The bidding process to become the new owner of Manchester United has become fairly confusing and chaotic. Missed and extended deadlines mean fans aren’t any closer to knowing who will take over from the Glazers, or if the Glazers will even go at all.
There are two main names that appear to be the frontrunners; Sir Jim Ratcliffe with INEOS and Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim. They were the only publicly declared bidders until the name Thomas Zilliacus appeared.
So, who is Zilliacus and is he a worthy opponent of Ratcliffe and Jassim for the ownership of Manchester United?
Thomas Zilliacus is a Finnish businessman who currently lives in Singapore. He owned a football club in Finland back in the 1980s, though it would have been a totally different task to owning Manchester United.
The 69-year-old was part of Helsinki City Council until he decided to move to Singapore. He was the man at the centre of Finnish tech company Nokia’s move into Asia. These days, he is the executive chairman of Mobile FutureWorks Group investment company which he founded in 1993.
Unlike Ratcliffe and Jassim, the net worth of Zilliacus is not actually publicly known. It is widely believed he is not at the same level of wealth as the other two publicly known bidders, and his statement suggests he is looking to get fans involved in the purchase.
“The current market value of the club is just under 3.9 billion USD. That means that if every one of the fans of the club would join in buying the club, the total sum per fan would amount to less than 6 dollars. My bid is built on equality with the fans,” part of his statement reads.
He has also made a public appeal to Ratcliffe and Jassim to join forces to buy Man Utd together.
As mentioned, Zilliacus was the chairman of a Finnish side in the past. Between 1982 and 1986 he was the chairman of HJK, who have won the Finnish top flight an incredible 32 times with one triumph coming with Zilliacus as chairman. They also won the Finnish Cup once with him at the helm.
Away from football, he has also been involved in ice hockey. He was one of the owners of Jokerit until they were sold to Russian investors in 2012.
When you look through where Zilliacus has made his money in the past, there is no real indication why he wants to buy United other than he must hold an interest in football.
It doesn’t seem he has a troublesome image to try and cover up with the ownership of a major football club, and he does not own other teams that could benefit from him acquiring a new one.
His talk of how much each fan would need to put up cash in order to buy the club suggests he may have identified an avenue with which to complete a German-style fan-led takeover of the club which would make him extremely popular.
“The current development, where billionaire sheikhs and oligarchs take over clubs and control them as their personal playgrounds is not a healthy trend,” his statement added.
In this modern world, it is not easy to picture Zilliacus’ bid being successful. His statement points out the market value of the club as being £3.17bn and says his group would finance half of the sum needed to buy the club.
The other half would then come from ‘every one of the fans of the club’ producing ‘less than $6’. There would need to be serious reassurances on how that would actually work given it is not easy to quantify who is and isn’t a fan of Manchester United, and then you need them all to agree and pay.
Zilliacus would then give fans a say on the running of the club through an app, which seems to be a more serious version of crypto schemes like Socios.com where fans who own tokens can vote on things such as walkout music.
On this edition of The Promised Land, part of the 90min podcast network, Scott Saunders and Rob Blanchette discuss why Harry Kane would be a better signing for Man Utd than Napoli marksman Victor Osimhen.
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