United faces private future under tycoon

Racehorse owner favourite to control football giant

MANCHESTER UNITED is likely to be taken private by the horse-racing tycoon who is leading the race to control the Treble-winning quoted football club.

Insiders believe that John Magnier, the hugely successful breeder and owner, would be unwilling to undergo the scrutiny that would result from owning a large chunk of a public company. They cite the example of his friend Joe Lewis, the equally wealthy and secretive currency trader, whose attempts to buy Christie's, the auction house, collapsed in the face of intense public interest in his affairs. Mr Magnier's interests are so closely guarded that his main business vehicle, Coolmore Stud, is an unlimited partnership and hence is not even obliged to publish accounts.

It is understood that Mr Magnier has had a conversation with Martin Edwards, the chief executive of Manchester United, about buying the club but a deal remains elusive. Mr Edwards, who owns 11 per cent of the club, is thought to be insistent that a bidder purchases the entire club and not just his stake. It is this condition that is said to have scuppered an earlier approach from JP McManus, the legendary gambler who was only interested in buying Mr Edwards' shares.

But sources remain convinced that Mr Edwards, who was said to be particularly disappointed by the failure of BSkyB's bid, is keen to sell his stake to any party with the resources to maintain United's status as the world's biggest club. There is no doubt that the combined wealth of Mr Magnier, Mr McManus and Michael Tabor, a leading light of the bloodstock world, would fit the bill. They may also call upon former stockbroker Dermot Desmond.

Mr Edwards is thought to favour a bid from a media group but there is continued uncertainty about whether such an approach would receive regulatory approval. Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, is expected to clarify the rules governing football club ownership later this month. These have remained uncertain since BSkyB's bid was blocked. It has been suggested that Mr Byers will rule out the possibility of a media group bidding for Manchester United, which would encourage Mr Edwards to countenance a bid from Mr Magnier. Mr Edwards' apparent desire to leave the club has been heightened by the continued criticism to which he has been subjected by certain sections of United supporters.

Officially, the club is refusing to comment on the bid speculation, wary of risking further attacks from fans who may resent the idea of a Magnier- inspired takeover.

Meanwhile it has emerged that Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United's treble-winning manager, may be the pivotal figure who introduced Mr Magnier and his associates to Mr Edwards. Two of Mr Ferguson's own horses are trained at the Ballydoyle stables in Ireland, which Mr Magnier owns. It is believed that only last week Mr Ferguson attended a lunch at which Mr Magnier and Mr McManus were present.

Although Manchester United shares have performed better than those of most quoted football clubs, analysts still believe its current stock market valuation of pounds 557m undervalues the club. The market capitalisation still falls short of the pounds 623m that BSkyB was willing to pay until its bid was blocked in April by the Monopolies & Mergers Commission.

The unwillingness of fund managers to invest in football clubs suggests that Manchester United may be ripe for going private. This could provoke a series of other attempts to take quoted clubs private.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine