| Whose goal is it' Manchester United star Wayne Rooney
London, May 12: Another English icon has fallen, to an American this time.
Manchester United, the world’s richest football club, went under the control of US sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer today, to the great chagrin of its local supporters.
Glazer, known as the leprechaun ' the Irish word for a small, mischievous sprite ' bought out the club’s biggest shareholder, fittingly, two Irishmen, and launched an offer to mop up the remaining shares.
Fans, who had earlier stopped media mogul Rupert Murdoch from taking over their club, vowed a war of attrition against Glazer, starting with a demonstration at Old Trafford, Man U’s home. The club has a worldwide fan strength of over 75 million, more than half in Asia.
With today’s purchase, Glazer has snatched majority holding, giving an American control of the world’s most famous ' and English at that ' football club, though Real Madrid fans would argue with the claim.
England’s most successful club this season, Chelsea, to which Man U lost 3-1 the other day, is owned by a Russian tycoon, Roman Abramovich.
Man U, known as the Red Devils for the colour of its shirt, ironically slipped into the hands of Red Football Ltd, acting on behalf of Glazer.
The company said it had agreed to buy a 28.7 per cent stake in Man U from Cubic Expression, the investment vehicle of Irish racehorse magnates John Magnier and J.P. McManus, for 300 pence a share.
The bid of 300 pence per share values the club at '790 million ($1.5 billion).
He also bought a smaller stake of 6.54 per cent from another Man U shareholder, Harry Dobson.
Glazer already held 28.1 per cent and, under UK takeover rules, must now bid for the rest. His stake has crept up to nearly 70 per cent and at 75 he gets unfettered control and can delist the share from the stock exchange.
The 127-year-old northern English football club said it was awaiting the formal terms of the offer for the remaining stake.
“Glazer is in the driving seat, although he’s had to go a bit hostile without the board’s approval,” said Richard Bullas, a fund manager at Rensburg Investment Management.
The club’s army of supporters remains overwhelmingly hostile. “He’s got himself an extremely tainted asset ' this is by no means over,” said Oliver Houston at supporters’ pressure group Shareholders United.
Even the Man U board had opposed the bid earlier, though it thought the offer of 300 pence a share was fair.
Their worry stems from Glazer’s high debt-funded acquisition attempt. The little sprite plans to saddle Man U with up to '300 million of debt, turning out to be the club’s evil demon ' not the fairy godfather with a pot of gold ' for its fans.
They will agree that their club had a disappointing season on the pitch, crashing out of Europe’s top competition and dropping to third place in the English Premier League, but it’s a mature company in the fragile financial world of soccer.
The 15-time English league champions, home to star players Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy, is debt free.
Fans are threatening boycott. “Even if Glazer succeeds in getting all-out control, the campaign by fans to show that no-customers-equal-no-profits will continue,” said Houston.
Glazer, the owner of American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers which he took over too, is no stranger to hostility.
In 1991, America’s 244th richest man who inherited at the age of 15 the family watch-parts shop after his father died, mounted a hostile takeover attempt for motorcycle cult company Harley-Davidson.
When Harley took out an injunction against Glazer, the judge at the court hearing labelled him a “snake in sheep's clothing”.
The Red Devils will soon find out if he is that but, just to put them at some ease, Glazer is also known as a sincere philanthropist.