Manchester United sale to accelerate review of Uefa’s dual-ownership rules

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Old Trafford – PA

Discussions about potential changes to Uefa’s rules governing dual ownership are likely to accelerate should Sheikh Jassim’s Qatari bid or Sir Jim Ratcliffe successfully buy Manchester United, Telegraph Sport understands.

Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European football’s governing body, revealed this month that it was considering amending its regulations to allow clubs with the same owner to play in the Champions League simultaneously. At present, such a scenario is prohibited.

The two leading offers for United are from owners with links to clubs in Ligue 1, France’s top division.

Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group owns Nice, in addition to the Swiss club Lausanne-Sport. The bid by Sheikh Jassim, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank and the son of the former Qatari Prime Minister, has raised concerns about links to the Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain, despite insistence he is funding the deal from his own private wealth.

Dual ownership is not currently on the agenda at the next meeting of Uefa’s executive committee in Lisbon on April 4 or the Uefa congress the next day.

But club sources have indicated that it is likely to become a topic of serious discussion in the game’s corridors of power should United be sold before the end of the season and the thorny issue comes in for much greater scrutiny given the parties bidding for the club.

If Uefa’s executive committee voted to implement changes to the existing rules for next season, they would need to happen before qualifying for next season’s Champions League gets underway in late June.

Qualifying for the Europa Conference League is due to commence in July and the following month for the Europa League. Various groups across Europe are believed to have been applying pressure on Uefa for the current rules to be reviewed.

Ceferin said in an interview with Gary Neville for his The Overlap YouTube channel that Uefa was “not thinking about Manchester United only” and that they have had “five or six owners of clubs who want to buy another club”.

Uefa would likely first consult with the European Club Association (ECA) before they got to a point where the executive committee met to discuss the pros and cons of any changes. The ECA’s chairman is Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president.

“The options are that it stays like that or that we allow them to play in the same competition,” Ceferin told Neville. “I’m not sure yet.

“We have to speak about these regulations and see what to do about it. There is more and more interest in multi-club ownership. We shouldn’t just say no for the investments for multi-club ownership, but we have to see what kind of rules we set in that case, because the rules have to be strict.”

Sources close to Sheikh Jassim have dismissed suggestions his bid is effectively a state project ultimately funded by the Qatar Investment Authority, the gulf nation’s sovereign wealth fund estimated to have more than £370 billion of assets and which already helps to back PSG through its subsidiary, Qatar Sports Investment (QSI).

No details have yet been provided about the specific source or scale of Sheikh Jassim’s wealth but sources close to his bid have expressed some surprise at the focus on Qatar given the multi-club ownership that exists across Europe.

That includes Ratcliffe, whose Nice side are currently seventh in Ligue 1. Lausanne-Sport are third in the Swiss Challenge League, the country’s second tier. Another Briton, Tony Bloom, owns Brighton and the Belgian club, Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, both of whom could qualify for Europe next season.

The Red Bull ownership group were famously able to convince a Uefa panel of club finance experts in 2017 that they had created enough separation between Leipzig and Salzburg to allow both to compete in the same European competition. The two clubs competed in the Champions League this season.

If Qatar owns Paris St-Germain how can it buy Manchester United?

Although Sheikh Jassim is said to be financing his bid via private wealth, his close family links to Qatar’s ruling elite have raised questions about the source of funds. For years, his father had controlled the purse strings at the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the £370 billion fund which helps to back Paris Saint-Germain through its subsidiary Qatar Sports Investment (QSI).

However, his bid group has repeatedly claimed the funding for the club is independent of the QIA.  Aides last week told United they are confident they will not fall foul of rules prohibiting clubs with the same owner playing in the same competition.

Even if state funding was proven, Uefa president Alesander Ceferin  may be willing to turn the other cheek. He said this month that European football’s governing body was considering a rule change that would allow clubs with the same owner to play in the Champions League simultaneously.

Kylian Mbappe at PSG - Getty Images/Christain Liewig

Kylian Mbappe at PSG – Getty Images/Christain Liewig

How would their regime differ from the Glazers?

After scolding Manchester City for years over their Abu Dhabi ownership, some fans remain uncomfortable with the prospect of Middle East funding. Many others, however, are salivating at the prospect of a debt-free regime, more transfer backing and redevelopment promises – regardless of the source.

The end of the Glazers means the end of leveraged debt on the club. A total commitment – including purchase price – is estimated at £7 billion under the Qataris’ vision.

At the heart of the bid is a promise to end long-standing uncertainty over how the club would finance a new stadium and training ground, the two of which could cost up to £2 billion. United have appointed master planners for both projects but they are effectively on hold while the club awaits clarity over ownership. United had been favouring redevelopment and

expansion of their existing Old Trafford stadium although that is currently being estimated to be an eight-year project.

Whether a new stadium, built on land adjoining Old Trafford that the club mostly owns, would be more appealing for a new owner remains to be seen. The club have vowed to keep consulting closely with supporters on what is likely to be a hugely emotive issue.

Old Trafford from above - Getty Images/John Peters

Old Trafford from above – Getty Images/John Peters

The Nine Two Foundation has pledged in a press release that it will “invest in the football teams, the training centre, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports”.

Who will be in charge should a Qatari takeover go through?

Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, 40, would be expected to be the club’s chairman, with aides insisting he is working independently of his father, Qatar’s former prime minister. Key roles would also be assured for Shahzad Shahbaz, now president of the Nine Two Foundation which would run the club, and possibly Sheikh Jassim’s senior personal advisor Fady Backhos.

Shahbaz has long been associated with Sheikh Jassim, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank. He was also a key advisor to the sheikh at Al Mirqab Capital, which manages the family’s portfolio of investments in Qatar. After a stint with the National Bank of Dubai, Shahbaz moved to Qatar in 2008 to become CEO of investment firm QInvest, whose chairman was Sheikh Jassim.

Shahbaz is also a former executive at Bank of America which may explain why Sam Powers, a global head at the bank, and Yasir Shah, the managing director there, were also at Old Trafford and Carrington on Thursday. Backhos, meanwhile, would likely have a legal role in the potential running of the foundation. He is senior legal, corporate and investment advisor at Al Mirqab.

Why is there a summer deadline?

Even though the Glazers have yet to choose a bidder to enter into exclusive talks, dealmakers insist a sale can be done within a strict end-of-April target.

One man who would welcome a swift resolution to the takeover process and clarity over the future ownership of the club is manager Erik ten Hag. The Dutchman has done an outstanding job in his first 10 months in charge at Old Trafford, leading United to third in the Premier League table, Carabao Cup glory, an FA Cup semi-final against Brighton at Wembley and a place in the last eight of the Europa League.

Yet Ten Hag knows that there is a lot of work still to do and has placed great importance on the summer window and his hopes of significantly strengthening a squad that remains short of world-class players in several positions.

Ten Hag’s hands were tied in the January transfer window and he is desperate to avoid a situation where a protracted takeover saga potentially compromises plans for the summer. United also have several key players, including Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw, approaching the final year of their contracts and there will be a growing urgency to resolve those situations before too long.

Marcus Rashford and Erik ten Hag - Getty Images/Fran Santiago

Marcus Rashford and Erik ten Hag – Getty Images/Fran Santiago

What’s happened to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s offer?

The British billionaire and main rival to Qatar should not be ruled out despite the Qataris’ confidence. The owner of Ineos, the petrochemicals giant, was in talks with his inner circle on Tuesday night and a second bid was said to still be expected by the 9pm deadline.

However, with dealmakers optimistic the Qataris will now meet the Glazers’ £5 billion-plus asking price, Ratcliffe, in contrast, has this week played down the prospect of overpaying.

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