Potential buyers of Manchester United crunching the numbers

A corner flag showing the logo of Manchester United is seen ahead of the English FA Cup 4th round soccer match between Manchester United and Reading at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) — After missing out on Chelsea last year, British businessman Martin Broughton knows how potential buyers will be feeling ahead of Friday’s deadline to submit bids for Manchester United.

The late nights spent crunching the numbers. Checking and double-checking that financial backers will make good on their promises.

Then that final bid emailed to the New York office of merchant bank Raine Group for approval.

“Just before you put in the formal bid you go through all of the debate,” Broughton, who has no intention of making a bid for United, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “How much leeway do we leave ourselves? We need to be on the shortlist. At the same time, we don’t want to be overpaying.”

Friday has been described as a soft deadline for initial offers before the process of determining the next owner of United gathers pace.

Broughton, a 75-year-old businessman who is the former chairman of British Airways and English soccer club Liverpool, went through all of that last year when heading a consortium that tried to buy Chelsea, with Raine also handling that sale. He made it to the final three, but eventually lost to Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, who paid $3 billion for the London club — a record for a soccer team.

United is estimated to command as much as double that figure after the American-owning Glazer family announced their willingness to sell last November.

So far Jim Ratcliffe, the British billionaire owner of petrochemicals giant INEOS, is the only confirmed bidder. But he is expected to face a challenge from Qatar, while other interested parties could become clearer after Friday.

“I don’t know how many bids there were for Chelsea, but there were at least half a dozen serious bids and that leaves four or five frustrated people,” Broughton said.

One of those was Ratcliffe, who, despite matching the bid of Boehly and Clearlake, missed the deadline set by Raine and wasn’t considered. He hasn’t repeated that mistake with United, declaring last month his intention to move for the club he has supported since childhood.

“Jim wants it. He’s prepared to pay properly for it. My surmise would be he’s willing to come up with a big number,” Broughton said. “Personally, I would guess he’d be at the 4-5 billion pounds ($4.8-6 billion) level.

“Jim, in the Chelsea case, made it clear at the outset that he wasn’t going to be interested at that price, it was too much. Wasn’t interested in discussing, joining in with other potential bidders and then made this very late bid.”

Broughton, a Chelsea supporter, pitched his attempt to buy out then-owner Roman Abramovich on the premise of a bid by the fans, for the fans. He sees some similarities in Ratcliffe’s pursuit of United.

“We didn’t see it as just a financial transaction. We saw it more as an opportunity for a greater level of fan involvement. Jim is a fan,” Broughton said, adding “somebody who is a fan, I think is preferable because they will think about what the fans want.”

Broughton said he wouldn’t be surprised if only a “very small number” of buyers come forward for United, given the estimated price and further investment required to redevelop the club’s iconic Old Trafford stadium.

A Qatari-backed bid is expected, while it is unknown if a rival offer from the Middle East will also emerge.

Broughton sees Qatar as a serious threat to Ratcliffe if a bid from the oil and gas rich country emerges.

“They might feel a knockout price (would do it and say) … We’ll give you 6 billion (pounds; $7.2 billion) as long as you sell it to us now and don’t carry on the auction.’ A take it or leave, something like that could easily settle it,” Broughton said.

Broughton has written a memoir of his career called “Whenever I Hear That Song.” In it, he recounts overseeing the sale of Liverpool to John Henry in 2010, as well as his attempts to buy Chelsea after Abramovich was forced to sell in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While he has sounded out potential investors in Liverpool, with Henry’s Fenway Sports Group open to selling the Merseyside club, he failed to drum up interest. He has not tried to put a bid together for United and is focusing on his passions, such as horse racing.

Proceeds from his book will go to the charity Retraining of Racehorses.

Another passion is Chelsea, and he has watched with interest as Boehly and Clearlake have spent more than $660 million on transfers since buying the club for $2.5 billion in May.

That money has so far failed to produce success on the field, with Chelsea in the middle of the Premier League standings and fighting to stay in the Champions League after losing to Borussia Dortmund 1-0 in the first leg of the round of 16 on Wednesday.

Broughton said he “very much” regrets missing out on Chelsea, but is encouraged by what he has seen from the new owners.

“My principle conclusion would be he (Boehly) has shown the commitment that he intends to make a success of it,” Broughton said. “If you compare that to the Glazers, for example, the Glazers have always operated like, ‘How can we make money out of this?’

“He is looking at it as, ‘I want this to be a success. I want people to see that my ownership of Chelsea has been good for the club.’”