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Qatari group’s offer of $6.3B for Manchester United would be most ever for a sports franchise as fans demand escape from Glazer family

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More than 1,000 supporters of Manchester United FC marched through the city to protest against the club’s owners, the Glazer family, ahead of their decision on the sale of one of the world’s most iconic football teams.

The protest started before the Red Devils game against Aston Villa, with fans demanding a full sale that wouldn’t include any future involvement of the club’s US owners.

Messages written on banners included: “Full sale only,” “Love United, hate Glazer,” and “Fight greed, Fight Glazers, Fight for United.” Smoke from flares set off by the demonstrators wafted across the pitch as the team warmed up before beating Aston Villa 1-0. 

A decision on the sale could come this week with British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe as the main rival to Sheikh Jassim’s Qatari group. Both put in offers before Friday’s deadline, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

The late Malcolm Glazer bought Manchester United in a 2005 leveraged buyout that saddled it with massive debts, and the family has faced distrust from hardcore supporters ever since. While this was mitigated in the early years of their ownership as the team continued to win trophies under Alex Ferguson, resentment has grown steadily after the renowned coach’s retirement in 2013.

Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani submitted a final bid of around £5 billion ($6.3 billion) for the team, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information wasn’t public yet. That offer includes additional amounts for facilities and other investments, one of the people said.

The Qatari bid would see a total end to the Glazers’ reign at the club, while Ratcliffe has offered to allow the current owners to keep a 20% stake if his bid succeeds.

A transaction at the amount the Qataris are offering would rank as the largest-ever deal involving a sports franchise, surpassing the $4.65 billion paid last year by a group led by Walmart Inc. heir Rob Walton for the National Football League’s Denver Broncos. It would also top the pending $6 billion sale of the NFL’s Washington Commanders to a group led by Apollo Global Management Inc. co-founder Josh Harris.

The Glazer family hired investment bank Raine Group to drum up interest for the once dominant English Premier League team. The club has floundered in recent years and been overshadowed by its crosstown rival, Manchester City.

Raine was also in charge of the sale of Chelsea FC last year. While Chelsea saw a fierce fight among bidders, Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe have been the only two parties to publicly declare an interest in buying Manchester United, after rising interest rates combined with what many saw as an excessive valuation put many bidders off. 

Carlyle Group Inc., Ares Management Corp. and Elliott Investment Management, have made separate bids for financing and minority stakes in Manchester United.

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