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By ESPN Staff

Man Utd play down fears after £660m refinancing

Manchester United have attempted to ease fears among fans about the club's massive £660million debt by claiming the new refinancing package reflects greater confidence in the financial situation at Old Trafford.

Red Devils insiders have confirmed a restructuring of United's financial structure will take place next month, which will raise the overall debt while reducing the interest payments by almost 30% to £62million-a-year.

While the move, negotiated by Malcolm Glazer's new 'chief of staff' Ed Woodward, has been viewed as a positive step given the massive interest rates being made on the loans Glazer originally took out to complete his controversial United buy-out last year, fans have reacted with predictable scorn.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), the group which used to be known as Shareholders United, has pointed to the 'colossal' difference between the amount of money required to service not just the interest payment but the actual debt itself, with the last recorded operating profit of £46million for the year ended June 2005.

However, United officials point to a new shirt sponsorship deal with AIG - which will net an extra £20million over the next four years - the newly-negotiated Premier League TV contract that has generated an extra 30% in revenue and an increase in Old Trafford's capacity to 76,000 as hard evidence the club is now in better shape than it was when Glazer took control.

'The value of Manchester United has increased in the last year, which is why lenders want to invest in the club,' said a source close to the club.

'Fans might get nervous when the look at the actual figure but you have to bear in mind there is a new shirt sponsorship deal in place, the quadrant expansion is due to open this season, the new Premier League TV deal will deliver significant extra revenue and the cost of borrowing has also reduced.

'This move represents good housekeeping and it ensures that Sir Alex Ferguson will be provided with sufficient funds to compete in the transfer market.'

The view is not one shared by MUST, who feel that rather than being helped by the refinancing, Ferguson will actually be operating with one hand tied behind his back.

As yet, the United boss has not bought a player since the last season ended, although rumours abound that Michael Carrick and Fernando Torres will eventually arrive as part of a £40million spending spree.

However, with Chelsea already flexing their financial muscle by recruiting Michael Ballack, Andriy Shevchenko and Saloman Kalou and Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello about to make his move, MUST wonder how United can remain competitive while paying off such a massive sum.

'The amount of money needed to be repaid overall is huge,' said MUST spokesman Sean Bones.

'The interest payment is one thing but what about the actual £660million? It is difficult to see how these sums can be reached without significant increases in ticket prices, which, as we always suspected, means the fans will effectively be paying for someone to borrow money to own their club.

'This has to put Sir Alex Ferguson in a difficult position when it comes to competing for players with the top clubs in Europe.

'How can United possibly sanction the purchase of players when the debt levels are so great?

'It seems the only way the manager will be able to buy is by effectively exchanging one player for another which is hardly ideal when everyone recognises the basis of our 1999 Treble-winning season was having a squad strong enough to provide cover in every position.'