Malcolm Glazer, the would-be owner of Manchester United, is amending his business plan for the club in the hope that the board will change its mind and provide a formal recommendation of his offer to shareholders.
The 76-year-old American's advisers yesterday started scrutinising United's books before a formal bid for the club, likely to come late next week. Due diligence is expected to take between 10 and 14 days and a bid is likely to follow swiftly. Among the changes being considered are formal pledges relating to transfer budgets, job security for Sir Alex Ferguson, ticket prices and the future of Old Trafford.
Transfer spending will probably be guaranteed at levels consistent with recent seasons or higher while Glazer will also guarantee, within a detailed plan, that major increases in ticket prices are not necessary for his takeover to pay for itself.
A plan for a sale and leaseback of the stadium has been scrapped while Glazer is also looking at ways of guaranteeing the futures of United's management team.
In a statement last week, the board said Glazer's business plan assumptions were "aggressive" and that "the direct and indirect financial strain on the business could be damaging". The board also said that the proposal then on the table was one it was "unlikely to be able to recommend" if it became a formal offer. Hence the fine-tuning.
Insiders say that Glazer is acutely aware that the board does not want to make any decision that leaves it open to accusations from fans that they have ignored supporters' interests. Instead, according to a source, he intends to provide "sufficient comfort" to the board that it can recommend a bid believing it to be for the good of the club.
Advisers close to the American, whose sons Joel and Avi have taken control of the proposed buy-out on a day-to-day basis, are privately dismayed at Glazer's lack of communication with fans about his plans. They know that most supporters are vehemently opposed to Glazer, who himself feels the board is also instinctively against him. Yet he is intent on keeping quiet and feels there is nothing to be gained from PR attempts to win people over. "It's minds, not hearts, that he wants to change," said a source.
On the evidence of the board's stance last week, considerable alterations will be necessary to gain its backing. There is also a huge question mark over whether Glazer will gain the pivotal "yes" vote to a 300p per share offer he would need from United's largest shareholders, John Magnier and J P McManus. The Irish racing tycoons, who own 29 per cent of the club, have reportedly already decided not to sell, a decision that would kill Glazer's plans and leave him struggling for an exit strategy. They have yet to say that publicly, however, and until they do, they remain open to an offer they cannot refuse.
Supporters United, the influential fans' group, continued its own anti-Glazer campaigning yesterday by unveiling Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as its latest patron. Although Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand have both spoken out against the Glazer bid in recent days, echoing calls for the status quo previously made by Ferguson and Eric Cantona, Solskjaer is the first serving United player to endorse the group officially.
Cantona has said: "If Glazer were to come here, we would lose everything." Last year, Ferguson said: "We don't want the club to be in anyone else's hands. I support that. Shareholders United can only be good for the game. I'd urge United fans to get involved."
In accepting the position of SU patron, Solskjaer said yesterday: "I am honoured. I think it is important that the club remains in the right hands. I am absolutely on the supporters' side, and think the club is in very good hands as it is today. I am a United fan myself and only want what's best for the future."
SU's vice-chairman Oliver Houston said: "We're thrilled. Ole's a United hero, and he's proving it yet again with this bold and principled gesture. We hope more players will soon follow his lead."
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