With presentations taking place in Zurich, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and Frankfurt, Manchester United and the Glazer clan are trying to raise a half billion pounds from new investors, an occasion that has the Times’ Oliver Kay declaring, “if it sounds frantic, or indeed desperate, it is certainly an approach that throws up as many questions as answers.” The Independent’s Sam Wallace paints a far more grim picture, warning, “with the Glazer Family debt now at more than £700m and no Ronaldo to sell next summer to balance the books, it would appear that United will attract the interest of Uefa if they are still under the same ownership come 2013.”
Among the “risk factors” that the club identified for the benefit of potential investors in their latest bond prospectus was the threat posed by Uefa’s new rules on clubs with debt. Under the “financial fair play” initiative that will be introduced at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, clubs wishing to play in the Champions League will have to demonstrate to European football’s governing body that they can balance their books.
In the bond prospectus United identify the risk that Uefa’s financial fair play initiative could become a problem for any club that has become so heavily indebted. Yesterday, sources at Uefa confirmed that this would be the case. They pointed out that United would have another three and a half years to address the matter of their debt, although even in that timeframe there is no guarantee they could do so.
The Uefa president, Michel Platini, calls the initiative the end to “success on credit” and it was aimed at clubs such as Chelsea and latterly Manchester City who have spent far beyond the revenue they have generated. Back in the pre-Glazer plc days, it would have been hard to imagine that it might apply to United.
While United run at an operating profit, it is the repayments on the loans taken out by the Glazers that drag them down. As United say in the bond prospectus: “These rules are intended to discourage clubs from continually operating at a loss. There is a risk that, in conjunction with increasing player salaries and transfer fees, the financial fair play initiative could limit our ability to acquire or retain top players and, therefore, materially adversely affect the performance of our first team.”
The bond prospectus also revealed that the Glazers now have a facility that allows the parent company to take up to £70m from the club’s profits to pay down the £202m debt on the family’s payment-in-kind loans. This is the part of the debt that the American owners are personally liable for and taking money out of United’s profits to pay it is likely to go down as badly with Uefa as it does with the fans.