United fans' £100m plan for stake to stop Glazer

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The Independent Football

Shareholders United believe they will know "within three weeks" whether their audacious £100m plan to stop Malcolm Glazer's Manchester United take-over has been successful.

After agreeing the outline of a funding package with the Japanese investment bank Nomura which offers the possibility of a pound-for-pound loan on cash pledged to a leveraged investment trust, Shareholders United will this week contact all 7,000 fans who own in excess of 1,000 shares in the Old Trafford club.

Once that process is under way, celebrity and other wealthy supporters will be asked whether they will pledge money to the scheme, which organisers feel is capable of securing a minimum 10 per cent stake.

The Shareholders United chairman, Nick Towle, thinks conclusive proof of whether rank-and-file United fans are willing to step in to help their club should be established within a reasonably short period of time.

"We should know how successful this campaign will be within three weeks of the letters going out," he said. "I am confident because the numbers we need are relatively not that great.

"We have two per cent of shares under the SU umbrella already, so we are only looking for another three to four per cent, which equates to around £40m.

"It may seem a lot but if we can get one or two major backers on board quite quickly, the rest should follow. This is a genuine attempt to safeguard the future of Manchester United. Fans have to look at it and ask themselves whether they are prepared to step in with the cash now, or spend it anyway over the next few years when Glazer puts ticket prices up."

News of the Shareholders United plan is not thought to have deflected Glazer from his intention of lodging a formal bid before the 17 July deadline imposed by the Takeover Panel last week.

The United chief executive, David Gill, has already described the Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner's 300p-per-share proposals as fair, but highlighted the massive debt required and an over-aggressive business plan as the major reasons why the club's board would be unable to recommend a bid if it does materialise.

Shareholders still seem certain to get a chance to decide for themselves, but even though SU's blocking bid will not be finalised until after Glazer has decided to launch his attempt to seize control, Towle confirmed the campaign will continue regardless.

"Shares can still be bought or sold even after a takeover bid has been lodged," he said. "We will press ahead with our plans once we have had the opportunity to gauge the level of support for them.

"I don't believe Malcolm Glazer has any option but to keep going forward because of the losses he would incur if he stopped."

The obvious problem for Glazer, whose major backers JP Morgan and NM Rothschild have indicated they are willing to press ahead with the American's takeover plans, is that he has no idea whether Irish the racing duo John Magnier and J P McManus are willing to sell.

Through their Cubic Expression investment vehicle, Magnier and McManus own a 28.9 per cent stake in United, without which Glazer cannot succeed in his aims.

Other than a short statement in February, which confirmed Cubic were "long term investors" in United, Magnier and McManus have stayed totally silent on the issue and are not believed to have had any contact with the Glazer camp since discussions were ended in October.

Rio Ferdinand has reiterated his desire to sign a new contract with United and urged the club's supporters to be patient.

The defender was jeered by a section of United supporters during his side's 4-0 win at Charlton on Sunday. But Ferdinand, linked with a move to Chelsea after being pictured with the Stamford Bridge club's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, claims that supporters are wrong to think he will leave Old Trafford.

"I fully understand where the fans are coming from," Ferdinand said. "But they need to know I want to stay at Old Trafford.

"They couldn't be further away from the truth if they think I want to go. Contracts do not get signed in five minutes. Most players take about six months to sort a deal. I've no intention of leaving. I want the contract sorted. If I could have signed it yesterday I would have."