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Unread 05-03-2010, 11:01 AM
Thumbs up Good Jim White article.

Manchester United not for sale? Chief executive David Gill could not be more wrong

"Manchester United is not for sale." This was David Gill's unequivocal response to news this week that a collective of wealthy fans, styling themselves the Red Knights, were keen to buy the club from the Glazer family.

The chief executive's statement carried echoes of the war cry of the black-clad hordes who first resisted the Americans' takeover in 2005. "Not for sale," they chanted. They were wrong then and Gill is wrong now.

United are very much for sale. Like George Bernard Shaw's dealings with an upper crust dining companion who initially expressed shock at his suggestion that her favours were for hire, availability has been established. Now all that needs to be negotiated is the price.

Gill claims not to see this. He believes that the Glazer family are "in it for the long haul". Given that the only haul they have ever been remotely interested in is the one that concludes with them making off with sacks of unmarked notes, if its length could be foreshortened then so much the better. For those for whom it is the sole motive, profit is all the more relished if it can be quickly realised.

If, as they claim, the Red Knights want to return the club to their proper owners the fans the only thing they can do is come up with the cash.

Everything else proposed season-ticket boycotts, a worldwide cornering of the market in green and yellow acrylic, spray-painting every wall in Manchester with anti-Glazer graffiti is secondary. Because if the Glazers paid any heed to vocal, spirited and passionate opposition, they would have gone a long time ago.

This is what the battle for the soul of Manchester United has come down to: money. Which, given that they are the club who first breached the gap between commerce and football, might be reckoned nicely appropriate.

Not that Gill has yet fully acknowledged that certainty. He hinted in a public conversation at the SoccerEx conference in Manchester this week, that maybe it was time for the Glazers to come out of the closet and talk up their management approach, get the fans onside, enable everyone to "move on".

Certainly the family have been constantly outflanked by the brilliant public relations campaign mounted by the Manchester United Supporters Trust.

MUST recently engaged Blue State Digital, the internet marketeers behind President Barack Obama's election strategy who this week sent personalised emails to thousands of United fans. So successfully did this draw attention to the cause that more members came forward in five days than had done in the previous 10 years of MUST's existence.

Faced with such well-drilled opposition, does Gill really think that putting Joel and Avram Glazer on Jonathan Ross's sofa will make a difference?

Besides, the family's purpose was advertised in all its detail in the small print of the recent bond issue. It is this: to extract as much lucre as they can from their property.

Everything else the historical purpose of the club, the financial circumstance of the fans, assets such as the training ground comes secondary to that aim.

There is nothing they can say that changes that fact, no number of appearances on Alan Carr's sofa revealing their favourite member of Girls Aloud can disguise it.

But where Gill really exposed himself was in his sneer that the Red Knights' financial model of a large body of investors was implausible. Swiftly forgetting the fact that when United were a public limited company they had more than 35,000 owners, he insisted that all successful clubs are guided by one owner:

Manchester City by the Mansours, Chelsea by Roman Abramovich, Aston Villa by Randy Lerner. And it is true, like Liverpool, under the Glazers United do have a single powerful voice to which they are answerable: debt. The urgent imperative to pay off the interest incurred in the Glazers' buy-out drives everything at the club.

It is to rid United of such shackles that the Red Knights or someone of their similarly motivated ilk has to succeed.

There is a wider necessity here. If they fail, the consequences, as the need to fill the ever-gaping maw of debt insists United break from the collective bargaining of the Premier League and pursue their own way in the lucrative world of new media rights, will be felt across English football.

Right now Gill could not be more wrong: everything at United is for sale.
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