United put one over on Arsenal in money league

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The Independent Football

Arsenal are just ahead in the chase at the top of the Premier League but Manchester United delighted in surpassing their rivals' turnover yesterday with annual results that suggest the Glazers have not been entirely the disaster they once threatened to be at Old Trafford.

United revealed profits for 2006-07 of £59.6m (up 93 per cent) on turnover of £245m (up 21 per cent), restoring the club's position as Britain's richest. Arsenal had claimed that spot in September when announcing £51m profits on £200.8m turnover. "We knew full well that when we came out with our results that our revenues and profits would be in excess of theirs," David Gill, United's chief executive, said.

It was fighting talk to delight Sir Alex Ferguson from Gill, a one-time staunch opponent of the Glazers' takeover tactics. But much of the profit – boosted by the 30 per cent increase in match-day revenues at the now 76,000-seat stadium – will be used to service the £660m debt which the Glazers' arrival delivered. Annual interest payments currently stand at around £42m, before capital repayments – up from £27m in the previous financial year because of the refinancing deal which the Glazers needed to reduce their exposure to the "pay-in-kind" securities which accrue interest of some 20 per cent a year.

Gill was right to say yesterday that the Glazers had been "true to their word." They promised – and have delivered – new commercial and sponsorship deals to compensate for the debt. A record shirt sponsorship deal with AIG, following the departure of Vodafone, and the inexorable growth of the United brand overseas has contributed to profits.

In private financial documents from 2006 – seen by The Independent – the Glazers' forecasts for 2006-07 included EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) of £73.8m, match-day income of £90.9m, media income of £51.7m and commercial revenues of £56.3m. The actual figures are almost all better, respectively £79.8m, £92.6m £61.5m and £56m.

"[The Glazers] have kept a low profile, never sought credit or publicity ... but they have been very supportive," Gill said of the owners, although the 56,000 season-ticket holders whose accounts were debited this season for the cost of tickets for every Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup game would argue the Americans have had their reasons to keep their heads down.

Gill promised "tweaks" to the detested Automatic Cup Scheme, hinting that Arsenal's system of including seven cup games in the cost of a season ticket and charging separately for any more might lie ahead.

United's media revenues last year rose 35 per cent to £61.5m (against £45.5m in 2006), largely thanks to United's progress to the Champions League semi-finals.

Gill stood by new global research released by the club which suggested they have 139 million "core" fans worldwide and 333 million "followers" – the previous figure was 75 million fans worldwide. "Core" fans cited United as their No 1 club, while "followers" said United are among teams who interest them.

Data from 2006 showed United had a "financial relationship" with just 352,041 of their then 75 million global fans: 171,987 who had attended a game that year, plus 180,054 who bought United merchandise, goods or services. That figure has more than quadrupled, with more than one million South Koreans alone now owning a United-branded credit or debit card. One major Glazer aim was always to convert vague fandom into bottom-line cash.

The club's need for global revenue will be illustrated a week tomorrow when Ferguson takes his team to Saudi Arabia for a mid-season "break" to include a testimonial match. The club also announced yesterday that next season's pre-season tour would again take them to South Africa.

Gill said the Glazers would not be tempted by Real Madrid's reported interest in Cristiano Ronaldo, whose value has been put at £75m. "The owners fully understand the club has been built on playing and winning on the pitch with a certain style – and Cristiano fits that bill very very well," Gill said.

Loaded question: Which is the wealthiest club?

Real Madrid remain the world's highest-earning club, with income from the 2006-07 season of £261m, but Manchester United, with gross turnover up 21 per cent to £245m, are pushing them close once again. Barcelona are Real's only money rivals in Spain, while Arsenal are United's main challengers, on and off the pitch, in England. The figures for the top four in this table are from 2006-07, the remainder from 2005-06, the latest available. The top four are almost certain to be the top four when all data is available. United's figure includes gross revenues from Nike and MUTV (£210m without). Arsenal's figure was inflated by exceptional property income.

1. Real Madrid £261m

2. Man Utd £245m

3. Barcelona £216m

4. Arsenal £200.8m

5. Juventus £173.7m

6. Milan £165m

7. Chelsea £152.8m

8. Internazionale £142.8m

9. Bayern Munich £141.5m

10. Liverpool £121.7m

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