Manchester United face the threat of “another Glazer” unless the Government applies a rigorous Chelsea-style audit to any potential takeover, given the failure to introduce a football regulator.
The stark warning comes from the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust in a week when it was announced that the Glazers are considering selling the club.
Chelsea’s buyout by American billionaire Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital in May required government approval after the club’s previous owner, Roman Abramovich, was sanctioned over links to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Duncan Drasdo, the chief executive of MUST, accepted the Chelsea takeover – in which the club were bought for £2.5 billion with a pledge to invest a further £1.75 billion – was unique. But with football still waiting for the introduction of an independent regulator, Drasdo believes the commitments and guarantees Boehly had to give the Government provided a template that should be followed in the event United are sold to prevent any risk of another Glazer-style owner taking control.
“Of course it [the prospect of another Glazer] is a concern,” Drasdo told Telegraph Sport. “We’re not going to have a regulator to scrutinise any potential sale.
“What we really need is for bidders for football clubs to be subject to a scrutiny process that determines their intentions and puts forward binding commitments about how they’re going to operate.
“We saw that to a degree with the Chelsea takeover.
“We all accept Chelsea constituted exceptional circumstances but that situation proved it can result in a better outcome because I think most people feel it was a good result for the club, when you look at the commitments and guarantees made.
“Shouldn’t the change of ownership of all of our football clubs receive the same degree of scrutiny and safeguarding?”
Drasdo added: “The idea of some sort of football takeover panel is what we need right now for Manchester United and Liverpool.
“It is changes of ownership that are the crucial points in time when things are laid down, like with the Glazer takeover, that then set the club’s course for decades. It’s no good trying to address the matter once the horse has bolted.”
The Glazers’ leveraged buyout of United in 2005 has cost the club around £1.1 billion in interest and debt repayments, dividends, directors’ remuneration costs and management fees and led to widespread anger and protests from supporters over the past 17 years.
United’s American owners have also netted £465 million through assorted share sales while still retaining complete control of the running of the club because of a controversial dual-share structure.
The issue of highly-leveraged takeovers has been discussed by the Premier League and its member clubs, the Football Association, the English Football League and government as part of its ongoing review of the owners and directors’ test.
United have tasked investment banker the Raine Group with finding a potential buyer or outside investment but Drasdo says any prospective takeover at Old Trafford requires some form of government vetting.
“My concern is you have this US investment bank hawking the club around and their job is to get the highest offer for the shareholders,” Drasdo said. “But what if no one is looking at what commitments they’re going to make in terms of transparency, working in partnership with supporters and investing rather than extracting money?
“If the Government is serious about football reform and agrees we need a football regulator then they should be regulating a change of ownership too.”
Labour’s shadow culture secretary, Lucy Powell, raised concerns this week that football’s failure to introduce a regulator meant there would be no independent oversight of a potential sale of United.
“Hopefully it prompts a response from government as well,” Drasdo said. “It is a good sign this is pushing the right buttons in Westminster.”