Tuesday March 02, 2010

Manchester United's American owners insist the club is not for sale - following Sky News' revelation that a group of City financiers are in talks over a potential bid.

Sky's City editor Mark Kleinman revealed that a group dubbed the Red Knights held a secret summit on Monday to galvanise support for their campaign to wrest control of the Premier League.

The plan would entail tapping into fans' opposition to the Glazer family's debt-riddled ownership of the club and raising funds for a takeover.

But a spokesman for the Glazers said: "Manchester United is not for sale."

Kleinman said well-known football deal-maker Keith Harris, Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill and lawyer Mark Rawlinson were present at the Red Knights meeting.

Other City figures, including investor Paul Marshall and Saatchi & Saatchi advertising executive Richard Hytner, are also said to be involved in discussions.

Is Man Utd For Sale?

The Red Knights' move comes amid growing unrest at the club's US owners and the resulting debt levels.

According to the latest accounts released in January, debts at United's parent company Red Football Joint Venture have increased to 716.5m.

Some 68.5m was paid out in debt interest during 2009 alone.

The Glazers also recently launched an operation to refinance 500m worth of debt associated with the club, prompting fresh concern about the club's finances.

The bond issue served to crystallise opposition among fans, Kleinman said.

Manchester United fans claim the debts have prevented manager Sir Alex Ferguson dipping into the transfer market.

The Manchester United Supporters' Trust (Must), which has mounted a vocal campaign to bring about a change of ownership, is understood to back the Red Knights.

Must's "Green and Gold" campaign has seen supporters don the colours of Newton Heath - the club which was renamed Manchester United in 1902.

There were plenty of green and gold scarves in evidence at Sunday's Carling Cup final, which Manchester United won 2-1 to clinch manager Sir Alex Ferguson's 34th trophy during his stint at the club.

But Kleinman cautioned: "The Red Knights campaign is at a very early stage, and while it has the support of influential fan bodies such as the Manchester United Supporters' Trust, it's possible that those involved may conclude it's not ultimately viable."

Speaking to Sky News' Jeff Randall, he added: "Having said that, the summit - the first formal gathering under the Red Knights banner - is the most significant evidence so far of the seriousness of the campaign to win back control of United."
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