Saturday, 30 January 2010

Man City aim for friendlier rivalry with United

Manchester City's Arab owners want to co-exist with Manchester United in a spirit of rivalry mirroring Milan and Internazionale's, with new manager Roberto Mancini so confident of his future beyond this summer, that he is seeking to buy a property in the city.

Mancini has been assured that his job is not dependent on reaching the 70-point target which predecessor Mark Hughes agreed to at a board meeting last August and the Arabs' impressions of the Italian five weeks into his Eastlands career are – results aside – that he is more willing to communicate directly with them and keener to take on the more sizeable backroom staff befitting a club with City's aspirations.

Mancini was manager of Inter and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyanbin Zayed Al Nahyan's representatives are particularly taken with the footballing environment he left behind in Milan. They want to redefine their aspiration as one of perpetual rivalry with United, rather than one necessarily built on seeking permanently to topple the Premier League champions to become the "No 1" side in the city. Abu Dhabi hosts the Fifa Club World Cup for a second successive year and the Arabs are understood to be excited by the idea of United being in the Emiracy to compete for the trophy.

The notion of co-existence did not entirely fit with the words of chief executive Garry Cook at the Mad Hatter in New York, though the Arabs' sense is that Cook was left exposed when he was being partisan at a City-supporting bar. Consideration is being given to whether more staff are needed to prevent a repeat of the outcome in which Cook's speech was secretly recorded, though his determination to be at the grass roots may simply mean he has to be more circumspect.

City retain hopes of securing the £5m signature of England Under-21 winger Adam Johnson from Middlesbrough, despite Boro manager Gordon Strachan's reluctance. The pursuit of Roma central defender Marco Motta is not over either, though developments in Italy saw the deal stall earlier this week.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Wayne Rooney's passion cannot mask signs of Manchester United decline

Manchester United still have admirers in high places. Roberto Mancini, once the successful manager of Internazionale, showed them every respect on Tuesday night. His policy, for the most part, was one of mere containment, yet it worked well enough to leave his Manchester City side with a 2-1 lead to take into the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final.Innumerable teams have felt compelled merely to try to get in United's way. Over the years, they have usually been trampled by Sir Alex Ferguson's

players. The visitors did run all over City once again but the only real harm was to the dignity of Mancini's players. United may have scored, but the opposition's goalkeeper, Shay Given, was asked simply to be his usual impressive self and had no need to be superhuman.

United need nobody to tell them about the fallibility stealing over their squad. They have now endured seven defeats in all competitions and there are a lot of stiff challenges still. This campaign is, all the same, an odd one since the team is definitely not in desperate straits.

It would be no shock if they recovered to eliminate City in the second leg. For that matter, they have a close-up view of the pinnacle of the Premier League, since they are only a point behind the new ­leaders, Arsenal.

The Champions League did not cause them all that much distress either, even if Besiktas beat them at Old Trafford. The gap between English and Italian football is probably narrowing, but United will expect to wriggle past Milan in the last 16 tie next month.

United must primarily be concerned about the medium and long-term prospects. Nobody has to tell Ferguson that key men are getting old. On Tuesday, Gary Neville had to confine his provocative ­gesturing to the sidelines, since he was an unused substitute. Paul Scholes, 35, was not introduced until the 88th minute and Ryan Giggs, 36, looked ­ageless in the autumn and may have other sprightly spells to come, but his impact was limited at Eastlands even if he was in ­position to knock home the opener. Edwin van der Sar, 39, had nothing to apologise for, but the veteran understandably does not dominate the goalmouth.

Ferguson may well have had it in mind to engineer a transition, but Ben Foster was undone when he had to justify his sound reputation by standing between the posts for United week after week. The manager is having some trouble in accomplishing what he has achieved memorably in the past, the reconstruction of the squad.

Some additions such as Anderson have still to convince and he was at fault when Carlos Tevez, with his second goal of the night, scored the winner against United. Apart from that, renewing the squad is a thorny topic in this financial climate.

United followers, understandably, rage against the Glazers and the various means they can deploy to extract money from the club. Unless the takeover had been conducted by a bidder of immeasurable means, as Sheikh Mansour sometimes seems to be at City, the owner of United was bound to a target of understandable rage.

The Glazers are not endearing, but ­having completed the takeover for £800m in 2005 at the delirious heights of the ­Premier League's fashionability, they will not be stopped now from striving to make sense of that benefit. A splurge on signings would only make sense if it was calculated that the disaffection of fans was liable to be even more costly. It would take a great deal more distress before Ferguson turned into some rogue manager who gave a coded endorsement to would-be ­insurrectionists. The very idea is inconceivable. Ferguson's emphasis will be on winning and it is not at all outlandish to visualise the Premier League trophy remaining in his grasp.

There was a piquancy about Tevez's goals, but few people had quibbled when United did not exercise the £25m option of retaining the Argentinian in 2008. He had almost seemed to try too hard, omitting in the process to show his flair. The manager would not have guessed then that he would have to take a chance on a Michael Owen who had . a limited impact at Newcastle UnitedFerguson will explain that he has merely refused to pay outlandish prices of late, but he is left with a squad that, while capable, is in gradual decline. United badly need to see Rio Ferdinand returning to the line-up, but at the centre-half's age a back condition will probably have to be managed anxiously rather than cured. Amid the various difficulties in the squad, Wayne Rooney had the industry on Tuesday of a man determined to make do for every deficiency.

That level of technique and desire is precious. Should Rooney be injured, jaded or disillusioned, United's niggling problems could turn into agonies of despair.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

How the Glazer family have milked debt-ridden United for millions

Lurking in the full, heart-sinking detail of the Glazer family's proposal to borrow £500m, a partial replacement for the £700m debts their takeover has loaded on to Manchester United, is a page documenting the millions United have paid out to the family members themselves. None of the Glazers appear to have taken a salary out of the club since that May 2005 takeover, which United fans bitterly opposed and which has since cost the club more than £325m in interest.

In those three and half years, ticket prices have almost doubled at Old Trafford, where previously they were restrained to cater for the regulars at the Lou Macari Fish Bar, as well as the prawn sandwich consumers.

The MU Finance plc prospectus, launched in the City yesterday, sets out the fortune the Glazer family have reaped from the club they borrowed £540m to buy. From 1 July 2006, in five separate payments, a round total of £10m was paid in "management and administration fees" to companies affiliated to the Glazers. Under the new bond issue, the family is entitled to be paid up to £6m by United in management and administration fees.

On 30 June last year, United entered into a consultancy agreement with SLP Partners, "a company related to certain of our ultimate shareholders", to pay up to £2.9m. On top of that, on 19 December 2008, each of Malcolm Glazer's five sons and one daughter, all of whom are directors of Red Football Limited, each personally borrowed about £1.66m from the club, a total of £10m.

Added together, the management fees, consultancy agreement maximum and the £10m the six family members actually borrowed from United make a total of £22.9m paid to the family and their affiliated companies in three and a half years.

No explanation was offered yesterday for these fees, or for why the Glazer family felt the need to borrow £10m from Manchester United. The Glazer family's official spokesman, who is responsible for discussing United's financial affairs, declined to comment.

Duncan Drasdo, chairman of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, was more forthright. "Now we know that as well as their takeover imposing a huge debt on the club, and the massive interest payments United have to service each year out of the club's ticket and other income, the Glazer family have paid themselves many millions of pounds personally," he said. "The tide is turning at Old Trafford as fans see how much the takeover has cost, the increased ticket prices and the failure to invest in the team despite £81m received from selling Cristiano Ronaldo. We do not want the Glazers to refinance the massive debts they have brought to the club — we want them to go."

The accounts released yesterday were for just one company, Red Football Limited, in the thicket the Glazers have built around the Old Trafford crock of gold. The figures showed the net interest for the year to 30 June 2009, on the £514.5m debts loaded on to that company, was £42m. That, then, soaked up more than half the galactic fee Real Madrid are scheduled to pay for Ronaldo. Another United company records the £175m also owed to hedge funds, at 14.25% interest — a charge in 2008-09 of £25m.

Sir Alex Ferguson said last week that the Ronaldo money is available to him, and he had "absolutely no issue at all with the club's finances". Yet the £81m took United from a thumping, multimillion-pound loss it would have recorded, into the £26m profit being highlighted to the City yesterday.

It is, quite simply, impossible to sustain the argument, to intelligent supporters stumping up their hard-earned cash for tickets at ever-increasing prices, that the £700m borrowings the Glazers have imposed, and £67m of interest payable last year, is having no impact.

City sources were saying yesterday that United's sheer size, income and dedicated following makes the bond issue an attractive enough offer – despite the "high degree of risk", including a possible fall in success, decline in crowds and uncertainty over who will replace Ferguson.

The fees to be earned by the bankers and professionals who have made this all possible is £15m. By the end of it, the Glazer family may be able to replace £500m they have borrowed with a different £500m borrowed on slightly less terror-inducing terms. But Manchester United, formerly the proud, rich, football behemoth of the Premier League, will still be laden with the extraordinary debts of a takeover which nobody wanted, except for seven members of a family in Florida, and their very well-paid advisers.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Will Manchester United's Gary Neville be missed?

Neville, like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, has played his entire career for Manchester United after coming through the youth system. But unlike that venerated duo, Neville remains wildly unpopular with many fans around the countryside, particularly on Merseyside.

His most famous quote – "I can't stand Liverpool, I can't stand Liverpool people, I can't stand anything to do with them," – cemented his reputation as United's chief Scouse-baiter, a role he has revelled in. His attitude towards Manchester City is similarly partisan, and while many United fans love him for it, others have found Neville's more aggressive pronouncements as slightly cringeworthy coming for a player from a nice family in Bury.

When Neville does retire, he will do so as one of the most decorated players in the history of English football, having won 16 major honours, including two Champions Leagues. He has also won 85 England caps and played in three World Cup finals.

But did his position as a United player – and his close relationship with David Beckham – advance his cause ahead of more deserving players? And has his attitude only incited more bad blood between rival players and supporters?

Or do you think football needs more Gary Nevilles – one-club men who wear their heart on their sleeves – and less "robots"?

Source: Telegraph

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Liverpool fans have genuine cause for optimism in 2010

It seems that 2010 has started just as 2009 ended for Liverpool - engulfed in gloom and foreboding.

The FA Cup draw at Reading was deemed to be yet another disappointing result, and apparently in keeping with the trend that saw them slip down the Premier League and out of the Champions League before Christmas.

Disappointing that is, until Manchester United's tie against Leeds, which highlighted that the Cup is always a devilishly tricky competition in which to assume that superior resources will always guarantee progress.

In fact, the draw at Reading wasn't such a bad result at all. OK, Liverpool didn't play particularly well, but they emerged relatively unscathed, still in the draw for the next round where they will have a home tie should they win the replay at Anfield.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that all is not doom and gloom at the club, no matter what the more cynical commentators may suggest.

Of course, not one fan will be happy with the position Liverpool currently find themselves in, and most will be angry that their dream at the start of the season of a title-winning campaign will not come to fruition for another year.

But look beyond that temporary dip in form and fortune - and for all the big four clubs, it is always temporary, given the resources they can command - and there are distinctly encouraging signs that 2010 may not be such a bad year at Anfield after all.

The reason for my optimism is simple. Liverpool have finally got direction in their boardroom, and with it a plan to get the new stadium built that will generate the funds to underwrite future success.

Don't believe me? Well, the Chief Executive of Liverpool City council revealed only last week - by accident it seems - that the investment is almost sorted for the ground to be be built, and the work could get underway by the end of the year. And he will know, because he has to give consent for it.

The club has a new MD in Christian Purslow who has an impressive track record in finance and investment, and he also has a close, and key, relationship with the banks.

Already, Liverpool are a very different operation commercially than they were even 12 months ago, and he has put into place a blueprint that will take the club forward, with or without the American owners.

By the end of this season, debt will have been reduced significantly, and partners found to help the construction of the new stadium to get underway.

Hicks and Gillett may well be gone by then, but if they are not, then their stake in the club will certainly have been diluted and their influence on the future much less significant.

Purslow and his commercial team have been quietly working behind the scenes to bring in new investment, to get agreement with the owners and the banks over the stadium build, and my understanding is that it is almost in place, so expect an announcement soon.

And when Liverpool do start to build a new ground, then the fans who have been crying out for a rich sugar daddy to come and bail them out may just discover that they don't necessarily need that particular scenario any more.

On the surface, Manchester City's situation would seem attractive to any supporter. Who wouldn't want a wealthy benefactor to write apparently unlimited cheques?

But what happens when he gets bored, as Roman Abramovich seems to have done at Chelsea? The money dries up, and the financial problems kick in. If he decides he's had his fun and leaves completely, then what happens next?

Perhaps the best model to base a successful football club on, is that operated by Barcelona, and - to a lesser extent - Manchester United. Certainly United before the Glazers, and their massive debts.

The likes of Liverpool and United have such a massive global fan base that they can sustain their own success without the need for a sugar daddy, so long as they are run properly at boardroom level.

Christ, United have incredible debts at the moment, but are still favourites for the title, and are still one of only four clubs who, probably, can win the Champions League this season.

For Liverpool to be in the same position, they need to get their ground built, and they need the right direction at the top.

They have got the latter now, because it is obvious that Purslow is calling the shots at Anfield, and the Americans are finally falling into line behind him. And it seems he knows what he is doing.

When they get the latter - allowing them to access dramatically increased revenue streams - then they will be as financially viable as any team in the Premier League.

While that may all seem like a distant dream, it isn't. It could - and should - happen this year, and if it does, then it will give real cause for Liverpool fans to celebrate, no matter what is happening on the pitch right now.