Irish duo turn down Glazer bid for United

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The Independent Football

Malcolm Glazer's attempt to buy Manchester United was last night said to be "dead in the water" after the club's largest shareholders, John Magnier and JP McManus, decided against selling him their stake.

Glazer, the 76-year-old American businessman who owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well as 19.2 per cent of United, had based his takeover plan on the assumption he would be able to buy the 28.89 per cent owned by Magnier and McManus via their Cubic Expression company.

Failure to agree a deal with the Irish racing tycoons, who are said to have "other plans" for their shares, makes it unlikely that Glazer will become United's owner either now or in the foreseeable future.

Glazer's camp has apparently not entirely given up hope that an 11th-hour deal might still be reached, and one source, while admitting problems, said the situation was still "fluid".

But a City source close to the negotiations said: "The Irish have said no, and have stated that they have other plans for their shares. That effectively means a [Glazer] bid for the club is dead in the water." United's share price dived yesterday following rumours that talks between Glazer and the Irish had faltered. Even a slight rally in the late afternoon left them 3.5 per cent down on the day. They closed at 264p.

Glazer is understood to have pitched an offer of around 300p a share for Cubic's holding. It is not thought that price alone motivated the Irishmen to say no, although a significant hike in the offer may yet make a difference. Glazer, who will need to borrow heavily to facilitate any buyout, would be stretching himself even further to fund it.

The news of the Irishmen's apparent rebuttal of Glazer's advances was greeted with tentative satisfaction by fans' groups, who are vehemently opposed to United being owned by any one single investor, not least an American with no interest in football or understanding of United's history.

"This development is in no small part down to the fans campaign against Glazer," Oliver Houston, a spokesman for the Shareholders United group, said. "But we're not resting on our laurels and we'll be doing everything in our power to prevent a similar [hostile takeover] situation again."

Jules Spencer, the chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association, said: "Whilst Glazer seems to be moving out of the picture, back in the wilderness where he belongs, we're not going to be taking our eyes off the ball. It is time to start investigating ways of stopping the endless, disruptive cycle of speculation about takeovers."

As long as United remains a plc, that is unlikely to happen. It could only be a matter of weeks before other suitors come calling. Keith Harris, the former chairman of the Football League who is now the executive chairman of the investment bankers, Seymour Pierce, has been considering fronting a bid. Magnier and McManus also remain in a perfect position to trigger a bid, although they have long maintained they have no interest in full ownership of United.

One intriguing question is what the Irishmen might mean when they say, as claimed, that they have "other plans" for their shares. This might simply mean they plan to keep them. It might mean they plan to offload some but retain a substantial slice of United. It might mean they hope to sell outright to another bidder. If that happened, there is no doubt the supporters would mount yet another campaign. Though the fans were not actually instrumental in Glazer's apparent failure this time - that is down to Cubic, pure and simple - there is no doubt they would have made it as hard as possible for Glazer to complete a total buyout. Indeed, should Glazer somehow resurrect his plan, the fans could yet wreck it, not only through protests and boycotts but through legal action.

Supporters United have already been advised by City analysts that they might have a legal case to prevent Glazer from enacting compulsory purchases orders on their shares, should it come to that. They are hoping this morning it will not come anywhere near.