Manchester United takeover: Jim Ratcliffe values club higher than Qatar bid
Sir Jim Ratcliffe has valued Manchester United higher than Qatar has in what was supposed to be the final round of bidding to take over the club from the Glazers.
While this would appear to put INEOS in the best position in the race to buy United, figures close to the process were still stressing caution given the "strangeness" of the process so far. This final stage had previously been seen as a hard deadline after which the Glazers would make their decision on what's next, with a prospective announcement on a preferred bidder in the next seven to 10 days if they decide to sell. Ratcliffe valuing the club higher than the Sheikh Jassim-led bid is understood to be a continuation of the second-round offers, and has raised sudden questions from those involved over how serious the Qatari bid now is. Many sources are conscious of the amount of "game-playing" and "poker faces" in the process, which is why the next seven to 10 days may be decisive.
Figures with knowledge of the Qatari bid were insisting that it is natural that Ratcliffe's bid is higher since he is seeking to buy less of the club and pay less for a higher valuation, but there has been general surprise that the Jassim offer hasn't just "blown everyone else out of the water" - to use a phrase commonly repeated - in the manner that was widely expected. Some close observers are even positing that there is a surprising distance between the bids.
It runs hand in hand with a growing belief that the Glazers do not want to sell their entire share, and one of Ratcliffe's proposals is that Joel and Avram Glazer stay on with a non-controlling 20% stake. The British billionaire would still insist on 100% control.
There remains the possibility they do not sell at all, or just seek minority investment.
The last two weeks have also seen Raine ask all bidders to detail the source of their funding and who will be the ultimate owner of United, partly in anticipation of the Premier League's Owner and Director's Test. It would be seen as an embarrassment if a sale was agreed only for the process to fall at that stage. It also comes amid moves to tighten the test, and a greater shift against state-owned clubs, after the clubs approved tougher measures to bar anyone found to have committed human rights abuses. This is relevant to the process given the questions about how separate the Jassim bid is from the Qatari state, which has been accused of seeking to use football for "sportswashing" the state's human rights record.
That is one other reason there is surprise that they haven't just outbid Ratcliffe without necessarily needing to go so high. Despite the supposed finality of this stage, it is still possible that the bidders up their offer again.
Those offering to buy minority stakes, such as Elliott Management, The Carlyle Group, Ares Management and Sixth Street, have been put on hold for this stage with the deadline only applying to those seeking a majority of the club.