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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Mar 9, 2006

United to cash in on Old Trafford

Manchester United will look to the new, expanded £3million-a-game Old Trafford to help provide the cash to challenge Chelsea.

While the Football Association continue to battle through the problems generated by the Wembley construction fiasco, United's £43million improvements are almost complete.

Providing there are no last-minute hitches, United will record the first Premiership gate over 70,000 when they host Birmingham on March 26, with the 86-year-old record for a United match at the ground of 70,504 likely to be exceeded when Arsenal visit three weeks later.

With almost one-third of the 8,000 seats that will eventually be installed falling into the 'executive' category, the Red Devils are likely to be raking in an incredible £3million in gate receipts every time Old Trafford hosts a match once the eventual 76,000 capacity is reached, priceless income when it comes to competing with Roman Abramovich's bottomless wallet.

'The stadium expansion is one of the ways we can grow our business and remain competitive,' said Red Devils chief executive David Gill.

'The expansion will significantly improve our turnover and we are confident we will continue to sell out all our Premier League home games.

'Coming to Old Trafford is still a special experience. I don't wish to compare us to any other club but our stadium has history and heritage.

'We have the biggest following of any club in the UK and the biggest commercial income of any Premier League club.

'We already have many more applications for tickets for the Birmingham game than we can fulfil and we see no reason why that situation should not continue.'

The speed of their own construction work already means United will benefit from the FA's decision to move the two pre-World Cup friendlies against Hungary and Jamaica away from Wembley, which will not be ready in time.

In addition, Old Trafford is almost certain to hold at least one, and possibly both, FA Cup semi-finals next month depending on whether Middlesbrough - United's scheduled opponents on April 22, make it through their quarter-final clash with Charlton.

Ironically, another recipient of the stadium expansion will be former captain Roy Keane, who is now expected to take up United's offer of a testimonial which they made in the announcement of his stunning departure in November.

Keane's advisers have received a favourable response from United to a request for game between the Red Devils and Celtic on Tuesday May 9, although the Irishman is still to inform his former club he wishes to go ahead with the project.

Meanwhile, United's pre-season plans are also taking shape, with Gill confirming Chelsea's Champions League conquerors Barcelona are the preferred opponent for their scheduled Old Trafford 'opening night' next August.

With an England friendly due to be played three days before the Premiership season opens, United hope to face Ronaldinho and company around August 9 but the match depends on Sir Alex Ferguson's men finishing second behind Chelsea this season and avoiding being dumped into the Champions League qualifiers for the third successive seasons.

Due to the distribution of Champions League money finishing runners-up this season, as opposed to third, could be worth around £2million to United, although the sum is offset by receipts and TV income from a home qualifier.

However, any extra cash could come in handy as United will lose out on another hefty instalment on David Beckham's transfer to Real Madrid after the Spanish club's exit to Arsenal.

When the England captain joined Real in 2003 United received £5.25million on completion plus £12million in instalments over the four years of his contract and £875,000 each time they qualified for the Champions League and reached the last eight.

Real's latest failure was their second while Beckham has been with them, which means United have 'lost' £1.75million in payments on the transfer.

It means the maximum United can receive for their former midfielder - assuming Real make it to the quarter-finals next year - is £22.5million, roughly what Chelsea paid Manchester City for Shaun Wright-Phillips.