United splash out £500,000 to keep Glazer bid at bay

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The Independent Online

Manchester United have already spent £500,000 to thwart Malcolm Glazer's proposed takeover and have no intention of backing his anticipated formal bid, David Gill, the club's chief executive, indicated yesterday.

Manchester United have already spent £500,000 to thwart Malcolm Glazer's proposed takeover and have no intention of backing his anticipated formal bid, David Gill, the club's chief executive, indicated yesterday.

On a day when Gill confirmed a 50 per cent fall in United's half-yearly profits and gave his firm backing to manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the stance on Glazer was probably the most welcome news to fans.

Gill also warned Glazer that if he believes there are large untapped markets which United could profit from, he is wrong. "If there were areas where there was huge scope for bringing in more money we would have found them," Gill said.

As if to prove a point that United are always on the lookout for ways to guarantee themselves extra cash, Gill confirmed that leading European clubs, United included, have had informal talks about changing the format of the Champions' League.

They are seeking a seeding system for the knock-out stage, whereby "big" clubs would receive easier draws, and hence a better chance to progress.

"You may say it is a selfish attitude but it cannot be good for Spanish television that no team from Spain reached the last eight [this season] and you also have to look at the sponsorship deals going forward," Gill said.

"AC Milan were discussing this before we played them, so it is not a knee-jerk reaction, but you could have a situation where the holders were rated number one and they played the 16th ranked team, two versus 15, and so on... It is an argument being made and I am sure Uefa will look at it."

Despite United's exit to Milan, Ferguson received a hearty endorsement from Gill, who early yesterday was pushed into conceding his manager "is sackable".

He only made that comment after being asked the direct question "Is Ferguson sackable?" five times. To which his full response was: "He is sackable because we live in a very pressurised sport. The pressure will be on next season and we wouldn't want that pressure not to be there.

"But removing [Ferguson] is not something we've discussed. It would be detrimental to the club... His track record is first class and replacing him has never even crossed our minds." Questions about Ferguson's future were inevitable yesterday, given that the Scot, 63, is due to move from a fixed-term contract to a rolling one-year deal from this summer.

Turning his attention to Glazer, Gill said the American's interest had been "disruptive". "We are in a third Offer Period within 12 months," he said.

"That has to be disruptive to the business. We said in February that 300p per share [proposed by Glazer] looks to be a fair and reasonable price but we do not think the plan is in the best interests of the company

"We feel the business plan was aggressive and the level of debt too high. That's the clear stance of the company."

There have been suggestions that if United's board rejects a formal bid by Glazer, expected no earlier than next Tuesday, then Glazer might take legal action, arguing the board should act solely in the interests of shareholders.

United's board has already taken legal advice (£500,000 worth of it) that it can reject Glazer's offer in the wider interests of the club, including the fans. Supporters would pay hiked ticket prices under a Glazer regime to help repay some £300m of debt Glazer would amass buying the club.

Glazer wants to buy United to make money, and feels TV revenues are under-exploited. If he did take over, it is almost certain he would lobby for the Premier League's collective rights agreement to be scrapped, allowing United to sell all their own games and potentially make enormous sums for themselves.

United's official view is that they remain committed to collective selling. But they also know that the European Commission is opposed to the concept and that the EC might try to force clubs to negotiate individual contracts when the current Sky TV deal expires in 2007. If that transpires, the United board sees no logic in allowing Glazer to reap the benefits when current shareholders could do so instead.

* Gill confirmed yesterday that United's Northern Ireland international goalkeeper Roy Carroll, 27, is set to leave in the summer, having failed to negotiate a new contract with the club.

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