Ineos billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is interested in buying a stake in Manchester United "with a view to taking full control if the Glazers welcome new investment," according to Matt Dickinson and Martyn Strydom of the Times.
David Hellier and Ruth David of Bloomberg reported earlier Wednesday that the Glazer family "would consider" selling a minority stake in the club and has "held some preliminary discussions about the possibility of bringing in a new investor."
"If the club is for sale, Jim is definitely a potential buyer," a spokesperson for Ratcliffe told the Times.
Ineos owns Swiss Super League club FC Lausanne-Sport and Ligue 1's OGC Nice, and Ratcliffe bid £4.25 billion ($5.12 billion) on Chelsea before it was sold to Todd Boehly's consortium.
Miguel Delaney of the Independent reported Wednesday that "at least three consortiums are circling Manchester United with a view to a formal bid, as belief grows the Glazers would sell the club for $6 billion."
The Glazer family has owned Manchester United since 2005 and also owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But their ownership has been controversial, and the club has gone nine years without winning a Premier League title.
Given Manchester United's history as the most successful Premier League side with 20 total league titles (13 in the EPL era), that lack of domestic success has caused unrest among supporters.
While United was bound to experience rough stretches after legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, the club has since cycled through five different managers (David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Erik ten Hag), two caretakers (Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick) and one interim manager (Ralf Rangnick) in his stead, a period of great instability following Ferguson's 27 years on the job.
The club also has a gross debt of almost £600 million ($723 million), nearly identical to the £660 million ($795 million) figure it had after Malcolm Glazer's successful hostile takeover in 2005, per Matt Slater of The Athletic.
Roger Bell, the co-founder of financial analysis firm Vysyble, told Slater that the market has doubts about the Glazer ownership of United:
"Since 2015, Manchester United's debt is up by £181 million, which doesn't sound great, and you can see what the market thinks of the decisions the club's directors are making from the share price.
"It was $14 when the club floated, but it’s $11.55 now (Bell was speaking last Tuesday before the shares rallied by 10 percent on the Wednesday, almost certainly because of renewed takeover speculation).
"The market is looking at Manchester United and saying, 'We're not that keen, thanks. We can see a team that needs a complete rebuild and a stadium that's falling down.' But the takeover debt isn't the issue. That's ancient history. The share price is the problem."
If that market share continues to trend in a downward direction, the Glazers may decide it's time to move on. And if they do—or simply decide to bring in more investors—Ratcliffe appears to be waiting in the wings.