Purely on an ownership front, it is turning into another interesting period of time in the English Premier League given the riches available to clubs in their domestic top flight owing to the intricacies of their particular, and varying, broadcast television deals that have been struck around the globe.
Fans of the English game are accustomed to, largely foreign, billionaires buying into their historic game and taking over their passionately adopted clubs and there are countless examples of just that happening. Whether it was Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, the Glazer family at Manchester United or even the King Power Group (formerly Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha prior to his tragic death, but now his son) at Leicester City.
There are countless other examples in recent history as well as seen here, American Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, the Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool, Farhad Moshiri at Everton, the Fosun Group at Wolverhampton Wanderers and whilst skipping over the tenures of a few, more recently we have Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens at Villa Park, the more controversial Saudi Arabia backed Public Investment Fund’s (Yasir Al-Rumayyan) takeover of Newcastle United, Todd Boehly at Chelsea and if the rumour mill is to be believed – there could be a few more new names in the ownership game in the coming 12 months.
It has been a busy couple of weeks for fans of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester United, as each of their owners have indicated that they are at least open to either new investment that dilutes their control to share their varying projects, if not a full and complete takeover.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has reportedly held talks in recent weeks with multiple prospective bidders in an effort to sound out the potential interest, but as of yet, it is not clear what owner ENIC (namely Joe Lewis) intends to do. Speculation is always just that and it does not require much of an educated guess from the press to assume that he is either interested in fully walking away, a partial sale of his shares, or equally no deal at all if a suitable price (offer) is not forthcoming.
As far as details go, it is suggested Iranian American billionaire Jahm Najafi could table a £3.5 billion offer for a full takeover, but there are also rumours surrounding Tamim bin Hamed Al Thani (better known as the Qatar Sports Investments group) who currently own French giants Paris Saint Germain. It would need to be a minimal investment however, little enough to almost make it redundant given the ownership rules UEFA insist clubs abide and operate by.
The standard line from Spurs is Lewis is committed to the club for the future and that they are not open for sale.
There has also been plenty of talk about Liverpool and whether or not John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group have decided it is now time to move on after their limited success, the massive controversy they created by being interested in the European Super League idea, and their particular struggles in the 2022/23 campaign. Back in November they stated they were open to potential ‘new shareholders’ and FSG chairman Tom Werner later stated that the club were ‘exploring a sale’ but that nothing was immediately on the horizon.
Henry has recently stated.
“Are we selling LFC? No. Are we talking with investors about LFC? Yes. Will something happen there? I believe so, but it won’t be a sale.”
Liverpool are unlikely to follow through with a full takeover as their line has always been investment, and they tasked Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to achieve just that, but by far the most interesting conundrum is the future fate of the Glazers at Old Trafford.
The current owners announced their plans to step aside for the right deal back in November, and their 17 year reign has been beset by fan protests and disillusionment since day one – and the truth is, success has hardly followed.
Their novel way of funding their takeover, which in short used very little (if any) of their own capital but instead relied on debt that the club itself then serviced when it came to repayments, instantly got the backs of fans up and for those fans who were riled up from day one, their particular ownership and takeover model has always been a very quick and emotive ‘go to’ during protests.
Having set a deadline for ‘expressions of interest’ to be registered, ultimately Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani (the name will be familiar, he is the chairman of one of Qatar’s biggest banks and not un-entirely related to someone with an existing Premier League interest) and British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe made formal bids – but it is believed other parties were also in discussions.
Ratcliffe is probably best known from his petrochemical firm Ineos who already have divested into sports, namely Formula One, Cycling, Sailing, Rugby and football, as they already own French League One side OGC Nice who they invested in back in 2019.
The process is not expected to be swift as the tasked Raine Group explore the options, and equally each interested party can fully undertake their own due diligence process and scrutinize the books with the afforded privacy.
However, this process itself is not without controversy. Concerned fans have already spoken out about their own concerns about the two bids, citing the issues it again raises about sporting integrity, debt levels and inclusivity in the main.
This is further stoked by the belief that the Qatari-backed bid would include significant involvement from PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi, even if he officially had no direct connection or role with them.
“There are questions about sporting integrity given the exceptionally close links between some bidders and the owners of other European clubs including PSG and Nice,” a statement by the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust explained.
“There are also questions about whether any bids will also be based on high levels of debt. We also note the importance that any owner respects the rights of all people, particularly women and the LGBTQ+ community. Concerns have been raised by other fans groups which we fully support.”
The controversy does not end there though, apparently the Raine Group have now contacted both parties to warn them about what the Glazer’s perceive as being vitriolic public statements about their own time in charge of the club – namely the lack of success.
It could certainly be an interesting few months ahead, particularly if United fans suddenly feel their owners might have a bit of a thin skin given the protests that are already ongoing in their direction.