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Man U in crises

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Takeover near as Glazer buys Irish stake


Manchester United have been plunged into turmoil as Malcolm Glazer's £790million takeover dream moved within touching distance of becoming reality.


Man United fans make their feelings known. (NealSimpson/Empics)

The American effectively seized control with the shock confirmation that John Magnier and JP McManus had accepted Glazer's £3 per share offer and sold their 28.9% stake.


Even as United supporters arrived at Old Trafford in their droves to protest at Glazer's involvement, news filtered through that another key shareholder Harry Dobson had opted to cash in his 6% stake.


It is now thought Glazer has netted more than 112 million shares in the club, taking his own personal stake to 70%.


A clause in the original proposals, which forced Glazer to secure 75% of the club's shares in order for JP Morgan to fund a bid has now been scrapped, leaving the 78-year-old free to garner the remainder at will.


And though he will not formally lodge his bid until tomorrow morning, it is now inevitable he will get total control.


Some of the more militant United fans were accepting the battle for ownership is almost over.


The renewed threat of a breakaway club has already been raised, while other strategies, such as a boycott of season tickets and club merchandise are sure to be on the horizon.


Of more immediate interest is the reaction of the United board, who were locked in meetings at Old Trafford, refusing to make any public statement on the latest development.


Given they have previously described Glazer's proposals as 'aggressive' and 'potentially damaging', it is difficult to see how they can be any part of an American buy-out, with chief executive David Gill and chairman Sir Roy Gardner looking particularly vulnerable.


The position of Sir Alex Ferguson will also need to be clarified as a matter of utmost urgency.


It has previously been suggested by the Glazer camp that Ferguson is seen as an essential component in any deal and the Scot is expected to receive a £25million transfer `war chest' should he extend his 18 year stay with the Red Devils.


That is far from certain however. Ferguson has previously spoken out against any attempt to delist the club from the Stock Market and at 63, the most successful manager English football has ever known may decide he does not want to be part of the Glazer revolution.


While the loss of Gill, and his vast depth of knowledge of the United operation, would be a blow, Ferguson's departure would be a PR catastrophe for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner.


Already, major question marks have been raised as to how Glazer will squeeze greater profits from the Old Trafford machine than it currently generates.


It is estimated Glazer has had to borrow in excess of £300million to seal the deal, so he will need far more than the vastly-reduced £12.4million half-year profits announced in March.


United's second successive third place Premiership finish has already ensured there will be no major increase in Champions League income next season, so attention will turn to the current Premier League TV contract.


It is widely acknowledged that United - with their vast army of global supporters - could make far more by pursuing their own TV deals.


However, this could only be done through legal channels as the Old Trafford club are currently bound by Premier League rules, which require a two-thirds majority to change.


Documents will be released to the remaining shareholders at some point next week, detailing Glazer's £3 per share offer, although it is not thought, as yet, either Malcolm, or sons Joel and Avi, have any immediate plans to head to the United Kingdom.


Predictably, the major fans' groups who have campaigned so extensively against Glazer are aghast at today's news, with the blame being pinned on Magnier and McManus, who it had been reported would not sell at the price offered.


Around 1,000 United fans had descended on Old Trafford by 6pm, and Shareholders United vice-chairman Oliver Houston said: 'We feel completely betrayed by John Magnier and JP McManus.


'They said they were long term investors but they have taken the 30 pieces of silver offered by Malcolm Glazer.


'But we will not give up the fight just yet. There will be no shaking of the hands on this one.


'We warned Glazer a long time ago that no customers means no profit and he is about to see how much strength supporters at this club do have.'


Jules Spencer, chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, added: 'If this is to be the end then we will go down kicking and screaming.


'And if he (Glazer) does get control then we will do what we said, which is up sticks and form a new club which will continue the traditions and heritage and the legacy of 125 years of Manchester United.


'We don't want Malcolm Glazer, we want a club run for the fans - and that is what we will do.'


Chanting supporters carried banners declaring the club 'Not for Sale' and burned effigies of the American billionaire outside Old Trafford tonight - and Greater Manchester Police said a number of fans were arrested tonight.


A force spokesman said: 'There have been some arrests for public order offences.


'The protest has been fairly peaceful but the group were warned under the Public Order Act to move on and clear the site.


'We do not want them there and a number of arrests have been made.'


Sports minister Richard Caborn tonight said: 'Who owns Manchester United is a commercial decision but of course anyone seeking to buy the club would be foolish not to take account of the views of the fans.


'I hope Mr Glazer sets up constructive discussions with the club, its supporters and employees, as well as the footballing authorities, as soon as possible.


'It is important that the club continues to play its central role in English football in the years to come.'

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United fans vow war against Glazer


LONDON, May 12 (Reuters) - Manchester United fans promised a war of attrition against Malcolm Glazer after the American tycoon took control of the world's richest football club.


Glazer: The would be United owner hung in effigy. (NealSimpson/Empics)

Supporters' groups, whose vociferous opposition helped prevent a 1999 takeover by satellite television company BSkyB, called a demonstration on Thursday at Old Trafford, home of the most famous club in British football, to voice their disgust.


Fans say Glazer has no knowledge of the football side of the club and is interested purely in its brand, rivalled only by Real Madrid, and revenues.


They fear his £790million offer will saddle United with heavy debts, forcing up ticket prices and diverting funds which could be used to improve the team which finished a disappointing third this season.


United fans had planned to boycott last Saturday's home match against West Bromwich Albion to protest against Glazer's takeover moves before calling it off 24 hours before the game because they feared the boycott would fall flat.


'He's got himself an extremely tainted asset - this is by no means over,' said Oliver Houston of Shareholders United.


'Even if Mr Glazer succeeds in getting all-out control, the campaign by fans to show that no customers equals no profits will continue.


'If that means starving ourselves, and starving the club of income, in order to make this parasite detach himself from us, then so be it,' Houston told SkySports News.


Stockmarket analysts believe that there is little anti-Glazer supporters, whose shareholding in the club is estimated at around 20 percent, can do to prevent the takeover if city institutions decide 300 pence a share is a fair price.


However, the fans are emboldened by the memories of the takeover attempt by Australian-born American Rupert Murdoch whose one billion dollar bid was accepted by United's board.


After a vociferous campaign by fans, the bid was turned down by British anti-monopolies officials who said it would not have been in the public interest because it might have reduced competition for Premier League broadcasting rights.


'It (a takeover) is never inevitable and I urge all other shareholders not to sell,' said Mark Longden, spokesman for the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA).


'There are far more opposed to the Glazer bid than when Murdoch tried to take over because people are more politically aware. The fight goes on until we are FC United.'


United has won the European Cup twice, the league title 15 times and been the dominant side in England for the past decade under manager Alex Ferguson, who has been in charge since 1986.


The 1958 Munich air crash, which decimated the team, increased the club's mystique as did players like Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law and, more recently, Frenchman Eric Cantona and England captain David Beckham, now with Real Madrid.


Old Trafford is the biggest club ground in England, holding 68,000. United want to increase this to almost 76,000 which will still not be big enough to contain the number of fans from all over the world who want to watch the Red Devils.




United estimate their global fan base at more than 75 million, including 40 million in Asia and just 4.6 million in the Americas where Glazer, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers American football team, has marketing expertise.


'We've got members in over 85 countries around the world, this is not just about people who are going week-in, week-out,' said Houston.


'This is about the television audiences, Manchester United's tie-up with sponsors - people are not going to want to be associated with a Malcolm Glazer-owned Manchester United.'


Glazer's bid comes at an awkward time for the club and their frustrated fans.


United has been eclipsed by Chelsea, owned and funded by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, this season and has now gone two years without winning the English title, unknown since the early '90s.


The feelings of the fans will have the perfect setting at the FA Cup final, one of English sport's great annual occasions, on May 21 in Cardiff where United will play arch-rivals Arsenal.


Supporters' websites are already calling on fans to burn their letters from the club about 2005/06 season tickets.


'If he takes over there's no way I'll set foot in the ground ever again and a lot of people think that,' said Longden.


'When the call goes up 'Stand up if we're not for sale' 90 percent are against it.'

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