Red Knights plan £1bn hostile bid for Man Utd
Glazers say club not for sale – but Goldman Sachs banker and friends have a very different idea
Sterling may be heading into a sustained fall on concerns over UK debt and the uncertain political picture, but Jim O'Neill, Goldman Sachs' chief economist and the man who termed Brazil, Russia, India and China the BRICS, is readying a hostile bid to gain control of Manchester United from the Glazer family.
O'Neill, a former United board member, organised a meeting of City financiers in London yesterday to discuss a takeover. The Mancunian economist and life-long United supporter, is confident that his team of fellow supporters can raise the £1bn-plus necessary.
Owner Malcom Glazer has driven United deep into debt since he purchased the club in 2005 using loan secured against its value. If hedge fund loans secured by the Glazers on their stake in United are added to the £504m bond raised in January, the club's debts now stands at £716m.
O'Neill has been an outspoken critic of the deal. "There's too much leverage going on with Manchester United," he said in January. "It's not a good thing. I'm not a buyer of the bond."
And then there's problems with United itself: figures due to be released today will show United has been overtaken by Barcelona as football's no 1 revenue generator, suggesting Glazers' tenure has diminished the brand.
Key figures in the O'Neill plan include Mike Rawlinson, a partner at the City law firm Freshfields, who advised United on their takeover by the Glazers; Paul Marshall, a partner at the hedge fund Marshall Wace; and Keith Harris, a stockbroker who has been involved in several football takeovers. Saatchi & Saatchi's Richard Hytner is also said to be involved.
According to the Guardian, O'Neill's plan is an offshoot of attempts by United fans to organise the collective ownership of the club. That idea gained traction as the full extent of the club's dire financial position under the Glazers' direction has become apparent.
Next year loans taken out to service the Glazers' borrowings will top £172m. In a symbolic protest, fans have begun wearing the green and gold colours the team wore more than century ago, forsaking the team's typical red strip.
But can O'Neill and his Red Knights succeed? They say they have no immediate plans to present their proposals. Nor are the Glazers playing a weak hand: the bond was twice over-subscribed despite what it revealed about the debt and methods of Malcolm Glazer's regime.
Last night a spokesman for the family was unequivocal: "Manchester United is not for a sale. It's business as usual." ·
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