The Red Knights insist that they are committed to bringing supporter ownership to Manchester United despite reports that the consortium’s bid is effectively over amid in-fighting and disagreement. The group of super-rich Unite fans, led by Goldman Sach’s Jim O’Neil, said on Friday that it intends to bid for the club only if Glazers’ price is realistic.
This comes as United chief executive David Gill back-tracked on earlier aggressive comments about supporters green and gold protest movement.
The Knight’s proposed £1.2 billion summer bid is yet to materialise with doubts surfacing about the both the group’s ability to fund an offer and the Glazer family’s willingness to accept a market-based price. Indeed the American’s public relations offensive in recent weeks has seen Gill rubbish the Knight’s ability to manage the club post-takeover and a leaked – although entirely false – report of a £1.5 billion bid coming from a mystery Middle East investor.
More serious still, Gill dismissed the supporter-led green and gold protest movement as little more than “a visible minority” who “don’t understand” the protest’s true nature. Many fans found the tone of Gill’s interview with the Independent newspaper both aggressive and offensive.
How quickly the mood changes with the Knights reigniting talk of supporter ownership by ousting the Glazer family from Old Trafford and Gill espousing a more conciliatory tone in the face of long-term supporter unrest at the club and, no doubt, the looming 13 June season ticket renewals deadline.
“The Red Knights remain committed to pursuing their efforts to try and help bring ownership of Manchester United to its supporters, and under a structure with materially less debt,” said a Knights’ statement Wednesday morning.
“As we have maintained however since news of our ambitions first emerged in March, we will only attempt to purchase the club at a sensible price, consistent with the long term interests of the club.
“We have spent some considerable time assessing the value of the club. If the fundamentals lead to a more realistic re-assessment then, along with our co-operation with MUST and other Manchester United supporters, we will aim to achieve our goals.”
With Untied showing huge losses in its quarterly accounts, essentially the consortium has chosen to put a bid on hold until either the Glazer family reassess its price or the ‘fundamentals’ of the club change. With the club haemorrhaging money and Payment-in-Kind (PiK) debt compounding at a frightening rate the Knights may now wait for the clubs’ finances to become distressed before a bid is forthcoming.
Despite the non-committal Knights tone, Gill now recognises that the supporters protest movement is likely to last as long as the Glazers remain in charge at the highly indebted club.
“I don’t think it’ll go away, there’s a protest movement there and clearly a lot of people who feel exercised by it and passionate about it,” Gill told Sky Sports yesterday.
“There were some comments last week that I was belittling the protest. That could not be further from the truth. We understand it and it will be there.
“It’s not about belittling that movement and I don’t think it’ll go away. We hope there will be even more red and white in the stadium next year.”
However, Gill still believes that the Knights group of super-rich investors is unworkable as a management strategy, although few on the inside believe the consortium will do anything but put a board in place to run the club. The Knights, say Gill, is not a workable management group.
“That’s my personal opinion,” added the United ceo.
“In my experience of running a club, and being involved for the last 13 years and in businesses before that is that having a whole group of people owning and running Manchester united is not workable.”
The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) continues its campaign against the Glazers and in support of regime change at Old Trafford, although with no bid forthcoming before the World Cup the organisation’s strategy must now surely change.
“Green and gold has been a very visible way for supporters to show their disgust at how much money the Glazers have been wasting,” added Oliver Houston, vice-chair of MUST.
“It’s just one stage. We’ve gone from 30,000 people at the beginning of the year to 160,000 now and that shows the passion people have about the club. Whether it takes the form of wearing a green and gold scarf, or protesting to the government or withholding their custom.”
Despite the anger generated by Gill’s aggressive anti-green and gold statements over the past four months, it is likely the ceo would be asked to stay on at the club in the now unlikely event of a takeover this summer.
After all, fans may well be angered by Gill’s seemingly hypocritical support of the Glazer family over the past five years but the executive is well regarded in football management circles.
“If David Gill was offered a blind taste test of which company he’d rather be running,” asked Houston.
“A company that its £700 million in debt, with owners leaching money out of the club, with £66 million losses just announced or one where the fans and owners are on the same side working towards making the club better, we know which one he would choose.”
“Supporters know that only this (a Knights’ bid) makes financial sense and David knows this too.”
With no bid likely in the foreseeable future, Gill, the Glazers and supporters alike have a long summer wait ahead.