Exclusive: Britain's richest man ready to challenge Qatari-owned PSG with OGC Nice
Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos has ruled itself out of the running to buy Liverpool as the business empire no longer sees value in buying a top Premier League team.
Despite a failed bid to buy Chelsea and interest in a potential Manchester United sale, the petrochemicals giant says it is now focused on its investment at OGC Nice.
Ineos instead believes it can make the Côte d’Azur club a sporting superpower to challenge Qatari-owned Paris St-Germain senior figures at the company told Telegraph Sport.
"Our position has developed since the summer and we are now focusing our efforts in Nice and raising our ambitions for the club to make them into a top tier club in France to compete with PSG," said a spokesman. "This would represent much better value for our investment than buying one of the top tier Premier League clubs."
The statement of intent for Nice, which has signed several English players in recent months, is intriguing given rumours that Qatar could be looking for a fresh footballing investment after the World Cup.
There is no indication around whether the nation’s rulers would be interested in Liverpool. Uefa rules would prevent them having majority ownerships at the same time as PSG due to the likelihood of the clubs facing each other in the Champions League.
Given Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s richest people, is a United fan, any interest in Liverpool would have been a major surprise. He had first said in August, however, that his Ineos group would have been interested in the Glazers-owned club should it come up for sale.
Ratcliffe also failed with a late bid for Chelsea when the club was available after sanctions for Roman Abramovich.
Ineos’ has invested in F1 and cycling, while their football clubs also include Swiss club Lausanne. Despite Ratcliffe’s firm no, Liverpool are certain to be bombarded with inquiries after Fenway Sports Group enlisted major investment bankers to establish the club’s value.
Although the Boston-based group expects to remain in control of Liverpool for the foreseeable future it confirmed it is seeking new shareholders ‘in the best interest of the club’.
The major investment banks – Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – are overseeing any proposals which may be put to FSG, who have been engaged in pitching the merits of outside investors buying an Anfield stake for several years.
The latest developments are understood to be exploratory, to assess how much appetite there is to buy shares in Liverpool and ascertain what valuation that would put on the club. Chelsea were recently sold for £2.5 billion, and the FSG move could be interpreted as a direct reaction to establish what Liverpool could fetch on the market.
In the short-term, at least, there is no expectation of Liverpool being thrust into a bidding war. Nor are FSG well-advanced with a choreographed exit strategy.
Principal owner John W. Henry has been open about Liverpool’s keenness to find external investment since his Anfield buy-out in 2010. There have been numerous meetings with interested third parties over the course of 12 years, many of them lacking substance, which is why the club is delegating responsibility to assess the authenticity of expressions of interest to the banks.
In March 2021, FSG sold a 10 per cent share of their entire portfolio – which also includes the Boston Red Sox – to RedBird Capital Partners for £543 million.
The involvement of Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley suggests the Fenway Sports Group sees the American market as the most likely source of fresh investment at Liverpool. However, there will also be a queue of interest further afield for one of the world’s most coveted clubs:
What next for Qatar after the World Cup? There is some uncertainty around what the oil-rich nation has planned to maintain its momentum in the sporting world after the international tournament comes to an end in Doha next month.
The most obvious hurdle to any interest in Liverpool is the state’s ownership at Paris St-Germain. In April, the club angrily dismissed a Spanish television show’s "cheap" claim that Qatari Sports Investments was "throwing in the towel" and planning to sell up in frustration as year-on-year failures in the Champions League.
Selling one superclub to buy another would be an immensely fraught process. Uefa integrity rules a person or company to a 100 per cent shareholding in one club and a ‘non-decisive influence’ shareholding in another competing in the same competition.
Elsewhere, Kieran Maguire, a football finance lecturer at Liverpool University, says there are a dwindling number of nations looking to get into football ownership.
"There’s not that many of them left," said Maguire. "Qatar has got PSG, Saudi has got Newcastle, UAE has got Manchester City – so unless the Sultan of Brunei or one of the other cash rich individuals decide to come in, it’s going to be unlikely."
The Chelsea sale in May for £2.5 billion, with spending commitments taking the total package beyond £4.5 milliuon, marked the start of a new chapter in US investment. American football’s 2018 deal that saw the Carolina Panthers sold to hedge fund billionaire David Tepper for £1.76 billion was the previous record takeover in sport. The big Premier League clubs are leapfrogging NFL, NBA and MLB franchises due to their perceived potential for growth across the Atlantic.
Boehly’s most serious rival bids all had American links. The Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family and Steve Pagliuca and the co-owner of the Boston Celtics NBA team initially made the final shortlist. Even Sir Martin Broughton, a former Liverpool executive, had significant Wall Street investment in his approach.
Outside America, Luxembourg-based CVC Capital Partners, which has an estimated £60 billion in assets, has shown in football, motorsport, rugby and, most recently cricket, that it is willing to spend big.
However, the direction of travel largely in ploughing funds into competitions rather than clubs. Last year the group was signing a $3.2 billion cheque to secure a 10.95 per cent investment in La Liga.
Maguire says a private equity firm would be more likely to be American-based, where the potential returns are more clear.
"American investment groups believe that football is significantly undervalued," he said. "Groups such as the Boehly-led consortium are far more bullish about potential avenues such as streaming rights.
There is undoubtedly the cash available, particularly in China, but the appetite to get into European football is waning. Brokers have noticed a distinct shift in interest across east and south-east Asia in recent years.
Just six years ago, Antonio Conte described China’s apparent rise as dangerous to football, as Chelsea prepared to sell Oscar to Shanghai for £50 million.
Now, however, there are huge doubts about the Chinese Super League amid an apparent change in policy in government. Reticence, it seems, is spreading to other nations. Industry experts believe the Malaysian ownership at Cardiff City and Chinese bosses at Wolverhampton Wanderers are open to selling up. There has also been some talk that Leicester City’s Thai management may be open to new revenue streams.
There are not many of them about, and the one British billionaire who can afford them – Ratcliffe– has ruled himself out.
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