x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Debt is a major player

Manchester United's ownership issue highlights football's financial fears, says Alam Khan.

A man sells green and yellow protest scarves outside Old Trafford, Manchester United's ground.
A man sells green and yellow protest scarves outside Old Trafford, Manchester United's ground.

The Glazer family might insist Manchester United are not for sale, but the rise of the "Red Knights" has shown there is more than just resentment to the way they are running one of the world's biggest clubs. A group of "high net worth individuals", including Jim O'Neill - chief economist at Goldman Sachs - are behind an ambitious plan to buy United in a deal that could top £1 billion (Dh5.56bn).

Known as the Red Knights, the group are lining up finance and fans to support a takeover bid. A statement said: "This group is supportive of current management but are looking at the feasibility of putting together a proposal to be put to the Glazer family regarding the ownership of Manchester United. "These discussions are in early stages and no contact has been made with the Glazer family. For such a proposal to be viable it would require the involvement and support of Manchester United supporters worldwide," the statement continued. As a first step, the Red Knights want supporters to demonstrate their commitment by joining the free online membership of the Supporters Trust, www.joinmust.org.

"Any new ownership model would aim not only to put the club on a sound financial footing, but would also aim to put the supporters at the heart of everything the club does." The Glazers' reluctance to sell will ultimately be the obstacle for the Red Knights even if they gain impetus for their bid. What could force the American owners to end their five-year association with the Old Trafford club is the strength of opposition from the supporters. It is something the Red Knights are hoping to use as anger has built up with United's accumulation of debt totalling more than £500m. There are suggestions of a boycott of games and United's merchandise to reduce the club's profits.

As demonstrated at the Carling Cup final on Sunday, the current "Green and Gold campaign" has been prominent in those who want the Glazer family out. The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) have welcomed the Red Knights as a potential saviour, having already been involved in the preliminary talks. Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of MUST, said: "This development is hugely welcome as there is a genuine desire to see a change of ownership at Manchester United.

"Initially the Red Knight Group has effectively set a challenge to Manchester United supporters to demonstrate they wish to see an alternative ownership proposal developed." The situation at United, the league champions, has highlighted the concern of the debt and financial fears among the leading clubs in Europe, not just the Premier League. Portsmouth have gone into administration and a High Court judge has now ordered a hearing on March 15 into whether that was validly appointed.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has challenged the club going into voluntary administration and the validity of Andrew Andronikou's appointment as the administrator because he may have links with the current owner Balram Chainrai. Ivan Gazidis, chief executive of Arsenal, said he was saddened to see the plight of Portsmouth. "Fratton Park was the first ground I ever went to as a five-year old. A club with that rich tradition and history should not be in the position it's in. We need to create an environment for all of our clubs to flourish. We have to look at the game and work out a way forward. I don't think it's in crisis.

"That would be where we can't see the way forward. But we can see the way forward. There are issues to address, that we are not just creating revenue, but value. We are still in an industry that has potential for growth." But the Spanish league may have bigger problems than its English counterpart, according to Jose Maria Cruz Andres, vice-president of the board of directors at Sevilla. He claimed six to seven teams in the Primera Liga had serious cash problems as owners struggle to satisfy the demands of success.

"Football is a very strange business that players and agents win every day and the owners lose," he said. "The decisions are taken by the supporters and media, not the owners, because of the pressure they put on. Maybe six or seven teams have left bankruptcy, or will be in bankruptcy, in a few weeks. The situation is worse in the Second Division, probably 10-12 teams." akhan@thenational.ae