Billionaire stalker who will not leave United alone

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Malcolm Glazer is the limpet that Manchester United cannot dislodge for one reason: money. The 76-year-old American has already spent some £250m to stockpile 28.11 per cent of the club and become a thorn in United's side. More significantly, he can smell the cash potential at Old Trafford and he wants total control of it.

Malcolm Glazer is the limpet that Manchester United cannot dislodge for one reason: money. The 76-year-old American has already spent some £250m to stockpile 28.11 per cent of the club and become a thorn in United's side. More significantly, he can smell the cash potential at Old Trafford and he wants total control of it.

Those twin factors have driven his takeover attempts despite all the evidence that the club's manager, fans and plc do not want him.

Both factors remain relevant. First, it is believed that if Glazer ever felt that buying United had become impossible, he would offload his whole stake and leave. The fact that he has appointed new bankers is evidence that an exit strategy is not yet on the cards. Though he has been especially cavalier in refusing even to attempt to engage the fans in any debate, the hostility of his potential customers has not deterred him.

Second, he still sees United as a ripe business opportunity. It is a debt-free, profitable club with a massive fan base that has not been fully exploited. "Exploited" is the operative word. There is little doubt that Glazer would increase ticket prices, cast aside tradition to sell naming rights to Old Trafford and lobby extensively for whatever television deals would make him the most money. The ticket and stadium plans, and even a sale-leaseback scheme for Old Trafford, have all featured in drafts of Glazer's blueprint for United.

Under a Glazer regime, the dismantling of the Premier League's collective TV rights selling agreement would be his dream. Fans everywhere, including many in Manchester, would view it as a nightmare.

The inevitable consequence of clubs selling their own matches to TV would be an even greater wealth divide between the handful of big clubs and the rest. This will happen one day, perhaps as soon as the next TV deal, under pressure from the European Commission. And Glazer wants a part of it.

The genesis of Glazer's interest in United gives clues to his motivation, and the starting point was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' victory in the 2003 Super Bowl.

By the early 1990s, Glazer had amassed a fortune in various businesses from watches to fish oil, to trailer parks to property. He bought the Bucs in 1995 for around £120m, transformed them into champions and trebled their value. Hiked prices and extensive commercial expansion were key.

Having performed the trick once, he broadened his horizons to one of the world's major sports franchises - the LA Dodgers baseball team. His bid failed and, inspired by his sons Joel and Avi, who both like football, he was encouraged to look globally. Hence to United, the world's most valuable sports club.

Glazer started buying shares, amassing a three per cent stake by September 2003, when he was forced under Stock Market rules to declare his holding. His plan was up and running, fuelled by a belief that United's largest shareholders, John Magnier and JP McManus, were intent on either making their own bid (they were not) or else selling up because of Magnier's feud with Sir Alex Ferguson over the racehorse Rock Of Gibraltar (they did not).

By February last year, Glazer was heading towards a bid position, having then acquired 17 per cent of United, which grew to 28.11 per cent by October. The detail of his proposed takeover have always revolved around money: spending as little of his own as possible while making as much as he can.

That was the logic behind his initial (failed) plan to borrow up to £500m to pay for a takeover estimated at up to £800m. He saw no sense in spending his own cash if lenders would take the risk and he could saddle United with debt to fund his ambitions. Except United's board saw things differently, rejecting the notion of any highly leveraged bid. And Magnier and McManus were alienated because they were not prepared to deal with someone who was not prepared to offer them non-conditional cash payment for their stake.

Glazer's early offers to the Irish tycoons were all conditional on him acquiring a certain - threshold - share of United. His motivation was full control, and thus money. It still is.

Comments