Jim O’Neill, a close friend of Sir Alex Ferguson, is one of the key players among the Red Knights, who hope to persuade the Glazer family to sell Manchester United.
O’Neill, the head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs and a lifelong United supporter, is one of a number of prominent city financiers who met yesterday at the Fleet Street offices of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Also present at the meeting were Keith Harris, the executive chairman of Seymour Pierce, and Mark Rawlinson, a senior partner at Freshfields, the legal firm that advised United before and during the Glazer family’s hostile takeover in 2005. Other prominent figures who have expressed support for the campaign include Paul Marshall, the co-founder and chairman of Marshall Wace, one of the City’s largest hedge funds, and Richard Hytner, the deputy chairman worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi and a co-founder of the Shareholders United group that fiercely opposed the Glazer takeover.
Their plan is to use contacts across the business world to find a number investors who could raise the money — estimated at a minimum of £1 billion — needed to make a bid to buy the club from the Glazers. They hope that some of that money would come from supporters’ groups, who would in turn be offered a “golden share” and the prospect of some representation.
Harris has indicated in the past that he believes the club to be worth approximately £1 billion, but the Glazers, who have insisted they have no intention of selling, value United at approximately £1.2 billion.
The Red Knights are understood to have secured the backing of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), the group that was formed from the ashes of the Shareholders United movement. In recent weeks, since it emerged that United’s debt had soared to £715 million, opposition to Glazer has increased with many supporters wearing the green-and-gold colours of Newton Heath, which predated United — as a mark of opposition to the Glazer regime.
Although United remain successful on the pitch, the club paid £41.2 million in bank interest in the last financial year, a situation that the Red Knights regard as unsustainable and untenable.