By Lananh Nguyen
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Manchester United set out a dazzling Davos shop front this week, but insisted its lounge was to entertain clients and partners rather than to attract buyers for the English soccer club.
United said in November it was looking at options to either get new investment or explore a potential sale, 17 years after the Glazer family bought the 20-times top-flight champions.
There has been no update since, amid British media reports that bids from the United States, Middle East and Asia are expected to come in within the next month.
Ellie Norman, a spokesperson for the club, said the lounge was “definitely not” aimed at attracting buyers, and will be used to meet existing clients and partners.
The strategic review is an ongoing process, Norman told Reuters, adding “we don’t know the outcome” and declining to give further details.
On the main high street in Davos, where the ski resort’s shops have been temporarily converted into slick spaces by tech companies, banks and governments to host events during the annual gathering, United’s luxury lounge stood out. Curious passers-by stopped to peer inside and take photos.
Peter Schmeichel, the former goalkeeper who is revered by fans, and Richard Arnold, the club’s chief executive, will host a nightcap for guests on Tuesday with canapes and a specialty “red devil” cocktail. United’s executive co-chairman Avram Glazer, a Davos regular, is expected to arrive later this week. A reception emblazoned with golden insignia greeted well-heeled visitors to a space decorated with black velvet lounge chairs and couches, with coffee served by staff in bow ties.
Video screens featured players, including Christian Eriksen, and slogans such as “A World United” and “Engage Unite Empower”.
Also on display were a framed shirt and copies of former manager Alex Ferguson’s book on leadership, alongside a tray of sunglasses and rows of branded black tote bags.
Without a league title in a decade and unhappy at the debt the club has incurred, fans have protested several time before and during matches this season against the current ownership.
Sources close to the matter have told Reuters that Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), linked with buying a stake, are looking at other options, including Tottenham Hotspur.
Interest from Saudi Arabia has also been reported, but its Public Investment Fund (PIF), like QSI, cannot complete a full takeover of United due to their ownership of fellow Premier League side Newcastle United. The same applies to QSI, who have a majority stake in French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA does not allow two teams controlled by the same entity to compete in its competitions.
“Manchester United is proud to be the first sports team to partner with the World Economic Forum,” it said in a statement.
“Our global community of 1.1 billion fans and followers provide us with powerful opportunities to engage across cultural and geographical boundaries. We are in Davos to explore ways to maximise the impact of the extraordinary reach.”
(Reporting by Lananh Nguyen in Davos and Peter Hall; Editing by Alexander Smith)