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Glazer gains control of Manchester United

| Tuesday, May 17, 2005

LONDON -- Malcolm Glazer became a soccer Yankee in the queen's court Monday, much to the ire of his new subjects.

The reclusive owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took control of Manchester United, increasing his stake in the world's richest soccer club to more than 75 percent.

Glazer bought 2.3 million more shares, giving him 75.70 percent by the end of Monday's trading, Glazer's Red Football Ltd. told the London Stock Exchange.

At that level, Glazer can place his personal debt on United's books and move the club off the stock market and into private ownership. The club has been listed on the stock exchange since 1991.

The NFL, which usually frowns upon cross-ownership, isn't sure if its rules would prevent Glazer from owning a foreign club. The league's finance committee will discuss it during spring meetings in Washington next week.

Glazer's $1.47 billion takeover is sharply opposed by Manchester United fans' associations. They fear the club will be saddled with debt, and worry Glazer could sell off the club's 67,000-seat Old Trafford stadium and raise prices.

Fans groups are calling on supporters not to renew their season tickets, to cancel subscriptions to Manchester United's in-house television station, and boycott sponsors Vodafone, Nike, Budweiser and Audi.

Demonstrations are planned at the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Arsenal on Saturday in Cardiff, Wales.

"We are calling on all supporters to wear black," said Mark Longden of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association. "If they can get hold of black flags, they should wave them because it represents what is happening to the club."

Glazer's ownership reached 56.9 percent on Thursday after he bought out joint majority shareholders J.P. McManus and John Magnier, Irish racehorse owners. He previously owned 28.1 percent of the club.

Glazer acted quickly Monday to snap up enough shares to break through the 75 percent threshold. By the close of trading Friday, he had owned 74.81 percent of the stocks. Glazer is offering $5.55 per share.

Glazer is expected to submit a formal document to shareholders on Wednesday.

Financial analysts said Glazer could soon raise his stake to 90 percent. At that level, remaining shareholders would be required to sell their stocks to Glazer.

"It's never that easy to get over 90 percent and so it could take some time," Hilary Cook of Barclays Stockbrokers said. "But he's got what he wants and it has happened with astonishing speed."

Glazer told the stock exchange Friday he would borrow $490 million to fund the takeover.

The bid also includes $503 million of his own money, and another $509 million to be generated by issuing preferred securities to large investors.

"The issue now is about what the man's vision is," said Richard Hunter of Hagreaves Landsdown stockbrokers. "There are questions around repaying the debt and making Manchester United a much bigger brand than it is now."

Speculation that United manager Alex Ferguson could leave the team evaporated Monday when he announced that two key players -- Wales winger Ryan Giggs and American goalkeeper Tim Howard -- had signed long-term contract extensions.

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