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Man Utd Chief Exec dismisses the Red Knights’ buyout plan

Thu 4th Mar 2010 | Clubs Ownership

David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive, yesterday dismissed the viability of the Red Knights’ plan to buy the club and launched a scathing personal attack on the credibility of the financier fronting their bid.

The Knights,  fronted by Keith Harris, executive chairman of Seymour Pierce aim to persuade a series of wealthy investors who are unhappy with the present owners to stump up at least £1 billion to mount a bid to buy United,

Gill, commenting on the group of ‘credible people’ expressed his displeasure of the group’s leader Harris dismissing him as a publicity seeker with an unimpressive track record in football.

The Knights which are said to include Jim O’Neill, a former United director and head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs, the American investment bank, and Mark Rawlinson, a senior partner at Freshfields, the legal firm that advised United before and during the Glazers’ hostile takeover in 2005 are looking to raise enough cash to buy out the Glazers.

Gill was thought to be referring to the involvement that Harris had in an Icelandic consortium’s takeover of West Ham United and Thaksin Shinwatra’s purchase of Manchester City, both of which proved ill-fated. However, Harris, who was widely commended for the job he did as chairman of the Football League, also oversaw Roman Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea and Randy Lerner’s takeover of Aston Villa, which have been successes.

“We’re aware of Jim O’Neill, who was on our board before the takeover, and Mark Rawlinson was our [legal] adviser,” Gill said. “Keith Harris will go anywhere that there’s a bit of publicity around. That’s his modus operandi, but his track record in football isn’t anything to write home about.

“But these are credible people and they do what they think is in the best interests of the club, but it’s not going to take them anywhere if the owners, the Glazers, have no wish to sell. From our perspective, they are running the club in the right way.”

O’Neill’s role, in particular, appears to have upset the Glazers, with reports last night suggesting that they are prepared to sever ties with Goldman Sachs because of O’Neills’s involvement with the Knights. The bank helped United with the recent £500 million bond issue, but there are suggestions that O’Neill’s actions have jeopardised the chances of United conducting any more business with it.

There was also criticism of the feasibility of the Knights’ proposals. “The Red Knights’ idea of having 20, 30 or 40 very wealthy people owning and running Manchester United, I don’t know how it would work,” Gill said at the Soccerex European Forum in Manchester. “The best clubs, the better-run clubs, have clear, single decision making. It’s quick and efficient.

“Very wealthy people don’t become wealthy through luck, those kind of people want to be involved in the decision-making. Abramovich at Chelsea, Mansour at Man City, Berlusconi at AC Milan, the key decision-maker at Real Madrid is not all those fans, it’s the president.

“I’m not sure what the endgame is, but the endgame is irrelevant because the owners are long-term investors and want to keep the club for many years to come. That’s not to say that people like the Red Knights won’t come and think they can put a plan to them, but unless the owners want to sell, which they’ve given no indication to me that that is the case, they can’t buy the asset.”

The Red Knights have allied themselves with the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) and their emergence this week has given the latter a boost. As of last night, MUST was near to its initial goal of 100,000 members, with 97,045 registering their support.

But while he defended the Glazer family and insisted that the owners had no intention of selling the club, Gill conceded that the Americans may have to adopt a more public profile to “appease people or to explain the long-term nature of their investment”.

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