Stories of the Red Knights’ imminent demise amid in-fighting and a realisation that the Glazer family will not accept an offer this summer are wide of the mark, according to the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). The trust, now more than 157,000 strong, dismissed newspaper reports of the Knights’ failure as little more than spin.
But it’s a charge not as clear-cut as fans may hope.
The ongoing media war for Manchester United is a prelude to a firm offer from the Knights for the club this summer. Yet, if the Guardian’s sources are sound disagreements in the consortium over the bid’s structure could derail any serious challenge to the Glazers’ five-year regime.
At least two Knights, according to today’s reports, now seriously doubt the consortium’s approach.
“Senior figures involved with the Red Knights have told the Guardian there are internal divisions and that they suspect they are fighting a losing battle when it comes to putting together a takeover bid of sufficient value to end the Glazers’ unpopular regime,” says the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor.
“One of the businessmen prominently involved has lost confidence to the point that he believes they might not even submit a bid were it not for the criticism they would attract after such a highly publicised campaign.
“His belief is that, if they did lodge an offer, it would be for “face-saving” purposes, in the knowledge that it would be turned down.”
After all the £504 million bond issued by the club in January – the small print of which instigated the latest round of anger from United’s supporters – restructured the club’s finances to allow the Glazers more breathing room. The bond, although increasing annual interest payments on United’s £716.5 million debt, enables the family to pay down the punitive Payment in Kind loans from club finances.
Unless the club’s finances slip into what economists euphemistically dub a ‘distressed state’ the Glazer family has bought itself at least seven years grace, with the bond maturing in 2017. This is not news though and the Knights’ bid has always been dependent on an offer which matches the American’s required profit multiple.
The Guardian’s report also follows club ceo David Gill’s assertion that season ticket sales are “on track” with previous campaigns, with supporters required to submit renewal forms by 13 June.
However, MUST challenges both the newspapers’ sources while questioning the club’s belief that support will remain robust in the coming season.
“It obviously wasn’t a rogue knight who contacted all the various journalists/business desks with this story,” claimed the organisation this morning.
“Clearly the Glazers’ anonymous spin doctor has been putting a bit of work in. They ARE worried about the ST renewals (and no boycott has even been called despite reports), sponsorship and the general opposition to their ownership so are seeking to undermine supporter morale.
“They are severely underestimating the determination of Manchester United supporters and the anger they feel about the millions of pounds the Glazers are taking out of our club every year.”
The real question is whether fans have over-estimated the Knights’ ability to fund and organise a bid for the club. Led by Goldman Sachs Jim O’Neil, the consortium’s diverse interests may indeed fuel divisions. In truth, debate is no barrier to a formal bid; the real question is one of money.
Should the Knights’ not come up with a figure that is to the family’s satisfaction then ownership will not change hands in the short-term. It would be a blow not only to supporters’ hopes of Old Trafford regime change but to those who have led the Knights’ high-profile media campaign.
Perhaps three events will dictate this summer’s events and the club’s future.
Firstly, the club announces its quarterly financial results on 28 May where it is widely expected the Glazers will have drawn down United’s £122 million cash reserves. Then – potentially – will come the Knights’ bid before the World Cup begins on 11 June.
Finally, as season ticket renewals land on the Old Trafford mat the club will learn whether supporters’ anger is tangible or not.
In public at least the Knights’ stance is firm, while MUST continues to ask supporters to delay renewal until the last possible moment.
“Talks have been going better than ever and are progressing very positively,” a Red Knights source told the Press Association today.
If they are not, reputations will suffer for it and the Glazers’ stranglehold on the club will likely continue.
*update Thursday 20 May*
MUST changed it’s statement this afternoon, removing the group’s assertion that a Red Knight had not spoken to the press and implicitly confirming the premise of a divided consortium. Repeating the claim that the Glazers are “attempting to frighten supporters into renewing season tickets,” MUST said that the American family is concerned about the Green & Gold movement.
The adage about organising a drink in a brewery comes to mind.