further strengthen the belief that United are a special club, with ties to the community and grassroots, even in the glitz and glamour era of modern football. 


Financial concerns, and the dreaded “D-word”

There are only a few people that can afford to buy Manchester United and then invest in it to overcome decades of neglect by the Glazers. A crumbling stadium, the crippling debt of more than half a billion, and the investment needed in the first team, combined with Glazers’ astronomical valuation of more than £6 billion make this deal a very difficult one. 

Ratcliffe’s net worth of about £12 billion would come nowhere near to being able to sustainably run the club. He is only the public face of the bid backed by the finances of his company, INEOS. A petrochemical company that has since had forays in multiple sports, INEOS had reported revenue of nearly £61 billion last year. Although INEOS, and by extension Sir Jim Ratcliffe, committed to making United debt-free, fans are still reticent due to the wording of the statement. INEOS said the debt would be payable by the company instead of the club. However, for United fans, who are burned by decades of this dreaded “d-word”, this statement was enough to get their eyes rolling. 

Furthermore, as rich as INEOS is, it is now widely accepted that to compete with the state-owned clubs who have distorted the spending spectrum, United would be facing an uphill battle in absence of a free-spending owner who would stop at nothing to make the club a force again. This leads to the second bidder. 

An unkind history in football

Sir Jim Ratcliffe already owns a club in the French Ligue 1, OGC Nice. While the opinions are divided as they are about any club owner, stories of a lack of sporting vision at Nice has United fans rolling their eyes. Under Ratcliffe’s ownership, OGC Nice have been one of the more freely-spending teams. However, that hasn’t always translated to on-pitch success. 

Be it the short-term approach to transfers, repeated axing of head coaches, or the allegations of non-football people running things (Deja vu?), a section of OGC Nice fans believe that despite the spending, the club has failed to reach its potential due to questionable decision making by the owners on the sporting project side. 

Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani 

From being an individual no United fan knew anything about, to being arguably the most talked-about person in Manchester, it has been quite a journey for Sheikh Jassim. Son of former Qatari PM Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, Sheikh Jassim has repeatedly stressed that he is a United fan and wanting to buy the club is his dream. Coming from royalty, if he manages to seal the deal for the club, it would be a transformative move for the club, both on and off the field. 


A financial juggernaut to take on financial juggernauts

It is no secret that top-level football has become a playing field for nation-states. In the Premier League itself, the rise of Man City, and the trajectory of Newcastle United has put the “legacy clubs” on notice. Coaches and experts alike have been bemoaning the “unfair playing field” when it comes to competing with the endless money of these clubs. 

If Sheikh Jassim buys the club, Manchester United would instantly be on a level playing field. Moreover, due to the club’s historic fanbase and foundations, it can be argued that United would even be a step ahead of these clubs. It has long been said that United are a financial juggernaut just waiting to be freed from Glazers’ economic policies. With Sheikh Jassim at the helm, United wouldn’t just be freed from those clasps, they would be running with a boost on their tail. 

Sheikh Jassim has already announced his intention to become the 100% owner of the club, make it debt-free, invest in the stadium, and prop up the surrounding areas. That kind of financial might is hard to compete with and has fans already dreaming of a world-class club finally realising its potential. 



A financial juggernaut to leave everyone behind it in the dust. But at what cost? That’s the question a section of the United fanbase is asking. With top-level football clubs increasingly becoming “sportswashing vehicles” for nation-states with questionable human rights records, United fans have always held on to the belief that “it means more” for success to come without financial doping. Manchester City’s titles are looked down upon by United fans for the same reason. 

When it comes to Sheikh Jassim and Qatar, those calls have become louder. Qatar was the centre of world football just a few months ago when the World Cup was held amidst questionable views from people in power there. Be it the treatment of migrant workers, the rights of women and minorities, or the source of their enormous wealth, sections of the United fanbase have likened the prospect of a deal with Qatar to selling their soul to the devil for success. 

So as things come to a head, the fanbase is divided, with each section having its own views on why one is better than the others, each section being correct in its own right. What unites the fanbase is the doomed Glazers ownership coming to an end. A new dawn is setting at Old Trafford. Who leads it remains to be seen. 

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