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The fact Nasser Al-Khelaifi has held direct talks with the Glazers over Manchester United’s proposed sale may, through one set of eyes, seem entirely natural given his importance to Qatar’s place in the football world.

Why wouldn’t Al-Khelaifi, the chairman of the European Club Association, be available to mediate a process that has dragged on for seven months, where his compatriot, Sheikh Jassim, is attempting to seize control?

Looking at it through a more cynical lens though, the kind worn by several Premier League executives who want scrutiny on the ultimate source of funds, Al-Khelaifi’s involvement erodes the position that Qatar as a nation is separate from Sheikh Jassim’s bid.

Not much goes on in Qatari football without Al-Khelaifi’s blessing. He plays padel with the Emir on a regular basis. The wall we are told exists between state takeover and private investor has lost a few bricks.

Whether that edifice crumbles entirely, time will tell, but this news creates a fair juncture at which United fans can more assuredly ask themselves questions about what Qatari ownership would mean to them.

It brings to the foreground concerns over the country’s human rights record and the part sportswashing is playing in modern society.

It paints a clearer image of United being afforded access to limitless funds. For some supporters that would be nirvana. To others, it alters what United is as a club.

United fans mocked Chelsea’s success under Roman Abramovich as “hollow”. They deride Manchester City for the trophies they have won since Abu Dhabi started pumping in money. At Wembley, a banner in the United end simply said 115. It did not require Alan Turing to decode the message.

City face a litany of Premier League charges related to alleged financial breaches (City are determined to defend themselves against the allegations and are confident of doing so), and that has been used by United supporters in mitigation for Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side arriving at the precipice of completing the treble.

United do not need the supercharge start City required, the club generates enough of its own money anyway, but there are still profit and sustainability rules in place. Even so, Premier League rivals are worried about the prospect of trying to compete with one of the world’s richest clubs getting even richer.

And there would be little way of knowing quite how rich because the Qataris would take United private. No longer would there be the quarterly reports and biannual investor calls that apply a certain level of critical observation to the club’s accounts.

When it comes to other Premier League clubs, there is of course self-interest at work. The same self-interest that reared its head during lockdown over issues as mundane as the number of substitutes that should be allowed. From a United perspective, the opinions of those in charge of competitors is perhaps a moot point.

For some, there may also be a shrug of the shoulders about this whole development. Qatari influence over the bid has been suspected all along. A handful of Qatar flags have been seen at games.

But by the same token, after all the years of Glazer silence and then their Super League duplicity, beginning a new ownership with an element of artifice is surely a deflating precedent.

Should United fans care? Most of Newcastle’s don’t seem to. The Premier League was given “legally-binding assurances” that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was distinct to the state, only for a US Court to hear PIF described as “a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

It should be said that Premier League clubs lobbied against that takeover too.

On a football level, Al-Khelaifi’s involvement in talks also invites a closer look at how his time as president of Paris Saint-Germain has gone. PSG have monopolised Ligue 1 but failed to win the Champions League, while rancour among players and managerial changes have punctuated the timeline. Is that the blueprint for United?

There are questions too about how the two clubs coexist if ultimately owned by the same people. Those questions are relevant even if UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, Al-Khelaifi’s great ally, relaxes the rules on multi-club ownership. Which one of PSG and United would be the priority? How would transfers work between them? Could they compete in the Champions League? They have met four times since 2019.

The same applies to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s ownership of Nice, albeit the likelihood of the two clubs facing each other is remote at present. It has been proposed in the industry that Ratcliffe has decided he would sell Nice, where there are fan protests against those in charge, in the event of buying United.

That is the kind of call being talked about as a sign of confidence from Ratcliffe. Another is that Sir Dave Brailsford is making enquiries on sporting decisions. Ratcliffe has enlisted a bank to arrange specific financing.

Further context can be found in United shareholders predicting a future where they get no benefit from a takeover, with Ratcliffe set to enable the Glazer siblings to retain stakes. Many investors have expressed anger at being cut out from relevant online forums.

A Qatari takeover appears to be their only hope of realising a return, but the mystique around Sheikh Jassim is said to be a factor in the Glazers’ reluctance to enter into an agreement, in part because of the extra time the Premier League might need to investigate the proof of funds.

Then again, it may all be about the bottom line. After all, the Glazers made contact with Al-Khelaifi to suggest he get Sheikh Jassim’s team to up his bid.

Would Sheikh Jassim, if he truly is the driving force of the bid, consider this a good moment to step forward? He has had no direct dialogue so far. While billionaires have egos and there is arguably negotiating power in maintaining distance, that space has created scepticism.

We are told the division is such that he and his team are serious about walking away.

But there is a fifth bid, which is said to be significant. There are claims it is the final one.

As Al-Khelaifi’s involvement demonstrates, the full picture may take even more time to reveal itself.

That is time that Erik ten Hag needs to be filled with assertive action in the transfer market to shape his squad. The backchannel dialogue going on, with United’s ownership locked in limbo, can only stifle meaningful progress.

A resolution is desperately required.

(Top photo: Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)



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