United 'prime for takeovers'

Manchester United this week sought to put an end to the bid speculation surrounding the club but City traders were not convinced and are continuing to bet on a takeover.

In a statement to the London Stock Exchange the American sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer, who owns more than 16% of the club, said that he had ‘no current intention to make an offer for Manchester United”.

The statement was enough to end United’s financial status as being in an ‘offer period” — which limits the actions of a target company — and would normally also safeguard the club for six months against any move by Glazer.

But the billionaire owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has negotiated a special deal with the Takeover Panel — which monitors City bid action to ensure fair play — that will exempt him from that rule, allowing him to change his mind at any time. He has also retained the right to buy and sell United shares.

Vinay Bedi, an investment manager and analyst with brokers Wise Speke, said: ‘On the face of it this statement doesn’t change anything. In fact, the exemption is just baffling.”

United unveiled better-than-expected half-year profits this week, up 32% at £27-million, for the six months to the end of January.
Match-day income was down, as a result of fewer home games in the period, but the improvement was fuelled by TV income.

The Premiership club is debt-free and has £23-million in the bank. Those attractions, plus the biggest brand name in world sport, means the club is an attractive takeover proposition. ‘It is a cash cow,” said one City analyst, ‘It just spews out money.”

This week the club’s chief executive, David Gill, made it clear that the manager Sir Alex Ferguson would have money to spend in the summer to strengthen the squad and outlined plans for a stadium extension to take capacity up by 7 000 to 75 000.

The £45-million plan to expand Old Trafford would fill in the north-east and north-west corners of the ground and add extra corporate hospitality facilities. If the plans are approved, building work would get under way in 12 months and should be complete by the start of the 2006/07 season.

United have reached a £5-million deal to end the contract of Fabien Barthez. The French goalkeeper, who joined them from Monaco four years ago for £7,8-million, had more than two years to run on his contract, but will now be free to join Marseille, where he is on loan. —

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