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Jan 30, 2010

Harris offers United takeover lifeline

Renowned football finance expert Keith Harris is working with disgruntled Manchester United fans to try and broker a takeover of the club that would end the mounting debt problems imposed by the Glazer family.

Harris, a United fan who has been involved in several takeovers involving Premier League clubs, claims to have spoken to several interested parties as he attempts to put together a takeover proposal to put to the Glazers.

The executive chairman of investment bank Seymour Pierce began working on the project after being contacted by members of the Manchester United Supporters Trust.

"Yes, we have been approached,'' Harris told the BBC's Football Focus. "We can lend our weight to doing something for the good of United and for the good of football - none of the takeovers that I have been involved in have involved any debt. They've been takeovers by people who've wanted to be involved for reasons other than money.''

Harris declined to name any of the people who have approached him, identifying them only as "The Red Knights''.

"A number of people have been to see me and I've had long chats with them,'' he said. "I know there are one or two people in senior positions in the financial services that have access to capital. We don't know if the Glazers can be made to listen, but there is serious intent on the part of people who have support in their hearts. The time feels right.''

United hold debts of more than £700 million - debts which are growing - as a result of the Glazers highly-leveraged takeover of the club in 2005.

While nothing new, the debts have recently re-emerged as a hot-button topic among supporters after the full extent of the growing problems were revealed when the club issued £500 million worth of bonds in a re-financing effort.And Harris admitted he shares the anger of his fellow United supporters.

"(The Glazers) are playing with an icon of football, one of the most respected brands in the world, and it is in danger,'' he said. "Seventy-five pence of every pound (fans) are spending is now going to the Glazers either for themselves or to pay debts.''

"If these rumblings become a revolution and (fans) stop going - as difficult as it is for them not to go - and the pounds stop coming in, there is real peril.''

When asked for comment by Football Focus, United issued a statement denying there are problems, stating that the club is "most profitable football club in the world''.

A spokesman for the Glazer family told the programme they have no interest in selling. But Harris believes they could be persuaded if the price was right.

"It depends on the Glazers' attitude but we've got to think that their businesses in America haven't done well - nobody's businesses in America have done well - and they're probably highly geared to those businesses. If this is an opportunity for them to take money and go then you have to think they would listen to that.''

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