Glazers lay bare fears for future of United

Investors warned that impending end of Ferguson era and Manchester City's wealth present serious threats. Owners may take further loans up to £70m from club
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The Independent Football

The Glazer family have laid out their deepest fears for Manchester United's future in the offer document for their new £500m bond issue – and most notable among them is the concern that the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson will not be as successful as the 68-year-old Scot.

The subject of Ferguson's retirement, and his likely replacement, is off limits when senior Old Trafford officials speak publicly but they have been forced to address the issue in seeking to raise refinancing for the club's £700m debt. The Independent has seen a copy of the 322-page document in which the club admit to potential investors that replacing Ferguson will be one of their greatest challenges.

Among the 15 pages of "risk factors" outlined for those institutions considering taking up the bond issue, United admit to being "highly dependent" upon management, coaching staff and players "including our manager Sir Alex Ferguson". They add: "Any successor to our manager may not be as successful as he has been."

As well as the replacement for Ferguson, who has served more than 23 years as manager, the document revealed the other fears they have for the club's continuing dominance of English football that has seen them win 11 Premier League titles since the competition began in 1992. They include:

* The rising power of Manchester City. United admit that their continued success, especially in domestic football, is under pressure from clubs that have the backing of wealthy owners.

On page 17 of the document, United say: "We face strong competition from other football clubs in England and Europe. In the Premier League, recent investment from wealthy team owners has led to teams with strong financial backing."

* The prospect of Uefa's new "financial fair play" rules prohibiting clubs such as United from participating in the Champions League if they accrue large debts or persistently spend more than they earn.

The document says: "There is a risk that, in conjunction with increasing player salaries and transfer fees, the financial fair play initiative could limit our ability to acquire or retain top players and, therefore, adversely affect the performance of our first team."

* That United's popularity may drop "in certain countries or regions" if they do not sign high-profile stars from commercially-important regions such as the Far East. This appears to be an acknowledgement of the popularity in Korea that they have earned from the signing of Park Ji-sung.

* The "behaviour" of players. As well as the admission that United are "highly dependent" on the performance of their players, they also say that success is also dependent on "to a lesser degree, the behaviour of players and staff on and off the pitch."

* Spiralling wages for players. United's wage bill for players and staff rose by £28.8m to £121.1m for the last year. On page 16 of the document, United say: "Over the past three years, salaries for players and coaching staff have increased significantly. If there is a continued increase in the level of salaries paid to top players and coaching staff in general, we may be required to increase the salaries we pay to avoid losing key members of the playing and coaching staff. Further increases in salaries may adversely affect our results of operations."

Outlining the risk factors of a bond issue is a standard practice within the industry but for an organisation as secretive as Manchester United, rarely have they had to be as candid about their fears for the future.

The club warn that there is the possibility of a terrorist attack on Old Trafford – "an iconic stadium and a potential target for terrorism" – and its potential for damaging the club's profitability.

The disclosures in the bond issue document have caused dismay for supporters' groups who have long opposed the debt-burden imposed on the club by the Glazers' 2005 takeover.

There has been outrage at the revelation that the Glazers have taken up to £20m out the club in management fees and loans.

There is also a risk that the family will seek to take earnings up to £70m from the club in order to pay back the part of the debt borrowed from hedge funds – the payment-in-kind loans – for which the Glazers are personally liable.

That part of the debt has grown from £138m to £202m and using the club's profits to reduce it could yet impact on the transfer funds at Ferguson's disposal.