Glazer: I’m an ‘avid’ fan of MU

LONDON: US tycoon Malcolm Glazer sought yesterday to head off mounting fans' anger about his imminent takeover of Manchester United by declaring himself an “avid” fan of the celebrated English Premiership side. 

“We are long-term sports investors and avid Manchester United fans,” Glazer's son Joel, who conducts much of the family's public business, said in a statement released to the London Stock Exchange. 

Three United supporters were charged with public order offences yesterday after angry protests outside United's 68,000-seat Old Trafford Ground, while others promised a campaign of disruption and boycotts if Glazer went ahead with a takeover many fans believe will saddle the club with unnecessary debts. 

Red Football Limited, the Glazer family front company formally making the bid, now owns 71.8 per cent of the club, according to the statement released yesterday afternoon. 

The figure is just below the 75 per cent mark needed to take it into private ownership. 

“Our intention is to work with the current management, players and fans to ensure Manchester United continues to develop and achieve even greater success,” Joel Glazer added. 

He did not make clear whether this referred to team manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who is reported to be unhappy with the takeover bid for the English Premiership side, or the existing board of directors. 

In details of the bid, which followed a long stalled courtship by the US billionaire, the statement said the family would borrow £265 million (389 million euros, US$490 million) to finance the deal. 

The news will dismay United fans, who fear the planned transfer of this debt onto the currently cash-rich club will inevitably bring higher ticket prices and less spending on players. 

The Glazer family and Red Joint Venture, a family company registered in Britain, will jointly come up with £547 million in funding for the bid, Glazer said in his statement. 

In addition, “certain lenders will provide to Red a £265 million loan facility which, subject to prior shareholder approval by way of special resolution, will have security over Manchester Uniteds assets”, it added. 

Glazer, 76, who owns NFL franchise the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been stalking the club for months, but looks set to complete the takeover imminently. 

The breakthrough came on Thursday, when Glazer's bankers announced he had bought a 28.7-per cent stake in the club from Irish racing millionaires J. P. McManus and John Magnier, formerly the biggest single investors. 

This acquisition took his holding in Manchester United, the best-known and richest football club in the world, to 56.9 per cent, triggering a takeover bid for the remaining shares. 

The 300 pence-per-share cash offer values the English Premiership side at a massive £790.3 million, but it has been greeted with concern by United's board of directors and provoked anger by the majority of supporters. 

In a statement yesterday, Manchester United said it would wait for the “full facts” to become available before advising shareholders whether to accept the offer. 

Fans' groups have pledged direct action against Glazer and his bankers JP Morgan, and say they will urge a boycott of the club to devalue the brand and reduce revenue. 

Supporters' umbrella group Shareholders United has labelled Glazer “a parasite” and promised “extreme measures” to thwart his plans. 

Another group, the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association, warned it would form of a breakaway club if Glazer took over. 

Such a move would mirror the founding of AFC Wimbledon by fans of south London club Wimbledon when the team was taken over and moved out of the city.  

The club have won an astonishing eight league titles, five FA Cups and one European title during manager Sir Alex Ferguson's 19-year tenure with the club.– AFP  

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