Irish racing tycoons ponder takeover bid for Man Utd

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The Independent Football

The most flamboyant gambler in British horseracing admitted last night to the biggest punt of his career – buying nearly 10 million shares in Manchester United in a move that may herald a bid for the entire club.

J P McManus, who started his working life driving a JCB, said he was the man behind the mystery company, Cubic Expression, that now controls 6.8 per cent of Manchester United plc. His partner in the hitherto unknown company, John Magnier, owns Coolmore, the most valuable stud farm in Europe and, like Mr McManus, is a longstanding United fan.

The pair, who had previously held a 2.9 per cent stake in the club, acquired eight million shares on 12 July, the day United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, unveiled their latest signing, Juan Sebastian Veron, who at £28.1m is the country's most expensive footballer. A further 1.8 million shares were bought 24 hours later. The United share price rose 7.3 per cent during trading yesterday to close at 172p. While rumours of a takeover, subsequently denied by Cubic Expression, grew, the price touched 185p.

Mr McManus and Mr Magnier consider United to be undervalued. In March 2000 the share price touched 406p, valuing the club at £1bn but, as investors began to withdraw from football, United's price fell and the club's worth is now estimated at £446m.

Nevertheless, United's turn-over dwarfs that of their English rivals and the club is about to embark on a three-match tour of the Far East, part of a long-term aim to double its fanbase, estimated at 20 million.