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Soccer-Race for Man United gathers steam with INEOS, Elliott interest

FILE PHOTO: General view of Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium

By Peter Hall and Aadi Nair

(Reuters) - The race to buy Manchester United heated up on Saturday with Jim Ratcliffe's company INEOS confirming it had bid for the club and a source telling Reuters that U.S. hedge fund Elliott Investment Management was also prepared to finance a takeover.

British billionaire Ratcliffe, a life-long United fan and founder of chemicals producer INEOS, has previously openly expressed his interest in buying the Old Trafford club, and INEOS formally entered the bidding process earlier this year.

INEOS said in its statement on Saturday that it would look to implement a fan-centred approach, something that has been largely absent under the current owners, the Glazer family.

"We would see our role as the long-term custodians of Manchester United on behalf of the fans and the wider community," the chemical firm said.

"We are ambitious and highly competitive and would want to invest in Manchester United to make them the number one club in the world once again."

Elliott has ruled itself out of a full takeover but is planning to offer financing for a bid, though it is unclear which bid the hedge-fund giant and previous owner of Serie A champions AC Milan will be involved in, a source told Reuters.

Elliott and United both declined to comment.

INEOS has long been involved in sport, with the company acting as principal partners to eight-times Formula One champions Mercedes, owning the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team and serving as performance partner to the New Zealand rugby team.

The company also bought French Ligue 1 club Nice in 2019.

OWNERSHIP CHANGE

The Glazers began looking at options for record 20-time English champions United, including new investment or a potential sale, in November, 17 years after they bought the Old Trafford club.

They bought United for 790 million pounds ($951 million) as part of a highly leveraged deal and any sale of the Premier League giant would would likely exceed the biggest sports deal so far -- the $5.2 billion including debt and investments paid for Chelsea, sources have told Reuters previously.

United fans have been clamouring for a change of ownership and the Glazers, who also own the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have been criticised as the team has not won trophies since 2017, when they lifted the Europa League and League Cup.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) said in November that the club needed new owners and fresh investment to halt years of decline and fans should be given a real say in how it is run in future.

INEOS said it wants to make United a beacon for a "modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership."

"We want a Manchester United anchored in its proud history and roots in the North-West of England, putting the Manchester back into Manchester United and clearly focusing on winning the Champions League," the statement added.

The initial deadline for bids expired on Friday, with Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, a son of Qatar's former prime minister, confirming a bid. On Thursday, the Daily Telegraph reported that Saudi Arabia has also submitted a bid.

United are the fourth-richest soccer club in the world, according to analysis by Deloitte. They are widely seen as one of the most prized assets in all of sport.

The team, managed by Erik ten Hag, are third in the league standings on 46 points after 23 games. They next welcome Leicester City on Sunday.

United's Premier League rivals Liverpool have also said they are exploring a sale, while Tottenham Hotspur are expected to receive a bid worth $3.75 billion from Iranian-American billionaire Jahm Najafi, Reuters has reported.

($1 = 0.8309 pounds)

(Reporting by Peter Hall in London and Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris and Hugh Lawson)