Glazer wins control at Old Trafford after Irish money men sell stake

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Malcolm Glazer yesterday seized control of Manchester United with a takeover bid which values the club at almost £800m.

Malcolm Glazer yesterday seized control of Manchester United with a takeover bid which values the club at almost £800m.

Glazer, the Florida-based owner of the American football club Tampa Bay Buccaneers, realised his long-cherished dream - and made many fans' worst nightmare a reality - after snapping up the 28.7 per cent stake owned by Cubic Expression, the investment vehicle of the Irish horseracing duo J P McManus and John Magnier. That took the Glazer family shareholding to 56.9 per cent. By last night the American billionaire had raised his stake further to around 70 per cent, putting him well on the way to complete control.

The coup that handed Cubic's shares to Glazer could have huge repercussions not only for United but for the whole of English football.

From being a debt-free, profitable company, United will become laden with more than £500m of debt, in various forms, within a matter of weeks. If Glazer's takeover goes to plan, no fans will own any of their club or have any say in how it is run.

The future of the board, not least the chief executive David Gill, looks increasingly insecure. Insiders in the Glazer camp are already indicating that directors who took an "over my dead body stance" towards Glazer will be especially vulnerable.

Sir Alex Ferguson's future will also be thrown into doubt. The United manager stated unequivocally last November that he and the supporters "don't want the club to be in anyone else's hands." That alone is unlikely to earn him the sack, but it certainly will not help if on-pitch performance does not improve.

A Glazer buy-out will also have knock-on effects for the wider game. It is widely accepted that the 76-year-old sees television income as a potential growth area, but only if United can sell their TV rights themselves, instead of collectively. If Glazer successfully lobbies for the break-up of the collective TV deal - and the European Commission would probably support him - the landscape of wealth distribution will fundamentally change.

Shortly after the Cubic deal, Rothschilds, Glazer's financial adviser, bought the 6.5 per cent stake in United owned by the Scottish mining entrepreneur Harry Dobson and a further six to seven per cent of the stock from City institutions. The Glazer offer is worth 300p-a-share, valuing United at £790m. A formal offer document will be sent shortly to the club's remaining shareholders, but last night the takeover battle looked to be all over bar the shouting.

Glazer had been given a deadline by the City's Takeover Panel of next Tuesday to either "put up or shut up" in his quest to win control of the club.

The breakthrough came when the Irish duo agreed to sell their 75.7m shares unconditionally to Glazer in a phone call during Wednesday.

Magnier and McManus received the money in their bank account yesterday morning, and their shares officially became Glazer's. The Irishmen made an estimated profit of £80m on their shares. It is understood that Glazer borrowed the money from bankers in America and Britain who specialise in high-risk loans.

At 50.1 per cent or more, Glazer has the power to sack the entire United board. But the key figure to reach is 75 per cent control. This will enable Glazer to delist the shares and pass special resolutions to force through a controversial debt refinancing of the club.

If Glazer lifts his stake to more than 90 per cent he can compulsorily purchase all remaining shares, wiping out any last resistance to his takeover.

The United board, led by Sir Roy Gardner, its chief executive, has refused to recommend a Glazer takeover because of the "aggressive" way it is being financed. It will result in United having more than £500m of debt which it will have to repay from revenues.

Should the Glazer camp succeed in raising its stake above 75 per cent, then the United board will still not recommend the offer but will reluctantly advise remaining shareholders to accept the bid. "At that point, resistance would become futile," said one adviser. Anyone still holding shares would only be doing so for the nuisance value."

If Glazer falls short of the 90 per cent target, he will still have to send out an annual report to the minority shareholders and convene an Annual General Meeting, at which they could vent their spleen.

As fans gathered for an anti-Glazer protest at Old Trafford last night, the campaigning group Shareholders United expressed outrage that Cubic had sold up. "We feel completely betrayed by John Magnier and J P McManus," said the SU vice-chairman, Oliver Houston. "They said they were long-term investors, but they have taken the 30 pieces of silver offered by Malcolm Glazer."

Magnier made a further profit at York racecourse yesterday, where he watched two of his horses win on the Knavesmire. In trademark style, the Irishman wore a brown trilby and had his half-moon spectacles perched bookishly low on his nose. Also typically, he had little to say when asked about his latest business dealing. "I really don't have anything to add. Let's talk about horses now."

Fans' groups are already plotting to destabilise Glazer, with threats of a breakaway club, a boycott of season tickets and merchandise, and a "direct action" campaign against him personally. He may have won his battle for control. But the war for the soul of United has only just begun.