The low-key Qatari heir bidding for Manchester United ownership

Sheikh Yassim bin Hamad al-Thani was just 28 years old when he joined Credit Suisse’s board of directors in 2010, tasked with representing Qatar’s interests after investors from the Gulf emirate pumped billions into the Swiss bank.

He came to the Zurich lender with an inconspicuous appearance and left after seven years with a place at the top.

“The only memory I have is that he was more of a quiet man,” said a former fellow director, while another who often attended meetings added, “I don’t remember him speaking at all. “

Now Sheikh Jassim is willing to sacrifice that low-key status to pursue his passion for Manchester United, one of the most respected football clubs in the world. Earlier this month he submitted an offer for the club, which is steeped in history but has not found success in the last decade.

While the 40-year-old has not revealed how he would pay the Premier League club in a sale that could set a new record price for a sports team, he comes from considerable wealth.

Sheikh Jassim is the second son of former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ, and a former head of the state sovereign wealth fund. HBJ, a distant cousin of the Emir in the ruling clan and one of the richest men in the Gulf state, is valued by Forbes at $1.3 billion, but the people of Doha put it at many times that.

Avram and Joel Glazer chat before a Manchester United game
Avram and Joel Glazer bought Manchester United in a controversial leveraged buyout © Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

“He can never be on the same level as his father, who is a giant in the world of money and power,” said one banker, who describes Sheikh Jassim, who was educated at the Sandhurst Military Academy, as “less extroverted”. . “But he learned at the feet of one of the smartest investors,” he added.

Sheikh Jassim ran Al Mirqab Capital, which manages the family’s investment portfolio, for a decade before branching out.

Among other things, Sheikh Jassim heads QInvest, an investment bank and wealth management company founded in 2007, as well as the Qatar Islamic Bank, in which the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund, is a major shareholder.

His advisors on the takeover of Manchester United, owned by the American Glazers family since they bought it in a controversial leveraged buyout in 2005, are confident it will prove more compelling than a competing bid from British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe . The pair are the only two declared bidders.

As fans become increasingly uneasy about the club’s direction under the Glazers, Manchester United have been on Sheikh Jassim’s radar for the past 12 months, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Sheikh Jassim said his vision is to return the club to its “former glory” through “sustainable investment” in its players and infrastructure via a newly formed vehicle called the Nine Two Foundation. According to people familiar with the matter, the offer, which will be debt-free, is expected to value the club at around $4.5 billion.

People familiar with the matter say the funding for the bid has no connection to the state of Qatar. This is essential to comply with Uefa rules blocking multiple club ownership as the state of Qatar controls French champions Paris Saint-Germain.

“I wouldn’t necessarily see this as Qatar’s bid,” said Gerd Nonneman, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University in Doha. “I think a lot of the son’s fortune is based on his father’s fortune.”

HBJ’s principal adviser at Al Mirqab is Shahzad Shahbaz, a former Bank of America executive. “Al Mirqab is like a mini-QIA investing in businesses in banking, hospitality, real estate and food and beverage,” said a banker familiar with the matter. Bank of America advises Sheikh Jassim on Manchester United bid.

For a long time, Sheikh Jassim stood in his father’s shadow. For many years, HBJ has been at the forefront of geopolitics and international finance through a long career as Secretary of State, Prime Minister and Head of the Gulf State’s sovereign wealth fund.

Along with Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who came to power in a palace coup in 1995, he helped build modern Qatar by establishing a massive natural gas export industry.

This has spurred Qatar’s transformation from a modest oil exporter to one of the richest countries in the world. As head of QIA, HBJ used surplus hydrocarbon revenues to build Qatar’s future in a post-oil era.

The QIA became a global financial name, investing in carmaker Volkswagen and grocer Sainsbury’s, as well as London’s Canary Wharf and luxury department store Harrods.

While HBJ has never shown interest in buying a football club before, bankers say he has a keen eye for financial details. One person recalls that he flew to London to deliver a keynote address after having dinner with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin the night before. Before leaving for lunch with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, he received an update on a deal on the way to the airport.

“He quickly spotted a mistake one of the analysts had made in the term sheet’s dense grid of derivatives transactions — it was incredible,” the person said.

A street view of Annabel's private club
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani’s portfolio includes a 50 per cent stake in restaurateur Richard Caring’s empire, which is home to the Annabel’s membership club © William Barton/Alamy

HBJ resigned in 2013 after father Emir abdicated in favor of his son Sheikh Tamim. The current Emir is two years older than Sheikh Jassim, also went to Sandhurst and supports Manchester United.

Unlike his father, Sheikh Jassim has never held a government position. His limited forays into business outside of Qatar included QInvest’s deal to privatize British stockbroker Panmure Gordon in partnership with Bob Diamond, former Barclays chief executive and now head of Atlas Merchant Capital.

“He’s very reserved, reserved and professional,” Diamond said of Sheikh Jassim. “He’s easy to get to know and very open.”

He has an interest in a hospitality company that licenses a franchise of the Doha steakhouse owned by Turkish butcher and chef Nusret Gökçe, better known as Salt Bae. The chef caused controversy while celebrating on the pitch with Argentina players after their victory in last year’s World Cup final in Doha.

An acquaintance says Sheikh Jassim is spotted on yachts in St Tropez in the summer and is a member of Robin Birley’s private members club at 5 Hertford Street in Mayfair. According to another acquaintance, his favorite car in London is a Mini Cooper.

And the family knows London well. HBJ’s portfolio includes a 50% stake in restaurateur Richard Caring’s empire, which is home to Annabel’s membership club and Ivy restaurant chain. Along with the former Emir, HBJ owns a majority stake in the Maybourne Group, which owns branded hotels in London such as Claridge’s and Connaught.

Diamond describes Sheikh Jassim as a “very professional, thoughtful, very long-term investor. What strikes me is that he is very focused on protecting the underside.”

The Qatari investor is betting a successful bid for Manchester United would offer plenty of upside potential.

Additional reporting by Samuel Agini and Robert Smith in London The low-key Qatari heir bidding for Manchester United ownership

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