Daily Telegraph

TWO phone calls late on Wednesday night sealed the fate of Manchester United. They were made by a senior figure with merchant bankers Roths-child, who act as advisers to American tycoon Malcolm Glazer, to the legal adviser of the Irish duo John Magnier and J P McManus, who between them owned the largest chunk of United shares – just over 29 per cent.

In the first call Rothschild’s man said Glazer had sufficient funds to buy 100 per cent of United and was willing to offer 300p per share, in cash. The second call discussed technical matters such as settlements – when and how the money would be paid – and by the end of it United were sold.

The Irish pair’s acceptance meant Glazer owned more than 57 per cent and by yesterday evening he had acquired more than 70 per cent. One Rothschild source said: “We were a little late in buying and the English settlement system is notoriously slow, otherwise I would have expected us to be over 75 per cent by the end of the day. But that’s only a matter of time. This is game, set and match and we own the club.”

Once the Irish accepted, Glazer was in charge of the club, able to appoint the board and decide the future of all employees, including the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Getting to over 75 per cent is crucial for the American as it means the offer becomes unconditional and the Glazers can get approval for extraordinary resolutions which could make fundamental changes to the way Old Trafford is run. Once he gets more than 90 per cent he can compulsorily purchase the other shares and take United private.

So what made the Irish, long the kingmakers of Old Trafford, decide to crown a new king? I understand various factors played a part in their decision. The Glazer offer means the Irish are making a profit of around £100 million. Had they rejected it, they faced a potential loss of around £50 million. Glazer’s offer is well above the market price of around £2.62. There are no other bidders for United and had he walked away the share price would have collapsed to around £2.20.

Nor do the prospects for United look promising on the field. The night before the crucial phone calls, Chelsea’s victory at Old Trafford showed how far United had fallen in the Premier League. They cannot be certain of qualifying for the Champions League next season, and that could put a serious dent in their finances. But the decision also indicated that the Irish had neither forgiven the board nor forgotten the traumatic events of two years ago, when Magnier was in the middle of his dispute with Ferguson over the stud rights to the racehorse Rock Of Gibraltar.

This should have been a private matter between two people who had been such friends that Magnier had decided to gift the horse to Ferguson so as to allow him to make the speech after the Gimcrack race in the Ebor meeting at York.

But United got involved. The Irish got the distinct impression the board were siding with their manager. To make matters worse, some extremist fans threatened violence against the Irish, alleging they were destabilising the manager. The Irish felt they should not have been put in that position.

While the matter between Magnier and Ferguson was settled, relations with the board were never repaired. As Glazer came calling last year the Irish were in a state of hostile neutrality towards the board. An early indication of their attitude came last autumn when the board became aware that Glazer, having been rebuffed once, was threatening to remove three directors at the annual meeting. The board approached the Irish for support and received a stony silence.

The fans’ attitude has also played a part in the Irish and other investors accepting Glazer’s offer. The main concern has been the small minority who have threatened violence against those having any truck with Glazer.

But fans who have been trying to build a blocking consortium in order to make United bid-proof have also worried some investors. They felt that if such a mechanism was successful United would be rudderless, the shares would fall in value and the board would be beholden to people who had made very little investment in the club.
© Mihir Bose


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