Concern over failed Man Utd bid

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The Independent Online
Institutional investors in Manchester United yesterday expressed concern over the circumstances surrounding a failed pounds 300m bid for the Premiership club by VCI, the video and publishing group chaired by Michael Grade, the Channel Four chief executive.

"Certainly, I was never informed," said one leading fund manager. "If it was a serious bid the Stock Exchange should have been informed. If I had been selling during the period I would be very unhappy."

His comments, and the news that bid talks lasted for at least a month, are likely to increase the pressure on the Stock Exchange to launch an inquiry into the attempted takeover, which coincided with a sharp rise in Manchester United's share price.

VCI walked away from the deal, worth about 480p a share, after the bid premium it was prepared to pay disappeared as United's share price rocketed. At no stage was the Stock Exchange informed of any discussions between the publicly quoted companies.

"The talks were never formally called off," said a source closely involved in the deal. "The rise in the share price meant there was nothing to discuss. It took a lot of the sting out of the bid."

Last night it emerged that Martin Edwards, the Manchester United chairman, first met HSBC, VCI's advisors, to discuss the bid on 13 May, just two days after the club had beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup Final to land the league and Cup double for an unprecedented second time.

Discussions between the two sides continued for about a month. VCI insists the bid was serious, if somewhat audacious, and had full financial backing in place. "Manchester United was talking to one of the biggest bank's in the world," the source continued.

Manchester United, four of whose directors - including Mr Edwards - sold some 4.5 million shares for pounds 21m on 13 June, says no Stock Exchange announcement about a takeover approach was necessary because VCI never made a formal bid.

It attributes the share price rise, from 333p to 489p between 20 May and 11 June, to prospects of a cash bonanza from satellite and pay-per- view television deals.

On 6 June a pounds 670m deal was struck between Premiership clubs and the satellite broadcaster BSkyB to televise live top-flight football until 2001. Dealers yesterday recalled bid rumours which also began to swirl around Manchester United days before the BSkyB deal.