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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Dave Powell

Sir Jim Ratcliffe's move for Manchester United is about to trigger FSG and Liverpool action

While both Liverpool and Manchester United's owners are open to selling a full shareholding in their respective clubs it is the latter who are the most keen to expedite a sale.

After Fenway Sports Group were revealed to be open to offers of either a minority stake or a full sale back in early November, Manchester United's owners, the Glazer family, then put the Old Trafford side up for sale within a fortnight.

The line from FSG has remained that they are exploring the 'possibility' of a sale. But sources have told the ECHO that a 'strategic partner' would be the preferred outcome to allow FSG to free up capital while retaining control of a club whose asset value is set to continue to grow as investors seek to release latent value in the Premier League's biggest clubs through greater monetising their global legions of fans.

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Liverpool engaged US investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley early last year to facilitate the search for outside investment, expanding that search to allow for expressions of interest in a full sale later in the year. As yet there has been, according to sources in the US close to the situation, no offers made for FSG to consider or any expressions of interest that would warrant high-level talks.

United, on the other hand, went to the Raine Group to look after their sale process, a sign that they were definite in their decision to part ways with the club. Raine were the firm that looked after the Chelsea sale to the Todd Boehly/Clearlake Capital consortium in May last year, a sale process that was out of the ordinary given the timeframe that it was completed in following the forced sale of the club by the sanctioned Roman Abramovich.

The deal, £2.5bn with a commitment to spend £1.75bn on infrastructure development, raised eyebrows among investors and club owners and emboldened the likes of FSG to test the market and for the Glazers to press ahead with plans for a full sale.

Rumours have been abound for both clubs with regards to just who may be interested, from sovereign wealth funds to US private equity funds and institutional investors. But until earlier this week there had been no serious party come forward to declare their intention to make a bid for either team.

But the decision of British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the chairman and CEO of global chemical giant INEOS, to formally state his intention to submit a bid for Manchester United, the team he supports, will likely see the process take some considerable steps forward in the coming weeks for both clubs.

Ratcliffe is effectively the first cab off the rank for either side. The decision of the 70-year-old to declare his intent will prompt others who had been hovering around the fringes to make their move. The Glazers want a full sale and a valuation of around £5bn to £6bn has been mooted as the price tag that they have placed on the club, a club that hasn't won a Premier League in a decade and been in and out of the Champions League over that same period.

Despite the failures on the pitch United remain a powerhouse in global sport, an iconic brand that will be of enormous interest to those with the deepest pockets, although their revenue-generating might that former vice-chairman Ed Woodward so famously claimed couldn't be affected by bad performances on the pitch has wilted in recent seasons and been surpassed by the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.

FSG will be watching what happens with Manchester United closely. There will be parties who have an interest in both teams as investments, and in one of the favourites in Ratcliffe making an early move that could prompt them to have to make a snap decision on which direction they choose to head, particularly given that Raine are managing the sale process and have shown themselves a dab hand in expediting the sale of major teams.

The Ratcliffe bid will prompt others, both for a full sale and a minority stake, and February and March will likely be key months when real interest shows its hand and gives FSG something to consider. It won't be shaped by social media rumour, it will be shaped by who presents a serious case, with serious money, to either take a full or partial stake in the Reds.

There has not been a bid for Liverpool yet, but there will be those soon who will see that the process in the changing face of ownership at two of the biggest clubs in world football has now kicked off in earnest with the Ratcliffe news. The preference of FSG and principal John W. Henry in particular has been to keep a controlling interest in the Reds and sell a minority stake. That remains the case but they will likely field offers for both scenarios, some which will have to be given serious consideration.

However, the urgency that exists for the Glazers to sell Manchester United does not for FSG at Liverpool. It is a process that will take some time, whichever direction it heads in.


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