Diarra £24.5m price tag to test Glazers' largesse

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The Independent Football

The Glazer family's new-found reputation as benevolent owners of Manchester United will be seriously tested if Sir Alex Ferguson pursues his interest in Mahamadou Diarra this summer, with the Lyon midfielder yesterday saddled with a price tag in excess of £24.5m by the French champions-elect.

Last night David Gill, the United chief executive, insisted the Glazers had altered their initial, aggressive business strategy for the club after concerns expressed by the Old Trafford hierarchy, but it is the most critical phase of the manager's latest rebuilding programme - the extensive overhaul of his ageing and depleted midfield - that will reveal their ability to compete financially with Europe's leading clubs.

The United manager was at San Siro last Tuesday as part of his search for Roy Keane's replacement, with Milan's Gennaro Gattuso also observed, and saw Diarra head Lyon's goal in the Champions' League defeat by the Rossoneri.

Lyon, however, have responded to interest from United and Real Madrid by declaring they will only sell the powerful 24-year-old if he attracts a better offer than the £24.5m that took their former employee Michael Essien to Stamford Bridge last summer.

"There will be no revolution," insisted the Lyon chairman, Jean-Michel Aulas, even though his club will be in the market for new strikers during the close season. "Diarra will be with us next season. Even if a good deal is possible, people must know he will be more expensive than Essien."

Reports in Marca, the Spanish sports daily with close ties to the Bernabeu, claimed yesterday that United had agreed a deal in principle for Diarra but, as Chelsea discovered in their arduous pursuit of Essien, Lyon are difficult negotiators, and possess a player who signed a two-year extension to his contract at Stade Gerland last summer. "This is an invention of the Spanish press," said the player's agent, Frédéric Guerra. "I will tell you more about Mahamadou's future within a month."

Gill, in an interview with BBC Five Live, revealed that Malcolm Glazer has revised the business plan that drew protests from many financial advisers, and United's own chief executive, prior to last summer's £790m takeover, and will employ a long-term strategy to repay the club's extensive debt.

"We did have concerns," Gill said. "They [the Glazer family] have demonstrated a willingness to listen. We are going to do a new, long-term business plan. The debt is serviceable and with the stadium expansion and the sponsorship deals, we believe we're in good shape."

* FC United, the club set up by fans in the summer following Malcolm Glazer's takeover at Manchester United, will be promoted as champions to the North West Counties Football League First Division if they defeat Chadderton tonight.

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