The football world is abuzz with news that the Red Knights are planning to mount a bid to buy Manchester United. So who exactly are these mysterious individuals?
A mixture of City bankers, lawyers and lifelong United fans, including Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill, Paul Marshall, a partner at the hedge fund Marshall Wace, Richard Hytner of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi and Mark Rawlinson, a partner in Freshfields’ corporate practice who advised United on their takeover by Malcolm Glazer and his family in 2005.
What is their plan?: Simple. To raise £1billion to buy out the Glazers, who have plunged the club into debt to the tune of £716.5million.
How would they raise the cash?: One idea involves finding 40 individuals to put up £20m each, with the Red Knights borrowing around £200m to top up the offer, but the plan would be to keep debt to a minimum.
How would they run the club?: For the fans and not as a commercial venture is the plan. United would stay in private ownership and not be returned to the public markets where it was traded until the Glazers’ buyout.
Who is their leader?: Seymour Pierce stockbroker Keith Harris is the man brokering the potential takeover. He is a former HSBC investment bank chief executive and well known in football circles due to his involvement in takeovers of West Ham, Manchester City and Aston Villa. He is also the financier who warned last year that football’s gravy train was set for a crash.
Do they have support?: The Red Knights have spoken with the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST), who have indicated they will back any bid. Not surprising considering the blaze of green and gold inside Old Trafford as fans protest against the Glazers in the colours of Newton Heath, the club which predated United.
What chance has the plot of succeeding?: Not good. Exploratory discussions are thought to have begun at the offices of law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer on Monday to study the viability, rather than details, of any bid. The problem is that the Glazers maintain they have no intention of selling and the Red Knights have no way of ousting them other than to make a bid they cannot refuse.
Do the Glazers have any support?: Not among fans but their decision to alleviate high interest repayments on the £716.5million debt with a £500million bond issue last month was successful. The issue was twice oversubscribed.
Is Harris confident?: Cautiously optimistic at best. He said: “There is a serious intent on the part of those people (Red Knights) who have not just support in their hearts but the ability to muster support from their pockets to get after this and the time feels right.”