The low-profile Qatari heir who is bidding to own Manchester United
Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani was just 28 when he joined Credit Suisse’s board in 2010, tasked with representing Qatari interests after investors from the Gulf emirate poured billions into the Swiss bank.
He arrived at the Zurich lender with a low profile and left with one at the top table after seven years.
“My only recollection is that he was quite a quiet person,” said one former associate director, while another frequent attendee added: “I don’t remember him talking at all.”
Now Sheikh Jassim is ready to sacrifice this low-key status for his passion for Manchester United, one of the most prestigious football clubs in the world. At the beginning of the month, he submitted an offer for the club rich in history, but hungry for the success of the last decade.
The 40-year-old has not revealed how he would pay for the Premier League club in a sale that could set a new record price for a sports team, but comes from a significant fortune.
Sheikh Jassim is the second son of former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ, and the former head of the state’s sovereign wealth fund. A distant cousin of the emir in the ruling clan and one of the richest men in the Gulf state, HBJ’s fortune is estimated by Forbes at $1.3 billion, but Doha’s estimates are many times that.
“He will 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 studied at Sandhurst Military Academy, as “less extroverted”. “But he learned at the feet of one of the sharpest investors,” he added.
Sheikh Jassim ran Al Mirqab Capital, which manages the family’s investment portfolio, for a decade before it spun off.
Among his portfolio of roles, Sheikh Jassim heads the QInvest investment bank and asset manager, founded in 2007, and the Qatar Islamic Bank, in which the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign investment fund, is the main shareholder.
His advisers to Manchester United, owned by the American Glazer family since they bought it in a controversial leveraged buyout in 2005, are confident the offer will be more compelling than that of British billionaire rival Sir Jim Ratcliffe. . The pair are the only two announced bidders.
Manchester United have been on Sheikh Jassim’s radar for the past 12 months, according to a source familiar with the matter, as fans grow increasingly uneasy about the Glazers’ management of the club.
Sheikh Jassim said his vision is to restore the club to its “former glory” through a newly formed vehicle called the Nine Two Foundation through “sustainable investment” in players and infrastructure. The bid, which will be debt-free, values the club at about $4.5 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
According to those familiar with the matter, the financing of the application has nothing to do with the Qatari state. This is essential to comply with UEFA rules preventing multiple ownership of clubs, as the Qatari state controls French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
“I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a ‘Qatari’ offer,” said Gerd Nonneman, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University in Doha. “I think most of his son’s wealth is based on his father’s wealth.”
HBJ’s principal adviser at Al Mirqab is Shahzad Shahbaz, former head of Bank of America. “Al Mirqab is like a mini-QIA that invests in banking, hospitality, real estate and F&B,” said a banker familiar with the matter. Bank of America advises Sheikh Jassim on Manchester United bid.
Sheikh Jassim has long been in his father’s shadow. For many years, HBJ was at the forefront of geopolitics and international finance as foreign minister, prime minister and head of the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund.
He came to power in a 1995 palace coup with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and helped forge modern Qatar by building a huge natural gas export industry.
This has fueled Qatar’s transformation from a modest oil exporter to one of the world’s richest countries. As head of QIA, HBJ deployed surplus hydrocarbon revenues to build Qatar’s future in the post-oil era.
QIA has a global presence in finance and has invested in carmaker Volkswagen and grocer Sainsbury’s, as well as London’s Canary Wharf and luxury department store Harrods.
While HBJ has never previously expressed interest in buying a football club, bankers say he is very keen on the financial details. One recalls flying to London to deliver a keynote speech after dining with Russian President Vladimir Putin the night before. Before leaving for lunch with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, he was briefed on the way to the airport.
“He was quick to spot a mistake made by one of the analysts in the thick web of futures derivatives – that’s incredible,” the person said.
HBJ resigned in 2013 after the 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 never assumed a government role. His limited forays into business outside of Qatar included QInvest’s deal to take it private by UK stockbroker Panmure Gordon in partnership with former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond and now head of Atlas Merchant Capital.
“He is very reserved, reserved and professional,” Diamond said of Sheikh Jassim. “He’s easy to get to know and very open.”
He is interested in a hospitality business that franchises the Doha steakhouse of Turkish butcher and chef Nusret Gökçe, better known as Salt Bae. The chef stirred up controversy by celebrating on the field with the Argentine players after their victory in the final of last year’s World Cup in Doha.
An acquaintance says Sheikh Jassim is seen yachting in St Tropez in the summer and is a member of Robin Birley’s private club at 5 Hertford Street in Mayfair. According to another acquaintance, his favorite car in London is the Mini Cooper.
And the family knows London well. HBJ’s portfolio includes a 50 percent stake in Richard Caring’s restaurant empire, which is home to members’ club Annabel’s and the Ivy restaurant chain. Along with the former Emir, HBJ has a controlling stake in the Maybourne Group, which owns branded London hotels such as Claridge’s and the Connaught.
Diamond describes Sheikh Jassim as “a very professional, thoughtful, very long-term investor. What amazes me is that he puts a lot of emphasis on protecting the cons.”
The Qatari investor suggests that a successful bid for Manchester United would do a lot of good.
Additional reports by Samuel Agini and Robert Smith in London