Sam Wallace: Manchester United fans should look long and hard at spin and promises of City slickers

Claims the Red Knights had Ferguson's support may show they are fighting a dirty war

There is something about this group of bankers, PR men and publicity-hungry City types who call themselves, in preposterous fashion, the "Red Knights" that reminds me of the current group of bankers, PR men and publicity- hungry City types who make up the altogether preposterous Conservative Party.

Like the Conservatives, those who claim to speak on behalf of the Red Knights are not slow to tell us that those they seek to replace are utterly useless. For the Labour government read the Glazer family, whose £709.5m debt, we all know, is imperiling the future of Manchester United.

The Red Knights' mantra really is no different to the Tories' "We can't go on like this" refrain, to which the answer, in both cases, is plainly: "Yes, we know that, but how about telling us exactly what you plan to do?" In fact, in the case of the Red Knights, it is a struggle to get one individual to admit publicly to his involvement.

The Conservative Party strategists who have sought to insert David Cameron into government with the minimum of policy promises must look with envy and awe at the Red Knights and their reams of positive publicity.

This is not intended to belittle the basic principle that United need to be free of the Glazers. We can all see that. The bond issue document that the Glazers issued in January was as heartbreaking a piece of corporate literature as you will ever read, offering up stadium, training ground and even players to serve the debt.

But however despairing that makes United fans feel, it by no means obliges them to go running into the arms of the Red Knights without doing due diligence first. If anything, the Glazer experience at Old Trafford should make those United fans' groups who are being courted by these would-be rescuers even more cautious.

So far the Red Knights have operated in the shadows and the unattributed claims yesterday that they had the secret support of Sir Alex Ferguson, despite his vehement denials, were the clearest indication yet that they could be fighting a dirty war.

Even the name Red Knights invites us to assume that they are automatically the good guys. The concept of Red Knights is a thrillingly ingenious play on the myth of white knights who, of course, always ride to the rescue of those in distress. The PR firm really earned their money there.

The executive types of the City love to make themselves sound more glamorous with monikers such as these. Just for the hell of it some of them have pictures of footballers on their office walls and proclaim themselves "footy mad". They give interviews to the business pages in which they compare themselves to football managers and even take their ties off when they go to games.

It is all very heart-warming that people such as Jim O'Neill, the putative head of the Red Knights, is so willing to share with us his Moss Side childhood and passion for United, but that does not really answer the basic question. How would his consortium offer a stable alternative to the Glazers?

What O'Neill seems to be proposing is a collective fund of anything up to £1.5bn which is made up of, according to some reports, as many as 60 investors, at least one of which could put up as much as £600m. It presupposes an extraordinary alliance of rich, powerful people all of them used to having their own way, yet all pulling together for an institution that may never return them any profit.

We have heard so much about the so-called Red Knights' impeccable financial acumen and their genius for tapping the emerging markets. What we have not been told is how they plan to unite this disparate group of investors; a job that sounds about as challenging as shepherding the mid-1980s United team out of the pub at closing time.

It is for this reason that United fans' groups, who have given so much of their time and energy to opposing and exposing the Glazers, need to think very carefully before they decide to back this particular horse.

In the Financial Times on Saturday, a source close to the Red Knights was quoted on the subject of the Glazers hiking ticket prices at Old Trafford in order to pay down the debt. He said: "To apply private equity principles to lower income levels of society is completely inappropriate. It is very harsh on these people."

Hang on a minute. The very principle of private equity is borrowing money to buy companies, cutting costs (which roughly translates as "sacking people"), using the cash-flow to pay the debts and selling the entity on for a profit. Goldman Sachs, for whom O'Neill is the chief economist, has a private equity department which, among other deals, was part of a 2002 buy-out of Burger King whose staff are regarded as low-income.

Are we to believe that those men among the Red Knights who have dedicated their lives to pursuing the margins of profit have suddenly been overcome by brotherly love for the average Stretford Ender with a season ticket and a terraced house in Urmston?

The current recession alone should tell fans that when it comes to the world of British finance there is no reason to tug on forelocks and defer to "thems-what-knows-better". There is no cause to be blinded by the glittering write-ups that the likes of O'Neill have been given by his more star-struck acolytes or those other Red Knights from institutions such as Freshfields and Saatchi & Saatchi.

As for Keith Harris, the Red Knights' stockbroker who spends as much time being interviewed as he does raising finance, his call to arms for United fans to cancel season tickets and boycott matches should be treated very carefully. The Manchester United Supporters' Trust, the largest of the fans' groups, has not yet endorsed that nuclear option, which could yet do extreme damage to the club.

That is why it is understandable when United's chief executive, David Gill, reacts with anger to the Red Knights, a group that have managed that age-old political trick of winning prestige without actually doing anything. Gill opposed the Glazer takeover as long as his legal obligations as a director permitted and since then he has run United as best he can under the debt.

He deals in the reality of the situation, which is keeping United afloat under an unfavourable regime. Like the Tories, the Red Knights are very good at imagining how they would ride to the rescue but they should explain how that works in reality before they are granted the endorsement of the fans.

It's once bitten twice shy, Shaun

Shaun Wright-Phillips lambasts Manchester City for not offering him a new contract with two years left to run on his current deal. Just a thought, Shaun, but perhaps there are some at the club who still remember the day you walked out on them to join Chelsea?

Owen sacrificed much to serve England

As Michael Owen's international career seems to be ending, it should be remembered that the injury that did him most damage – the cruciate ligament at the last World Cup – was sustained when he came back early from a broken metatarsal. Owen did so in order to play for England. His 40 goals for his country may not have got him Sir Bobby Charlton's record, but they are a wonderful accomplishment.

Full marks for honesty

Nicklas Bendtner might have been guilty of some horrendous misses on Saturday but he deserves credit for fronting up for interviews afterwards and taking the responsibility. Certain players could learn a lesson there.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album