The Red Knights’ numbers have swollen to more than 60, with a bid war-chest of more than £1.5 billion now available, according to reports today. Publicly led by Keith Harris with key figures including Jim O’Neil, Paul Marshall and Richard Hyntner, the Knights could formulate a formal bid for the club in the coming weeks to test the Glazer family’s determination not to sell.
News that the group of nine principal investors has swollen so rapidly comes amid the continuing grassroots campaign by the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) to raise member numbers beyond 100,000.
In a rapidly developing situation Manchester United managing director first denied that the Glazer family is prepared to sell, mocked Harris’ record and then questioned the potential management structure under a hypothetical Knights’ ownership.
“The better-run clubs are where there is clear single decision-making and it’s quick and efficient – Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, Silvio Berlusconi at AC Milan,” said Gill this week.
“Having a number of wealthy people involved – they will all want to be involved in decision-making. I’m not sure what their endgame is but the endgame is irrelevant.
“The vast majority of fans of Manchester United should be happy with what we are doing and staying at the top of domestic and world football.”
It is, of course, a ridiculous argument by Gill who was also managing director of Manchester United Plc, which had more than 35,000 investors but an executieve management team to make day-to-day decisions.
There are also plenty of high-profile legal and accounting firms, such Price Waterhouse or Proudfoot for whom Gill both worked, with wealthy partners in the executive team that function well.
Gill, who mocked Harris as a publicity seeker with “no track record” in football, vehemently denied that the Glazer family is ready to sell, while defending the over-leveraged model they have installed at United that has placed £716 million debt on the club’s books.
It is not for nothing that Gill’s pay is significantly above market rates for a £300 million turnover business – he’s quite happy to sit on whatever side of the fence pays best.
But questions do remain over the Knights’ proposed bid, with the speculated £1.5 billion fund as yet unconfirmed. Moreover, the Knights have not yet unveiled a transparent business model for the club, including how much debt will remain within the company after takeover.These are questions that MUST will seek from the investment group in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been steadfast in his support for the Glazer family has given his most equivocal endorsement of the green and gold revolution yet.
“We take all sinners – I would even take City fans,” Ferguson joked this morning.
“I have no problem with protest. There were plenty of green and gold scarves on Sunday and I was delighted to see them supporting the club.
“We are quite happy. As long as they are supporting Manchester United they can wear whatever they like.”
Ferguson, who believes that the single-ownership structure is easier to work with than the Plc, cannot ignore the wave of sedition at Old Trafford. But the Scot, who famously fell out with former-United investors JP McManus and John Magnier, says that takeover was always inevitable once the club floated in the early 1990s.
“When United became a plc a long way back, they were always going to be bought,” he added.
“People forget that point. Once you are a plc your company can be bought and people bought shares. The Irish trio bought shares. There were quite a few people stalking the club.”
It’s an important point to remember. While the Knights have the club at heart, each will likely invest multiple millions in any future takeover. The exit strategy, which could include flotation or resale, is therefore key. Ousting the Glazer family is only worthwhile if the club is never allowed to be put in this position again.
“But David Gill summed it up earlier this week. The club is not for sale. He has made it quite clear. The Glazer family have said it is not for sale,” added Ferguson.
“I have no issue with the Red Knights. I know some of them. I don’t deny them their right to protest.
“If they want to try and buy the club that is entirely up to them.”
Indeed, Ferguson is friendly with Goldman Sachs Jim O’Neil and it seems unlikely that the manager will not have been given forewarning of last Monday’s Red Knights’ meeting.
Should the takeover happen Ferguson will undoubtedly remain. As for Gill, the new owners’ first act should be to fill in his P45.