United set to sign record deal with American giants AIG

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The Independent Online

The other party in the Manchester United sponsorship tryst that has so far prompted allegations of "double-dealing" and the withdrawal from a world- record £70m deal is expected to be revealed as the insurance and financial services giant American International Group.

AIG have emerged as the leading contenders to replace Vodafone as United's main commercial partners over the next four years, an agreement that will net the Old Trafford club the most lucrative sponsorship deal in world football and thus explain their decision to abandon negotiations with the online gambling firm Mansion last weekend.

Mansion accused United of using them as a stalking horse to attract alternative sponsors despite their willingness to pay more than the £15m a year Juventus receive from Libyan oil company Tamoil and Samsung's £10m-a-year contract with Chelsea, currently the largest deals in world and English football respectively.

United, however, had reservations about entering into a high-profile deal with the betting industry, a fact demonstrated by the Mansion chief executive David Kinsman's admission that at no time during talks with the club did he meet any of the three Glazer brothers who are now on the Old Trafford board.

By contrast, Bryan Glazer is believed to have been involved in negotiations with AIG and it will be regarded as a coup by the controversial owners if they secure a contract that reaffirms the club's standing in the game. The company has interests in 130 countries and would be keen to exploit the market offered by United's global fan base.

United have been negotiating with potential sponsors since November, when Vodafone announced it was ending its £9m-a-year deal two years early.

Whatever the colour of the new sponsors' money, the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, already has designs on how to spent it. The Scot was at the San Siro last night for the Champions' League quarter-final between Milan and Lyon, two clubs who possess the kind of imposing defensive midfielder that United have craved all season, in the pugnacious Gennaro Gattuso, of the Rossenieri, and the French club's Malian international Mahamadou Diarra.