One thing at Manchester United isn't going downhill: their debt (go back to the homepage)
Manchester City, rather than United, are entering the new decade with the cocksure strut of a financial powerhouse
Manchester United became liable to pay £263m in interest alone in the first three years after Malcolm Glazer and his family took over the club in 2005. Photograph: Brian Bahr/Getty Images Sport
Apart from the snowfall which smothered the Carling Cup semi‑final between Manchester's two clubs, 2010 has dawned to wildly contrasting fortunes for City and United. Sunday's 1-0 FA Cup humbling by Leeds was accompanied by reports that United's owners, the Florida‑based Glazer family, are trying again to refinance the £700m debts which their 2005 takeover has imposed on the club. For City, Saturday's 1-0 Cup victory at Middlesbrough has been followed by the solid news that Sheikh Mansour, City's Abu Dhabi owner, has personally invested £395m in the club since he took over 17 months ago, converting all of it into shares, not loans.
In simple terms, the lottery of English football clubs being companies up for sale on the open market has delivered a winning ticket to the Blues, not the Reds. Mansour has made an enormous financial investment in City, while the Glazers, since they bought United in their bitterly contested takeover, have given the club not one penny to spend. Quite the opposite; their ownership has drained the club of huge sums of money. In only three years up to 30 June 2008, the closing date of their most recent published accounts, United became liable to pay a staggering £263m in interest alone. Despite that, the capital lump sum which United owe to banks and hedge funds has actually snowballed by £159m, from £540m in 2005, to £699m in 2008.
That increase is accounted for partly by the very high interest charged on the £275m the Glazers borrowed from three hedge funds to buy United. When the entire debt was refinanced only 15 months later in August 2006, the hedge fund debt had risen by £79.1m, which included £13.2m for "early redemption". The refinancing paid that off, leaving United with £525m owed to banks and £138m owed to hedge funds. An estimated £29m was paid in professional fees then, principally to bankers, lawyers and accountants. Reports that the Glazers have appointed two banks,JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank, to seek refinancing again with bank bonds should be understood in that context: huge fees will be charged, there are likely to be early repayment premiums again on the £175m hedge fund debt United now owe, and the refinancing is likely to increase the total debt owed.
The Glazer family's spokesman refused to comment this week on those reports, and both JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank issued no comments. However, City sources indicated the reports are correct, and the refinancing is thought to be concentrating on the hedge fund debt, which is accumulating interest at 14.25%. The interest is rolling up: £38m interest was payable to the hedge funds in 2006-07; £23m in the year to June 2008; £25m to June 2009. By the time the capital is due for repayment, in August 2017, if it has not been refinanced and already paid off, the accumulated capital will have risen from an initial £138m borrowed from hedge funds, when the Glazers refinanced in August 2006, to £580m. That is in addition to the £524m of bank and other borrowings which United owed at June 2008.
The club and the Glazer family's spokesman have insisted that despite the interest payable, £69m in the year to 30 June 2008, which helped push United from an operating profit of £80m to a £43m loss, Sir Alex Ferguson has money to spend. Ferguson has maintained since the summer that he has not done so because United-calibre players are not available, and there is not "value in the market". He argues that players are overpriced, partly because of Mansour's intervention.
After United lost the Champions League final in May, Ferguson might have been expected to substantially strengthen his squad, but instead, Cristiano Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid for £81m, and the manager signed only Antonio Valencia, for £17.5m from Wigan, Michael Owen, on a free transfer, and Gabriel Obertan, for £3m from Bordeaux. Whatever their protestations that money remains available, United's weakening through injury, occasional underperformance and Ferguson's dismissive approach to buying players means United are simply not carrying themselves as proud, cash-rich, Premier League champions with the Ronaldo money still in the bank. Time is surely running out for the argument that the debts – now, with interest, certainly more than £700m, vastly more than any other English club – are not financially constraining.
The Glazers have overseen a period of sustained success at Old Trafford, winning three Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008, and Ferguson has always spoken supportively of their regime, which he finds easier to deal with than the regulated stock market-listed entity United were before. United insiders credit the Glazers with bringing in some of the roster of sponsors whose lucrative deals reflect the club's global presence and popularity. However, by far the largest proportion of United's record £257m turnover was still earned in the UK in 2007-08, and the largest proportion, £101.5m, came from match days at Old Trafford.
There, ticket prices have been increased significantly since the Glazers took over, a policy presented as a commercial virtue when they sought the refinancing in August 2006. Although United still boast awesome near-76,000 full houses for Premier League matches, and 74,526 witnessed the Leeds crash on Sunday, tickets do now remain on sale for most matches. United's spokesman, Phil Townsend, confirmed this week that bookings of corporate hospitality packages are down in the recession, and a third-round FA Cup exit will not have been in Ferguson's plan for the season or the Glazers' financial projections.
Stories have seeped out of United this season about rounds of quite meagre cuts, and Townsend acknowledged that the club has indeed been looking to cut costs. Twelve staff have been made redundant recently, he said, although he pointed out that this was from around 550 people employed in various departments.
"Like all other businesses in the current financial climate we have been looking to keep costs down," he said. "The demand for match-by-match corporate hospitality packages has gone down, depending on the fixture, but our 55,000 season tickets are sold out. We present a stable business model, the interest payments are serviced from the operating profit, and the club has said there is money for the manager to spend."
It is difficult to decipher how far the Glazers' own fortunes have been affected by the economic downturn, because they operate principally as private investors in the US. The family's charitable foundation says of Malcolm Glazer on its website that he "owns, has owned or has been the largest shareholder" of companies including Harley Davidson, Formica, Tonka, and Omega Protein, but some of those interests were sold off several years ago. The US property industry, in which the Glazers are significant investors, particularly in shopping malls, via their First Allied Corporation, is one of the sectors most pulverised by the economic typhoon.
The family's NFL franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, enjoyed sustained success under the Glazers, winning the 2003 Super Bowl, yet have just concluded a miserable season, finishing bottom of their division with three wins from 16 games. Media reports, never denied, consistently said the Bucs were spending $30m (£19m) less than the permitted $100m under the NFL salary cap; the system allows franchise owners to take surplus money out for themselves. In January last year, the Glazers replaced the veteran, Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden with Raheem Morris, who at 32 was the youngest coach in the NFL. The Glazers are still hailing that as a "bold decision", but the series of defeats have led to profound disillusionment among Bucs fans, who have also endured ticket price rises, and crowds at the Tampa Bay stadium have declined.
With a United squad looking suddenly threadbare, and a vintage manager due for retirement himself before too long, United supporters cannot help but see parallels between Stretford and Florida. Duncan Drasdo, chair of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, said this week: "We warned from the beginning that the Glazer takeover would saddle the club with huge debts and now we can see them biting. If it were a race, then United are dragging their owners behind them like a tractor, while City's owners are providing rocket fuel."
Before the Glazers arrived in 2005, nobody could have foreseen this bizarre reversal in Manchester. United, then the world's richest club, are lurching into the new decade with punishing debts, while City, of all clubs, are being roundly criticised after the sacking of their manager for being too ruthless, driven and improbably rich.