A survey conducted by the chartered accountants, Deloitte & Touche, in conjunction with the football magazine FourFourTwo showed that United's turnover in the season ended in 1997 was pounds 87.94m. That figure is nearly pounds 30m more than second-placed Barcelona, whose turnover for the same period was pounds 58.87m.
The United chairman, Martin Edwards, claimed the club's commercial empire has been built on the back of Alex Ferguson's transformation of the side in the 1990s.
"Obviously we run the club very much as a business, but everything emanates from the football side," Edwards said yesterday.
Gerry Boon, the chairman of Deloitte & Touche's Football Industry Team, said: "Manchester United is one of the most famous brands in the world. Despite having smaller crowds than some of its Italian and Spanish rivals, it still earns more income."
Matt Tench, the editor of FourFourTwo, said United's marketing success is quite remarkable. "It's a mark of Manchester United's success that they can sell replica shirts to kids in the Far East who probably don't even know where Manchester is," he said.
The Premiership has five clubs in the world's 20 richest clubs, and after the Old Trafford side the most affluent English side are Newcastle United, in eighth place with a turnover of pounds 41.13m. Liverpool are ninth on pounds 39.15m, Tottenham 16th on pounds 27.87m and Arsenal 20th on pounds 27.16m.
These standings are based on financial results prior to the Gunners winning the Double and competing in the Champions' League.
Rangers are the only Scottish team in the top 20, and they were ranked 14th with a pounds 31.66m turnover.
n Russia plan to play their European Championship qualifier against Andorra on 31 March in Vladikavkaz, just 35 miles from war-torn Chechnya, a Russian Football Union spokesman said yesterday.
FOOTBALL'S RICHEST CLUBS
1 Man Utd pounds 87.94m
2 Barcelona pounds 58.87m
3 Real Madrid pounds 55.66m
4 Juventus pounds 53.22m
5 Bayern Munich pounds 51.62m
6 Milan pounds 47.48m
7 Bor Dortmund pounds 42.2m
8 Newcastle Utd pounds 41.13m
9 Liverpool pounds 39.15m
10 Internazionale pounds 39.07m
11 Flamengo pounds 37.42m
12 Atletico Madrid pounds 32.38m
13 Paris St-Germain pounds 31.7m
14 Rangers pounds 31.66m
15 Roma pounds 28.22m
16 Tottenham pounds 27.87m
17 Ajax pounds 27.8m
18 Parma pounds 27.76m
19 Lazio pounds 27.33m
20 Arsenal pounds 27.16m
Totals: annual turnoverReuse content