Seeing Red

Times Staff Writer

Manchester United, the world's wealthiest and arguably most famous soccer club, became American property in all but name Thursday.

Malcolm Glazer, the billionaire owner of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, achieved effective control of the English team by buying a 28.7% stake in the club from Irish racehorse owners J.P. McManus and John Magnier.

That raised Glazer's share in the 127-year-old team to 56.9% and paved the way for a complete takeover.

Glazer, 76, has spent almost two years pursuing Manchester United after failing in a bid to buy the Dodgers. He has gradually increased his investment from an initial 2.3% stake acquired in 2003.

Along the way, however, he has angered the club's fans, who greeted Thursday's news with dismay and vowed to do everything they could to make sure Glazer's investment was not profitable.

"Even if Mr. Glazer succeeds in getting all-out control, the campaign by fans to show that no customers equals no profits will continue," Oliver Houston, of the fan group Shareholders United, told SkySports News in England.

"If that means starving ourselves [of soccer], and starving the club of income, in order to make this parasite detach himself from us, then so be it."

United fans have long opposed the sale of the club to those they say they believe do not have its best interests at heart.

In 1999, they successfully rebuffed a $1-billion takeover bid by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB satellite television network, and as Glazer's investment has increased, fans have been increasingly vociferous in their opposition.

At one point last year, the cars of two Manchester United directors who had sold their shares to Glazer were daubed with red paint. In another incident, fans invaded the field during a reserve team match to vent their anger.

The fans' belief is that Glazer has no knowledge of, or interest in, soccer and that he is trying to gain control of one of the world's most recognizable brand names strictly for financial gain. They fear he will raise ticket prices or even sell Old Trafford, the club's 68,000-seat stadium.

Glazer has not revealed his intentions. Neither he nor his sons, Joel and Bryan, who, according to Associated Press, will be involved in running Manchester United, were available for comment.

The club, which rejected two earlier bids by Glazer on the grounds they would have saddled Manchester United with too much debt, made only a brief comment on the latest $1.47-billion bid, which was made in the name of one of Glazer's many companies, Red Football.

"The board awaits the formal terms of the Red offer and further announcement will be made once the board has reviewed that offer," the club said.

Meanwhile, fans criticized McManus and Magnier for selling their shares to Glazer. The two Irishmen netted a reported profit of more than $183 million on an investment made only four years ago.

"They have sold the Manchester United heritage," Mark Longden, of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Assn., told reporters in England. "They have proved that they were never interested in Manchester United or football."

There was no similar outcry in England when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought controlling interest in another English Premier League team, Chelsea, in July 2003.

Since then, Abramovich has invested almost $400 million in new players and this season his team won the English championship for the first time in half a century.

Manchester United fans argue that their club has not needed that sort of cash infusion to be successful. Manchester United has been English champion eight times in the last 11 seasons, its matches are always sold out, and it is competitive in the player transfer market. Last fall, it bought England international striker Wayne Rooney for more than $50 million.

Whether the club will be able to keep up with Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool if Glazer does take over, remains to be seen. Winning back the fans could take longer than winning another title.

"I'm giving up my season ticket," Nick Twole, president of Shareholders United, told reporters in England. "I'm not putting a penny of my money into this guy's pocket."

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There's football ... and there's football

Malcolm Glazer's $1.47-billion bid makes Manchester United the world's richest soccer club. Glazer's Tampa Bay Buccaneers are valued at $779 million, ranking the team ninth in the NFL.

*--* Manchester United Tampa Bay Buccaneers Manchester, England Tampa, Florida Founded 1878 1976 Seating 68,217 65,657 Regular ticket $50 to $65 $30 to $68 Championships 15 Premier League One Super Bowl (2003) and League Division

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Source: Deloitte Football Money League, Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

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Elite soccer clubs

Manchester United is the wealthiest soccer club in the world.

Top ten soccer teams

Manchester United, England : $311 million

Real Madrid, Spain : $283 million

AC Milan, Italy: $267 million

Chelsea, England: $260 million

Juventus, Italy: $258 million

Arsenal, England: $208 million

Barcelona, Spain: $203 million

Inter Milan, Italy: $200 million

Bayern Munich, Germany: $199.5 million

Liverpool, England: $167 million

*from 2003-04 financial statements

Source: Deloitte Football Money League, Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

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