Month January 2010

Month January 2010

Glazer bonds ditched as investors call for fan takeover

January 27, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 13 comments

Manchester United’s bond issue is falling apart almost as quickly as it began, with institutional investors ditching the notes and forcing prices to fall. The bond issued by the club, which raised £504 million last week, fell to a low of 93.4 pence in the pound at one stage today as investors sold on fears of United’s financial standing.

The United bond has a coupon rate of around nine per cent, significantly above current inter-bank LIBOR but fears expressed by key City insiders have sent prices tumbling, with one prominent United-supporting investor calling the club “over leveraged.”

That Jim O’Neil, of Goldman Sachs, works for one of the principal under-writers is highly embarrassing for the Glazer regime.

“I value my long-term support for Manchester United better than anything else,” O’Neil told The Daily Telegraph, before criticising the level of debt at the club.

United is now leveraged 200 per cent over turnover and 500 per cent over underlying profits with the bond issue alone – a rate normally associated with “junk” bonds. Factor in the £200 million in Payment-In-Kind loans being paid down from United’s cash reserves and there is little room for maneuver in the business model, argues O’Neil.

So desperate is the situation that another United-supporting hedge fund trader, Paul Marshall of Marshall Wace, urged fans to combine forces and return the club to the Manchester United community and out of the Glazers’ grip. Marshall co-founded Marshall Wace LLP, one of Europe’s largest hedge fund groups, in 1997 and is widely regarded as one of the leading equity strategists.

“Debt has acted like a leech on the club, sucking money out of the football budget to feed the Glazers and their bankers,” Marshall wrote in The Daily Telegraph today.

“It has been estimated that between 2005-9 Red Football Joint Venture Limited has spent at least £260m servicing its debt. Manchester United Plc has debt service costs of over £40m per annum – money that could otherwise be available for players.”

This much the fans are now painfully aware. Marshall, though, is deeply worried for the long-term future of the club with, he says, 45 people now employed to manage the club’s finances alone. £35 million has been lost in derivative positions in the past year, notes Marshall, and an estimated £140 million more will be sucked out of the club in the next.

“Leaving aside the apparent incompetence behind these losses, such hedging is only necessary because of the scale of the debt,” he says.

“Manchester United’s future is deeply worrying. United will never realistically be able to pay off the debt. And with the imminent retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, we are close to a tipping point where declining fortunes on the field could lead to a loss of revenue which could cause the debt burden to spiral out of control.”

The solution, says Marshall, is a fan-led takeover, leveraging – in the best possible way – more than 300 million supporters worldwide to build a sustainable community project. He cites the fan-owned principles of Europe’s largest and most successful clubs as a model for the future.

“Football clubs are communities. Manchester United’s community famously extends well beyond Manchester, although Manchester is at its heart and core,” he concludes.

“The best form of ownership for a football club, as Barcelona has proven, is its community, not a single tycoon. It is time Manchester United’s global community came together to create a structure of common debt-free ownership.”

Meanwhile, in the City investors already have cold feet over the bond issue, which “was bought by investors who aren’t specialists in valuing high-yield bond investments,” according to one leading analyst today.

FA charges Ferdinand with violent conduct

January 26, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 2 comments

The Football Association has charged Rio Ferdinand with violent conduct after the defender’s clash with Hull City’s Craig Fagan at the weekend. Ferdinand, appearing in his first Manchester United match since 25 October, will serve a three match ban, with the FA acting as prosecutor, judge and jury in disciplinary cases.

Ferdinand, 30, has appeared just nine times this season while undergoing a comprehensive rehabilitation programme to cure a long-term back problem. However, the defender appeared to swing an arm at Hull’s Fagan during a tussle in the United area during the match, which the home side won 4-0.

The charge will be heard on 28 January, with Ferdinand likely to miss United’s matches against Arsenal, Portsmouth and Aston Villa after the decision is made.

However, the FA once again stands accused of hypocrisy by charging a United player with an offence when the governing body missed earlier incidents. Compare Ferdinand’s challenge to that of Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano, below.

Rio Ferdinand versus Hull City


Javier Mascherano versus Leeds United (47 seconds)

United seal £8 million Smalling deal

January 26, 2010 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Manchester United has successfully tied up a deal Fulham’s 20-year-old central defender Chris Smalling. The confirmed £8 million deal comes as United headed off interest in the player from Arsenal. It is a remarkable rise to the top for the player who joined Fulham in June 2008 from non-league Maidstone United.

“Manchester United has agreed terms for the transfer of Chris Smalling from Fulham,” said a statement on ManUtd.com.

“Chris has agreed personal terms with the club and will join for the beginning of the 2010/2011 campaign. He will remain at Fulham until the end of the current season.”

Sir Alex Ferguson has moved for the Greenwhich-born defender following a reported bid by Arsenal this week. Smalling, who started Fulham’s match against Chelsea this season, has made just nine appearances in the Premier League. But the player’s accelerated development is such that Stuart Pearce called the defender into his England under-21 set-up. Smalling made his under-21 début against Holland as a substitute in August.

The pacy left-sided central defender will offer cover in an area of the pitch that United has struggled to field fit players this season. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Jonny Evans have all been injured at various times this campaign. However, the deal is likely to increase speculation that Vidic will leave Old Trafford this summer.

United has likely concluded a heavily performance-based deal in the current financial climate, with any cash up-front coming from the club’s new revolving £75 million credit facility.

“I know he spoke to Manchester United yesterday and we all knew they were interested,” Smallings mother, Theresa, told ThisIsKent.

“It’s difficult to take in that he will now be playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

“It’s absolutely incredible. I wouldn’t have been surprised had he gone to Arsenal, because I knew of their interest, but United? How far has he come in such a short space of time.”

Talks with the player’s representatives concluded Tuesday afternoon. Smalling will join United for the start of the 2010/11 season.

A call to arms

January 26, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 6 comments

Last Tuesday’s Carling Cup defeat to Manchester City, coming amid the continuing focus on the club’s long-term financial well-being, marked a truly dire start to 2010 for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. But one man can lead the fightback from within, at least on the pitch, as Ferguson’s men challenge for honours on three fronts.

The club’s financial turmoil has been widely publicised and there are serious repercussions looming, not least the upcoming European competitions ban for indebted clubs if the tyrannical Michel Platini has his way.

The demise of Leeds United in 2003 and now the financial hardship being felt at Portsmouth should serve as a serious reminder of how bad things can get. Even for Premier League clubs. Despite this, it appears the Glazer family faces little opposition from their peers in the deep seated pillage of football’s greatest club.

On the pitch it has been an inconsistent season for United. Normally, Ferguson’s side pushes on in the second half of the season. It’s a charge fans are still waiting for as January comes to a close.

There are challenges ahead. The old stalwarts of the side are beginning to fade from the picture. Captain Gary Neville has struggled to maintain his high standards this year and retirement is imminent. Paul Scholes, although a great player on his day, is unquestionably in the twilight of his career and struggles to guarantee a starting berth. Ryan Giggs remains the shining light for United’s experienced bunch and is still an indispensable asset but at 37 it can’t last forever.

What of the year to come with United still competing on three fronts? It’s a feat Liverpool have failed to match, small comfort though it may be. United’s upcoming tie with AC Milan in February and March looms large in a bid to save a season that could be marred by shortcomings.

And with no FA Cup to rely on for a trip to Wembley, it is now clear how important the Carling Cup is to Ferguson’s men. A derby day return leg tomorrow is now a major priority.

Then next weekend comes the trip to the Emirates for a mouth-watering, do or die, fixture with Arsenal that could define United’s Premier League ambitions. The match is followed by difficult trips to Villa and Goodison parks as ‘squeaky bum time’ begins.

Each of these matches is now a ‘must win’ for a United side struggling for consistency. The experienced members of the side need to raise the morale of a side evidently lacking in confidence. Neville, though a peripheral figure, can focus all his aggression and quality to inspire a side over-laden with underperforming youngsters.

The defender’s actions against City in the past week display a certain defiance that is a common character of the man, although may not be the mark of professionalism. It should not be underplayed. Neville’s finger illustrates that the fire is still burning deep inside. It’s something normally associated with the Roy Keane and it needs to be communicated to the current generation.

Then let us hope the thieving Americans, known as ‘owners’, realise they have all but destroyed the future of a successful club and sell up just in time for the dying embers of our season to be rekindled. This, however, may be wishful thinking.

Everybody was kung-fu fighting

January 25, 2010 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

How time flies. It’s fifteen years to the day since Eric Cantona flew into the crowd at Selhurst Park and attacked racist Crystal Palace fan Matthew Symonds. The brutal five-second attack still has the power to shock, despite the now iconic images. Cantona: black shirt, emblazoned number 7, two-feet in the air. Symonds: racist bile, turn to horror in an instant.

25 January 1995. United: Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Irwin, Lee Sharpe, David May, Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Brian McClair, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole and the talismanic Frenchman. Some team, in which just six months earlier Cantona had scored on the same ground as United captured the first half of a historic double.

Cantona’s fuse, so often proven fragile prior to his transfer to United, lit once again. With 15 minutes remaining, the Frenchman reacted to a challenge from Richard Shaw by aiming a kick at the Palace defender. The resulting red card was simply par for the course. That the match finished all-square, denting United’s title challenge, was almost incidental.

Alex Ferguson, yet to receive his knighthood, stood impassive as Cantona pulled up his collar in the trademark fashion. The Frenchman appeared nonplussed but as kit-man Norman Davies ushered the striker from the pitch he leapt into the crowd with a flying kick and a series of punches. Fast as lightning, the violence ended almost as it began.

In the subsequent days Britain’s media dubbed Cantona “Le Nutter” and the pressure for a lifetime ban increased to a fever pitch. While the club suspended the Frenchman from “all first team duties” for the rest of the season, the duplicitous Football Association reneged on the agreement and extended the ban to more than 25 matches, stretching to September 1995.

Adding insult to Cantona’s sense of injustice, the Frenchman found himself scapegoated by Croydon District Judge Jean Pearch, earning her 15 minutes with a custodial sentence for a first-time offence.

History has been kinder to the Frenchman though.  Cantona, his sentence commuted on appeal to community service, serve no time. Latterly, Symonds did. Convicted of branding the former-Leeds United player a “French c*nt,” he spent a single day in prison. Links to far-right groups excised any pretence that the 20-year-old was an innocent victim of Cantona’s ire. The Frenchman’s reputation duly salvaged. In part, at least.

Cantona responded to the sentence by uttering both his most famous and cryptic words about “seagulls and trawlers,” as the frenzied press fed on the Frenchman’s scraps. If anything the incident sealed the striker’s place in United folklore.

More than a decade on and Cantona now treads the Parisian boards, scheduled as he is to star in Face au Paradis, tonight in Paris, directed by his wife Rachida Brakni. There are few regrets. Indeed, speaking in 2008, the enigmatic star said only that he wished he’d punched Symonds harder.

Symonds, by contrast, is as he was – an unemployed labourer defined by the intolerant charge down the terraces 15 years ago.

United lost out to Kenny Dalgleish’s Blackburn Rovers for the Premier League title. Spearheaded by Alan Shearer, who would turn down Ferguson’s offer to become Cantona’s replacement two years later, Rovers head-of-steam outlasted United’s. It is to this day a tarnished championship win.

And with almost as little fuss as Cantona joined Ferguson’s side five and a half years earlier, the Frenchman retired into acting and beach football in May 1997. Forever missed but never forgotten.

25 January, 1995. 9.10pm

Daddy does deal as Welbeck joins Preston

January 25, 2010 Tags: , , Shorts No comments

Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck joins Preston North End for the remainder of the season, after Ferguson senior and junior concluded a loan deal for the 19-year-old striker. Welbeck, who has scored five goals in 24 appearances for United, will go straight into Darren Ferguson’s Preston squad for the trip to Peterborough United on Wednesday.

Welbeck began the season as an outside bet for a place in England’s World Cup squad, with Sir Alex Ferguson predicting bright things for the Longsight-born player. But the arrival of Senegalese striker Mame Biram Diouf has pushed the teenager further down the pecking order at Old Trafford and into the arm of Sir Alex’ son Darren, the newly appointed Preston manager.

The striker trends a well-worn path to Preston – David Beckham spent part of the 1994-5 season at Deepdale, before returning to Old Trafford to win the double the following season.

But it’s not the first intra-family deal struck since junior took over the reigns at Preston – Darren revealed last week that his side had trained at United’s Carrington complex during the recent inclement weather.

Get your green and gold

January 25, 2010 Tags: , , , Media 5 comments

Manchester United supporters’ green and gold revolution gathers pace and fans can play their part, however symbolic, in ridding the club of the Glazer scourge. On Saturday the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) distributed 500 green & gold scarves, with a further 1,000 due at Old Trafford this Wednesday. Fans can also buy scarves here.

MUST gets a 10% commission on all sales, which goes towards fighting the Glazers on all fronts. Search “Yellow & Green Bar Scarf” for traditional gear. Flags are also available.

Supporters can also help spread the word on the ‘net by download these wallpapers and distributing widely. Click for a full sized image.

Green and Gold

Credit: Andrew Hough

Credit: Andrew Hough

Credit: Andrew Hough

Credit: Chorlton Red

Credit: Andrew Hough

Credit: Andrew Hough

Credit: Andrew Hough

Credit: Andrew Hough

Credit: Andrew Hough

Ferguson’s unity call wide of the mark

January 25, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion 13 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson used this weekend’s United Review programme notes to call for unity among the faithful as an atmosphere of sedition overtook Old Trafford. For the first time, the Scot chose to directly address United’s support on financial matters but once again failed to condemn his employers for loading the club with debt.

The United manager, who once told fans to “go and support Chelsea” if they did not like the 2005 takeover, is steadfast in his support for the Glazer family despite supporters’ concerns. Ferguson, consistent in his aggressive dismissal of Glazer critics, overtly supports the family in a way that the Scot never did when the club was public.

But the state of United’s finances, now more transparent as a result of the Glazer family’s foray into the international bond market, has fundamentally alarmed the core of the club’s support. Deep hostility to the Glazer family’s takeover has only intensified in the past fortnight.

It’s a fact that Sir Alex has registered but failed to fully comprehend: the Scot essentially asked the fans to ‘get off the Glazers’ backs’.

“The family of Manchester United is under pressure as a result of all the issues and controversies surrounding the ownership and financial situation of our club that have been stirred up in the media,” Ferguson wrote on Saturday.

“Some of our fans are clearly unhappy with our financial position but we must not allow that to become divisive.

“The danger, as I see it, is that we could be presented as being split which would be harmful and inaccurate because I believe the vast majority of Manchester United supporters are behind us.”

Ferguson, failing to differentiate between unity in the dressing room and the very real need for fans to question what value more than £716 million of debt brings to the club, ostensibly blames the current terrace unrest on the media.

The Scot, who insists he has money to spend despite the books saying otherwise, believes that insurrection in the terraces could impact performances on the field.

It is surprising then that paucity of funds in the club’s bank accounts over the next seven years does not concern United’s legendary manager more. Instead, Ferguson chose to concentrate on what he sees as potentially destabilising rebellion.

“I can see our opponents rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of us falling out among ourselves, if we do not all think carefully about what we are doing,” he argued.

“We must not lose our focus, which from where I stand is about building a strong football club that will win trophies.”

Undoubtedly this is a sentiment on which supporters, even the most militant, are in unison with the manager. More to the point that is the very essence of the manager’s job. One that is fundamentally undermined by the Glazer family’s ownership of the club.

But supporters’ green and gold revolution is not an exercise in fratricide. The enemy is indeed within but it is far removed from the dressing room or pitch. It is a singular fact that the club needs Sir Alex to embrace.

Yet the Scot, who evoked the memory of Sir Matt Busby in his notes, insists that the fans’ job is to support the team, just as it is his to manage it.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to express their disapproval if they don’t like what they see around them, just as it has always been the right of fans to let it be known if they are not happy with the way their team are playing,” argued the Scot.

“I’m not slow to express disapproval myself if there is something I don’t agree with, even in the boardroom with the directors, but once I walk out of the meeting I get on with my job as manager of the team.”

But it is an argument that bares false witness to Ferguson’s past. The United manager often used his position to push the Plc board into greater spending, both on transfer fees and wages.

The Scot, for example, harangued chief executive Peter Kenyon into breaking the club’s wage structure in 1999 to keep Roy Keane when the Irishman came within weeks of leaving during contract negotiations.

It is unsettling then that the manager is not willing to push the boundary with the current owners when his role as manager is stronger than ever.

“This is not about stifling criticism; it is simply a plea to stand together rather than take a course of action that will damage ourselves more than anyone else. Manchester United are bigger than me, the players, the directors, officials – and the fans,” concluded Ferguson, who is aware of the huge affect ejecting protesters from Old Trafford had on the current wave of unrest.

Ferguson though was unable to articulate precisely what course of action the club should take as it haemorrhages millions of pounds a month in interest, fees and dividends.

Rooney brings cheer in season of ill will

January 23, 2010 Tags: , Matches 3 comments

Wayne Rooney scored four to fire Manchester United to the Premier League summit, as Old Trafford rocked to the sound of a green and gold chorus. Hull City frustrated the home side until a tidal wave of late goals gave the scoreline a semblance of reality as Sir Alex Ferguson’s pre-match call for unity was widely ignored.

Following two weeks of financial turmoil, culminating in a £504 million bond issue by the Glazer family, Ferguson used his programme notes to call for a United front: off and on the pitch.

But the Scot’s demand fell on deaf ears as the United faithful gave a rousing match-long rendition of “we love United, we hate Glazer,” while donning the colours of Newton Heath in symbolic protest.

“The family of Manchester United is under pressure as a result of all the issues surrounding the ownership and financial situation of our club,” Ferguson noted in United Review.

“Some of our fans are clearly unhappy with our financial position, but we mustn’t allow the situation to become divisive.

“The danger is that we could be presented as being split, which would be harmful and inaccurate, because I believe the vast majority of United fans are behind us and appreciate the importance of standing together in support of the team.”

Any sense of charity towards the fans matched that in the Scot’s team-sheet, which included Rio Ferdinand for the first time since 25 October, but lacked the rested Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov. Ferguson confident that almost any United eleven is good enough to beat Phil Brown’s strugglers.

Inevitably Rooney, the talismanic striker so brilliant against Manchester City in midweek, opened the scoring on eight minutes, beating Boaz Myhill after the Hull ‘keeper parried Paul Scholes’ 25-yard shot. The Scouser then took his goal tally to 20 for the season with a rapid-fire hat-trick in the final 10 minutes of the match.

In between, United’s profligacy, far more than Hull’s endeavor as Ferguson generously noted post-match, kept the visitors in the match. Ji-Sung Park and Michael Owen in particular were guilty of wasting chances that would have finished the game well before the half time break.

With the bright Nani creating opportunities, and Berbatov adding some potency on 70 minutes, United finally brought the sword down on limited opponents in the twilight of the contest.

First, Rooney latched onto substitute Darron Gibson’s pass, before firing past Myhill from 12 yards for his second. Moments earlier Nani had smashed an effort against Hull’s bar.

Then the Portuguese winger, who has fallen out of favour with Ferguson following a series of inconsistent performances, provided the cross for Rooney’s hat-trick, which the former-Evertonian powerfully headed home.

Wrapping up the match and his personal hoard, the England international scored in stoppage time to take his goal tally for the season to 20.

“Without doubt those four goals were the highlight for me,” Ferguson said of Rooney, who is now just three goals short of his best ever haul for the season.

“He has been wanting to develop himself as a scorer and there were some terrific finishes today.

“He has always been a main player for us, from the moment he came to the club. He never gets left out.”

Rooney, though, is exactly the type of player that Ferguson will no longer bring to the club in the new financial reality. Seditious as the Old Trafford atmosphere has become, this is a truth that has rapidly dawned on many United supporters in the past week.

The Scousers’ performance – and that of Nani who had his best game in a United shirt this season – dragged United to the Premier League summit. In the short-term at least, United fans left Old Trafford happy.

The question now: can a full-scale rebellion be quelled by a table-topping team or has a point of inflection already been scaled?