Sir Jim Ratcliffe has jokingly questioned whether his Manchester United takeover rival Sheikh Jassim even exists after completing the purchase of a minority stake in the Red Devils.

Ratcliffe and Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim were the two public bidders looking to take full control of United from the Glazer family which has owned the club since 2005, before Ratcliffe’s focus switched to securing a smaller stake.

His Ineos company now controls football operations as part of a deal which will see him own 28.9 per cent of the club by the year’s end.

Reflecting on the long road to the completion of the deal, Ratcliffe admitted he did find it strange that there was an apparent lack of interest in buying United in comparison to when Chelsea came onto the market in 2022 and that his main rival for full control was someone who “still nobody has ever seen”.

“The Glazers never met him. I’m not sure he exists,” he joked.

“It was extraordinary. That (apparent lack of wider interest) was confounding. There’s no comparison between Chelsea and Manchester United, the scale of Manchester United is incomparable with any of the London clubs to be honest with you.”

Asked whether he thought he may have been bidding alone rather than against Sheikh Jassim, Ratcliffe said: “They (the Qatari bid) were obviously there and there was a whole host of people on the team, on the squad. I didn’t ever meet them. But it was a very odd affair.”

Representatives who worked with Sheikh Jassim during the period of his interest in United have been contacted for comment by the PA news agency.

Ratcliffe was asked about whether he held a long-term ambition to ultimately gain full control of United and whether he was concerned that ‘drag-along’ rights held by the Glazers which could force him to sell his stake in the event they wished to sell.

“There are all sorts of scenarios. We might get hit by an asteroid,” he said.

“There have been lots of opportunities for people to come in and buy Manchester United in the last 12 months – why is it all going to change?”

Asked if taking full control was his ultimate aim, Ratcliffe said: “The ultimate aim is just for Manchester United to play really good football. It’s not about what am I going to do in five years’ time?”

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has vowed to return Manchester United to “the very top of English, European and world football” after agreeing a £1.25billion deal to buy a 25 per cent stake in the club.

The Old Trafford outfit announced on Christmas Eve that the chairman of INEOS, who will assume delegated responsibility for football operations, had entered into an agreement, which is “subject to customary regulatory approvals”, which will also see him invest US dollars 300million – more than £236million – to refurbish the debt-laden club’s infrastructure.

However, it is boyhood fan Ratcliffe’s promise to put United “back where we belong” which will excite fans who have been in open revolt against owners the Glazer family, who launched a strategic review of the business in November last year.

Ratcliffe said: “As a local boy and a lifelong supporter of the club, I am very pleased that we have been able to agree a deal with the Manchester United board that delegates us management responsibility of the football operations of the club.

“Whilst the commercial success of the club has ensured there have always been available funds to win trophies at the highest level, this potential has not been fully unlocked in recent times.

“We will bring the global knowledge, expertise and talent from the wider INEOS Sport group to help drive further improvement at the club, while also providing funds intended to enable future investment into Old Trafford.

“We are here for the long term and recognise that a lot of challenges and hard work lie ahead, which we will approach with rigour, professionalism and passion. We are committed to working with everyone at the club – the board, staff, players and fans – to help drive the club forward.

“Our shared ambition is clear: we all want to see Manchester United back where we belong, at the very top of English, European and world football.”

Under the agreement, INEOS will acquire 25 per cent of the Class B shares owned by the Glazers and tender an offer for up to 25 per cent of the Class B shares at USD33 each in a deal which will not add to the club’s existing debt.

In addition, he will inject USD200million – £158million – on completion to upgrade Old Trafford and a further USD100million – £79million – by the end of 2024, taking his total investment to around £1.25billion.

Executive co-chairmen and directors Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, who announced a strategic review 13 months ago, said: “We are delighted to have agreed this deal with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS.

“As part of the strategic review we announced in November 2022, we committed to look at a variety of alternatives to help enhance Manchester United, with a focus on delivering success for our men’s, women’s and academy teams.

“Sir Jim and INEOS bring a wealth of commercial experience as well as significant financial commitment into the club. And, through INEOS Sport, Manchester United will have access to seasoned high-performance professionals, experienced in creating and leading elite teams from both inside and outside the game.

“Manchester United has talented people right across the club and our desire is to always improve at every level to help bring our great fans more success in the future.”

Ratcliffe found himself engaged in a lengthy battle with Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim after it became apparent that the club – or ultimately part of it – could be up for sale.

Sheikh Jassim withdrew his bid for full control in October with a long-running saga showing little sign of reaching a conclusion until Ratcliffe’s focus shifted to the pursuit of a significant minority stake.

The deal was announced by United at 4pm on Sunday in a statement which read: “The joint ambition is to create a world-class football operation building on the club’s many existing strengths, including the successful off-pitch performance that it continues to enjoy.”

The Red Devils have not lifted the Premier League trophy since 2012-13, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at the helm, and last won the Champions League in 2008.

Confirmation of INEOS’ investment was given a guarded welcome by the Manchester United Supporters Trust.

A statement read: “Today might – just might – be a step forward for Manchester United after some very difficult years. But with the Glazers still in charge, people should understand that United fans will remain sceptical and wait for the proof in the pudding.”

Former United defender Gary Neville was less than impressed by the timing of the announcement.

“Manchester United 2023 has been a disgrace to the end,” he wrote on X.

“The timing of this is truly awful and no functioning organisation would even think about it.

“Anyway all the very best to Jim Ratcliffe and I hope he can somehow work out a way to get the club right again and back to being something respectable on and off the pitch.”

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of a 25 per cent stake in Manchester United is due to be announced later on Christmas Eve, according to a report.

Confirmation of the investment by the 71-year-old’s Ineos Group would end a saga which has lasted more than a year.

Sky News has reported that a deal is set to be announced, 13 months after the club’s United States-based owners the Glazer family revealed their intention to undertake a strategic review of their options, including the possibility of selling up.

Ratcliffe and Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim were both in the running to oversee a buyout of the club until October.

Sheikh Jassim withdrew his bid for full control of the club on October 14, with Ratcliffe’s focus shifting to taking a significant minority stake.

Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group is expected to pay in the region of £1.25billion for the share purchase, while also acquiring significant control over footballing operations.

It has also been reported that Ratcliffe is prepared to invest a further £245million to improve the club’s ageing infrastructure.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is considering changing his bid and buying a minority stake in Manchester United, according to reports.

Ineos founder Ratcliffe, who had attempted to buy Chelsea last year, joined the race to purchase United in January and had been the sole bidder before Sheikh Jassim entered the running a month later.

A lengthy takeover saga has followed with numerous bids entered by both boyhood fan Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim, but no progress has been made over any potential change of ownership from the Glazer family, who announced in November they were open to selling the club.

Manchester United’s valuation on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted by more than £500million last month in the wake of reports the Glazers may not sell.

It is now being reported that Ratcliffe, the second-richest person in the UK according to the Sunday Times Rich List, could decide to buy a minority stake in the Premier League giants.

Sky News report Ratcliffe may seek a stake in the region of 25 per cent as part of a proposal to try to bring the drawn-out sale process to an end, having initially wanted to complete a majority takeover.

If the Glazers accepted this new reported offer, it would see the American family still retain majority control of the club they first bought in 2005.

United fans have protested against the Glazers for years and thousands took part in an hour-long sit-in at Old Trafford after a 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest in August.

It has been 18 years since the Americans’ controversial leveraged takeover and over 10 months since they announced a strategic review.

Ratcliffe’s team declined to comment when contacted by the PA news agency.

An LGBTQ+ activist from Qatar says “people need to be worried” about Sheikh Jassim’s bid to buy Manchester United.

Dr Nasser Mohamed, who now lives in San Francisco in the United States, sees the efforts to acquire United as part of a “pattern” of purchases by individuals or funds connected to Qatar, and says global brands in multiple sectors are “surrendering control to an authoritarian regime”.

Sheikh Jassim made an improved fourth bid to buy 100 per cent of the club and clear United’s debts on Tuesday but faces competition from chemicals billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

Sources close to Sheikh Jassim have repeatedly insisted he is bidding alone as a private individual, without any direct or indirect support from the Qatari state or any of the country’s sovereign wealth funds.

Many United fans appear to see Sheikh Jassim’s bid as preferable, amid reports Ratcliffe’s bid would be structured to allow current co-owners Avram and Joel Glazer to maintain a minority stake.

But Dr Mohamed, whose Alwan Foundation seeks to advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community across the Middle East, told the PA news agency: “The sad reality is that everybody has a price.

“People need to be worried. Surrendering control to an authoritarian regime, giving them more and more with the money that they have… (Qatar) is doing this everywhere.

“They’re doing it through real estate. They’re doing it in fashion, they’re doing it in sports, they’re doing it in tech, and they’re gaining control. And you really need to be worried.

“It’s the same pattern, right? It’s establishing dominance and having influence over people. And by controlling a big team like (United), they will continue to grow in their influence and their voice and their presence.

“As a global community, should we let people with money basically do what they want to unchecked, with nobody stopping them?

“Can anybody stop them from doing anything? People want oil and gas from the region and that is impacting our ability to push back on it.

“There are people with this insane amount of power that can just go in and do whatever they want, and nobody can stop them.”

Even if the Premier League did establish there was state involvement or control of United, it is unclear if new rules around human rights in the league’s owners’ and directors’ test would be a barrier, because Qatar and members of its government are not the subject of human rights sanctions from the UK government.

Dr Mohamed says conditions in Qatar for its LGBTQ+ community have returned to how they were prior to the World Cup.

Dr Mohamed, who says he is directly in contact via social media with more than 100 members of the community, spoke prior to the World Cup about the persecution he alleges the community faced from the country’s Preventive Security Department, including detention, beatings and forced conversion therapy.

He said there had been a period of calm in the two months immediately after the World Cup, but said shortly before the start of Ramadan in March “the crazies came back out”.

“Arrests happened again, another round of them,” he added.

“And the intrusive searches in the airports, the hunting, all of the things that they were doing (before the World Cup) are back again as of a month and a half ago.”

The Qatar government said in October last year that claims of mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community contained in a report by Human Rights Watch were “unequivocally false” and that the country “does not tolerate discrimination against anyone”.

He also criticised the countries involved in the OneLove campaign during the World Cup for failing to offer practical support to the Alwan Foundation, which recently was able to provide a scholarship for a transgender person from Qatar who has resettled in England.

FIFA threatened the seven European nations involved, including England and Wales, with sanctions starting at a yellow card for their captains if the rainbow-coloured armbands were worn.

Germany’s players covered their mouths in a team photograph prior to their match against Japan, with their coach Hansi Flick saying they had wanted to convey the message that FIFA was silencing them.

“I did meet the presidents of the FAs who were going to wear the OneLove armband. I  gave them an hour’s talk about driving change. They were like, ‘cool, that’s good to know’ – and they just walked away,” Dr Mohamed said.

“You have the Germany team, they made the whole gesture – they didn’t put a single dollar towards the cause. Why are you making a scene? What’s the point?

“If you’re going to speak about an issue that’s difficult, let’s be solution-oriented. Let’s not just be provocative for the sake of being provocative. You know, like that just is not helpful.”

The Football Association declined to comment.

A group of Manchester United fans protested against the Glazer family and demanded a full sale ahead of Sunday’s match against Aston Villa.

Friday was the third, and what is expected to be final, deadline for interested parties to make offers to buy the club.

Sheikh Jassim and Sir Jim Ratcliffe both submitted offers to the Glazers, who have faced fury from United fans since their leveraged takeover in 2005.

Fan group The 1958 has led renewed protests against them for the past year and held another before Sunday’s Premier League home match against Villa.

Leaving from central Manchester, the march continued on to Old Trafford as fans displayed a giant banner reading ‘Full $ale Only’.

The shutters were closed in the Munich Tunnel when protestors arrived at the ground, where chants against the Glazers were relentless.

Smoke from the flares outside rose through the concourses and filled the air inside Old Trafford as the players warmed up.

The 1958 called for an 18-minute boycott of the match – “one minute for each year the Glazers have driven our club into the ground”.

There were some visible empty seats at kick-off but Old Trafford was largely full. There were chants against the owners from the outset.

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