Gill hits back at Green and Gold

Exclusive: In the first of a two-part interview, Manchester United chief executive belittles fans' group, defends Glazer business plan and dismisses Red Knights

Sam Wallace,Football Correspondent
Friday 28 May 2010 00:00 BST

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The Manchester United chief executive, David Gill, has described the United fans driving the "green and gold" protest against the Glazer family ownership as "a minority" and suggested that many people who wear the scarves do not even understand the nature of the protest they symbolise.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Independent, Gill also said that he was confident that the heavily-criticised Glazer ownership with its debts of £716m – around £500m of which are directly loaded onto the club – could be sustained by United's profitability. He dismissed the putative Red Knights takeover as unworkable.

Speaking in detail about the club for the first time since the bond issue in January that refinanced £504m of the Glazer debt, Gill said that the American owners had never denied manager Sir Alex Ferguson the money to buy a player. The club will disclose today in their quarterly accounts that they have around £95m in their cash reserves which they say will be at Ferguson's disposal in the summer.

Gill's comments are sure to re-ignite the debate with the supporters' groups who in protest against the Glazers have adopted the green and gold colours of Newton Heath, the 19th-century team which became United. They have been personally critical of Gill who has been at the club since 1997 and, as the chief executive in the previous plc regime, initially resisted the Glazer takeover. Gill said: "The green and gold campaign and the momentum behind that can get a bit tiring. We understand people's desire to protest and I think it is a minority. It's a visible minority in the stadium [and also] if you look at our fans around the world where we have many.

"Would we prefer not to have them [green and gold scarves]? Yes. Would we prefer to have the stands full of red and white? Of course we would. Are the [anti-Glazer] chants every game unfortunate? Yes, they are unfortunate. They have a right to protest. A lot of the fans clearly care about the club and that is a strength.

"But a lot of the other fans want to know that the team is playing attractive football, exciting Manchester United-style football, winning football. They want to come to a safe stadium with modern amenities and enjoy it. Who owns it is a bit irrelevant to them."

The green and gold protest was launched largely in response to the document that accompanied United's bond issue in January which, among other things, disclosed that the Glazers had the provision to pay themselves up to £9m a year in fees from the club as well as servicing a debt that costs around £45m in interest payments a year.

Gill said: "I think that [the green and gold] minority will go away. I see people from Asia walking out of the [Old Trafford] megastore with a red and white scarf on and they just assume they [green and gold] are official scarves and go and buy one. I think there is an element of that. A lot of people understand what it means but a lot of them don't.

"They [fans protesting] are not going to change their opinion even if we win three Champions League titles in a row. We couldn't have been much more successful in the last three years: we won the league [2007-2009], we were Champions League winners and runners-up and we won the Carling Cup. But they are never going to be happy.

"I firmly believe that the financing we have in place and the growth we have seen in our commercial operations, even with the [annual] interest of £45m, we can sustain that and still be a top, top club. We can invest in the players, invest in the training ground – we have plans for that – invest in the stadium and do those things.

"I understand people's concerns but that has always been the case. There have always been people who have not been happy. Very few football clubs are happy with their owners. Chelsea are happy with Roman Abramovich, Manchester City with [Sheikh] Mansour but very few football clubs are happy because the fans always want the best players, low ticket pricing, this, that and the other. What we have is effectively the same business model – it has changed with the debt – since 1991 when we floated on the stock exchange. We live within our means."

The heavily-trailed bid by the Red Knights, a group led by the former United director Jim O'Neill, to bring together a group of 50 wealthy individuals each paying up to £15m looks doomed to failure as it has becomes clear that their Glazers are not prepared to sell for anything like the proposed £1bn offer. Gill agreed that the name adopted by the group was presumptuous.

"It [the Red Knights plan] is not an easy model when you get all those people to sign up," he said. "There are different levels of investment. To then say, 'we are going to involve the fans'? It is not easy. I have experienced running a football club and I do firmly believe that short, sharp decision-making is what is needed. Whether you are buying a player or whatever, you need to get on and do it.

"Also the people involved [with the Red Knights] clearly have an ego about them and when people have that sort of money they want to be involved in decision-making. They are not going to do it just for seats in the boardroom and they are going to want to protect their investment. That's quite an interesting challenge."

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