Last updated : 09 August 2004 By Editor

The Independent

On the field Manchester United made an inauspicious start to the new season with a 3-1 defeat yesterday by arch rivals Arsenal in the Community Shield.

And away from Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where the match was played, speculation was mounting that United - the best-known brand in world sport - was about to be taken over by an American tycoon prepared to pay up to £800m.

Malcolm Glazer, a Florida-based billionaire, may be closer than ever to achieving his goal of taking control at Old Trafford with a rumoured meeting for the first time this week with the club's two biggest shareholders, the Irish racing moguls John Magnier and J P McManus.

With so much at stake neither side would confirm reports of a summit tomorrow but it is thought that Mr Glazer or his two sons acting on his behalf may gain control of the club with an offer to buy the Irish stake in Manchester United of 28.9 per cent. Added to Mr Glazer's own holding of 19.2 per cent, any acquisition would automatically trigger a takeover bid and probably result in the tycoon, who already owns an American football team, assuming control.

Some analysts doubt whether Mr Glazer has sufficient funds to gain 100 per cent of the £800m-rated club, but with a share of 48.1 per cent, he would, in effect, be able to dictate policy ranging from ticket prices to purchase of players.

Although he is the 224th richest person in the US with an estimated fortune of $1bn (£544m), Mr Glazer is less wealthy than the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who used his financial might to buy Chelsea Football Club outright with little resistance.

The Telegraph

Malcolm Glazer, the US sports entrepreneur, will this week attempt to buy the 28.9 per cent stake in Manchester United owned by the Irish racing moguls John Magnier and JP McManus.

In their first ever meeting on Tuesday, the two largest shareholders in Manchester United could bring to an end months of speculation about the future ownership of the UK's biggest football club.

An executive close to Glazer - Manchester United's second largest shareholder with a 19.2 per cent stake - said members of his family were expecting to negotiate with the Irish magnates on Tuesday.

An agreement to sell by Magnier and McManus - whose stake is held by their Cubic Expression vehicle - would allow the Glazers to take control of the entire company. Under Takeover Panel rules, the Glazers would be forced to make a full bid. At the current share price of 254.5p, Man Utd's market value is £667m.

Magnier and McManus are keen to sell down their holding at the right price, according to an associate of the racing magnates. "Things are going to go nowhere until the Glazers talk to the Irish," he said. "The Irish are in the driving seat."

Although the Glazers want to control Man Utd, they are not fixated on owning 100 per cent of it. One option they are considering is to purchase the entire business and then sell a stake - possibly as much as 20 per cent - to a private equity buyer or wealthy individual. A further 20 per cent could be refloated on the Stock Exchange, so that the club's supporters could retain a financial involvement.

An alternative strategy would be for the Glazer family to buy enough of Cubic Expression's stake to take its holding to over 30 per cent. It would then launch a full bid, but the Irish magnates would retain a minority interest.

Meanwhile, bankers said that the Glazers might find it challenging to raise the £800m-plus that would be needed to buy the club, which is virtually debt free. Any bid would require a large premium to the current market value to reflect the value of its brand.

The Glazers may also want to secure separate finance of around £100m for the purchase of new players.

The Glazers, who own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers American football club, are talking to investment banks about raising the finance needed to buy the club.

They are expected to target the separate Man Utd stake of Harry Dobson, the Scottish mining entrepreneur, who holds 6.5 per cent through Mountbarrow Investments.