Qatari syndicate makes bold bid to buy the Sea Eagles

Cashed-up Qatari investors have approached Manly about the prospect of buying the embattled club from the Penn family.

Fairfax Media can reveal Australian businessman Michael Ibrahim is attempting to broker the deal on behalf of a number of Qatari ruling families, who claim to have the financial clout and passion required to turn the Sea Eagles around.

The development follows Fairfax Media revelations that Hong Kong-based investor Harry Cheung, who previously sponsored Manly via his former firm Kaspersky, had been sounded out about joining a separate consortium.

Manly chairman and majority owner Scott Penn has publicly stated he won’t be selling up, but it is understood he is growing weary of constantly stumping up the funds required to ensure Manly are competitive.

The Qatari pitch is believed to be worth somewhere between $10 million and $15 million, a figure that would allow Penn to recoup the losses he has made on the football club. The parties have been in discussions about the proposal, the Penns indicating they will only consider selling off a fraction of their shares over a period of time. However, the syndicate has no interest in a minority stake and wants to buy the club outright.

As a sign of good faith, the Qataris are prepared to cover the cost of the NRL’s salary cap fine – $750,000, of which $250,000 is suspended – as a deposit on the Sea Eagles. The bid also has a major sponsor waiting in the wings in Qatar Airways, one of the world’s leading airlines.

The club’s current major backer, Lottoland, could soon be hamstrung by the Federal Government’s proposal to ban online lottery betting sites in Australia.

The investors behind the bid have also made a play for St George Illawarra, although the joint-venture outfit to date hasn’t shown a willingness to do a deal. The Dragons have been holding out for WIN Corporation to come back to the negotiating table, although it remains to be seen whether WIN supremo Bruce Gordon or his son Andrew will do so.

The focus of the Qataris is now squarely on Manly and the parties are scheduled to meet in coming weeks in an attempt to do a deal.

Ibrahim is one of the powerbrokers behind the push to bring rugby league Tests to the Middle East. The founder and chairman of Aqeeq Holdings is attempting to stage season-ending Australia-Tonga and Samoa-Fiji clashes in Qatar this year in an attempt to expose rugby league to a lucrative new market. He is also using his connections to mount a serious bid for an NRL franchise, with those behind it confident they could again turn Manly into a superpower.

Ibrahim declined to comment when contacted by Fairfax Media.

The issue of resourcing has been a touchy one at Brookvale, with frustrated coach Trent Barrett feeling he has too much on his plate as the club is beset by a series of scandals.

Football supremo Bob Fulton and chief operating officer Neil Bare have not been replaced, and there isn’t a senior talent spotter on the books. It is understood controversial recruiter Peter O’Sullivan will be offered the job this week, although the NRL will first have to deem him a fit and proper person for registration.

Manly, like all NRL clubs, apart from Brisbane, are regularly in the red. However, the Qatari businesspeople believe they will ensure it is one of the best resourced clubs in the league if their bid is successful.

Penn told Fairfax Media last week he had no intention of selling.

“We’ve got an obligation to [stay put] – we’ve come a long way,” Penn said.

“We know this game comes in cycles – we’ve had some phenomenal success and we’ve had some disappointments. That’s the trials and tribulations of the game.”