Football: Fans united in opposition as Glazer puts detailed new takeover plans before board

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The Independent Online
MALCOLM GLAZER has handed a formal, revised takeover proposal to Manchester United's board, which now faces the potentially momentous decision of whether or not to back a friendly buy-out by the 76-year- old American.

A "yes" to Glazer would trigger mass protests from supporters and could signal the beginning of the end of United's plc status. A "no" could leave Glazer exploring an exit strategy to offload his pounds 250m, 28.1 per cent stake in the club.

The key decision for United's chief executive, David Gill, is whether he feels the new bid is still overly leveraged - in layman's terms, too reliant on debt. The United board will discuss the offer in the next few days. Glazer's initial takeover plans, rejected by the board last year, involved borrowing pounds 500m, mostly to be provided by the bankers JP Morgan, to fund an pounds 800m takeover. The board dismissed that on the grounds that the future stability of United - a profitable, debt-free company - might be in danger if burdened by huge debts.

The new bid, which also involves JP Morgan, is based on less debt, thought to be around pounds 300m, and more equity. JP Morgan withdrew their backing for Glazer last year over his aggressive stance towards the United board. They agreed to reinstate funding on the condition that any new bid was non-hostile and acceptable to the board.

Glazer, along with two of his sons, Joel and Avi, has made a formal pledge to invest heavily in new players if he takes control. The revised offer also contains a commitment to United's plans to increase the capacity at Old Trafford to 76,000 and includes a guarantee that a sale-and-leaseback of the stadium is not envisaged to meet future debts. Selling naming rights to the stadium has not been ruled out, however.

Confirmation of Glazer's latest bid arrived yesterday, the 47th anniversary of the Munich air disaster. A statement from United said: "The board of Manchester United stated on 20 December that the Glazer Family Partnership had indicated potential revisions to its previous proposal and that Manchester United did not intend to open discussions on this matter until it had received a definite proposal. The board has noted the recent press speculation on this subject. The board can confirm it has now received a detailed proposal subject to various preconditions which may form the basis of an offer for Manchester United from Glazer. A further announcement will be made in due course."

The timing could not have been worse for United's fans, who have been consistently and vociferously opposed to any takeover. "Glazer couldn't have chosen a more inappropriate time," Sean Bones, the vice-chairman of the influential Shareholders United fans' group, said. "It comes as United fans are gathering at Old Trafford to pay their respects to the Munich dead. It just shows the feeling - or rather the lack of it - that this man has for United tradition."

Bones said he was "confident" that Gill would reject Glazer's new bid, "for the same reasons the board rejected the last one". He also poured scored on claims that Glazer, who owns the American Football franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers, could transform United's fortunes. "Malcolm Glazer's team finished bottom of their league this season," Bones said. "As for the idea he'll invest in players, that's sheer cheek. He'd be taking United into debt to do it, and then it'll be the fans, not him, who end up paying for those debts."

A positive response to Glazer from United's board is far from certain, even though Glazer will offer 300p a share, which is considered a decent price by many analysts. The vehement opposition of the fans - Glazer's potential customers - will be considered.

Even if the board says "yes", a full takeover would still depend on whether he can strike a deal with United's biggest shareholders, John Magnier and J P McManus. The Irish tycoons own 28.9 per cent of United via their Cubic Expression investment vehicle but have not spoken to Glazer since last year, when they were unimpressed with a conditional offer for their stake. Glazer has not yet contacted Cubic about his new offer.

"It would appear he's going about things in the right way this time," a source familiar with the situation said. "He's getting his ducks in a row with the board first, unlike last time, when he went to various shareholders first without any board support."

Whatever happens next, Glazer will get little or no support from most fans. "We have made our feelings about him perfectly clear. We do not want him involved in our club," said Jules Spencer, chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association. "We do not see any way that his influence can benefit us. If the stories about new investment in the team are meant to allay our fears, I am afraid he is sadly mistaken. We will fight this man. We've already proved in the past we can defeat predators, as BSkyB found out. We are confident we will succeed again."

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