MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani is withdrawing his offer to buy storied soccer club Manchester United, a person with knowledge of the process told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality restrictions around the process.
Sheikh Jassim had been one of the leading contenders to complete a takeover of the Premier League club, which was put up for sale last year.
Along with British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, the Qatari banker was one of only two bidders to publicly declare their intention to buy out United owners, the Glazer family.
But almost a year since bids were invited for the 20-time English league champions, Sheikh Jassim has informed the Glazers he is withdrawing his offer, the person said.
The person said Sheikh Jassim’s final bid was almost double United’s current market valuation of $3.2 billion.
Ratcliffe’s offer remains in place, although it has been reported that he is prepared to accept a minority stake.
The Associated Press contacted United and merchant bank Raine, which is handling the sale process, for comment.
Sheikh Jassim’s decision comes as United fans have grown increasingly frustrated with the time taken to complete the proposed sale.
There have been fan protests outside the club’s Old Trafford stadium, urging its American owners to sell, while chants of “Glazers out” are regularly heard during games.
“MUFC is in desperate need of new investment and new majority ownership. We hope this news accelerates that process rather than delays it,” Manchester United Supporters Trust said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Based on the last 11 months, no one can be quite sure.
“The Glazers need to make their position clear.”
The Glazers announced in November plans to seek new investment, instructing Raine to oversee the process, which included the potential of a full sale.
Raine had conducted the sale of Chelsea to Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital last year.
It was anticipated a buyer would be confirmed in time for the off-season transfer window, but there has been no indication of a deal nearing completion.
Sheikh Jassim, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank and son of a former Qatari prime minister, was bidding to take 100% ownership of United, which appealed to fans who are desperate to say goodbye to the Glazers.
He also vowed to clear its debt, while investing in the stadium, training center and playing squads in a bid to “return the club to its former glories both on and off the pitch.”
While concerns had been raised about Qatar’s human rights record and the potential that United could be used as a so-called sportswashing project, fans wanted to see the club compete with the exorbitant spending of Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City, which completed a treble of trophies last season by winning the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.
The person said Sheikh Jassim’s decision came after latest discussions to try to reach agreement over a price. His withdrawal would appear to leave Ratcliffe in pole position, although it is not clear how much of a stake in the club he is trying to buy.
Ratcliffe, who is the owner of petrochemicals giant INEOS and is one of Britain’s richest people, had bid for the Glazers’ stake of about 69%, but reports later claimed the current owners could retain some of their shares as part of the takeover.
Recent reports have since claimed Ratcliffe is now prepared to take a minority stake, which would leave the Glazers in control.
Born in Failsworth, Greater Manchester, Ratcliffe has been a United fan since childhood. United supporters have long-hoped he would bid for the club, but a deal that involves the Glazers retaining a majority ownership would not be well-received by supporters who want a full sale.
United fans have long campaigned to drive out the Glazers, who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The late tycoon Malcolm Glazer bought United in 2005 for 790 million pounds (then about $1.4 billion) amid a backlash from fans.
United is currently 10th in the Premier League after a difficult start to the season for Erik ten Hag’s team.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer