Friday, March 5, 2010

Red Knights raise £1.5bn for plan to buy Manchester United from Glazer family

Sixty super-rich investors have pledged up to £1.5 billion in their bid to seize control of Manchester United, The Times can reveal.

Although the Glazer family have insisted that the champions are not for sale, the leaders of the Red Knights, the group of leading City financiers behind the move, will sit at their round table today to sift through a rich list of applicants ready to back a buyout.

“We thought we had 40 investors — well, it is already 60,” one of the Knights said last night.

It may mean that a bid for Britain’s biggest club could soon be a realistic prospect and that the Knights will be in a position to make an offer that cannot be refused.

The strength of the bid will become clear today when Jim O’Neill, head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs and a lifelong United supporter, and his team analyse the offers on the table at the City headquarters of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the top law firm.

With him will be Mark Rawlinson, a senior partner at Freshfields, and Paul Marshall, the multimillionaire founder of the Marshall Wace hedge fund.

The Red Knights believe that the club is worth about £1 billion, while the Glazers’ valuation — which they insist does not equate to an asking price — is approximately £1.2 billion.

David Gill, the United chief executive, dismissed the Red Knights out of hand this week, describing their takeover plan as unworkable.

But anger at the massive debts run up by the Glazers that has rippled through the Old Trafford stands is now making waves in boardrooms as it appears that leading investors as well as fans, who have been hit by big increases in ticket prices, are rallying behind the Red Knights.

The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST), which is campaigning to oust the Glazers, said last night that membership was on target for 110,000 — more than doubling in a day since the Red Knights’ plan emerged on Tuesday.

Duncan Drasdo, the chief executive of MUST, said: “The growth rate is absolutely phenomenal. MUST now has more campaign members than the official Manchester United membership scheme.”

There is still a long way to go, though. According to Gill, the Glazers are adamant they will not sell one of the most prized assets in world sport, while O’Neill, who has been given leave by Goldman Sachs to pursue the bid, and his group still have to prove that they have the cash to wrest control from United’s controversial American owners — though they may be able to do so by the end of Friday.
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