Business

Working for Manchester United's secretive billionaire Glazers

Joel Glazer (r) and Avram Glazer, the co-Chairmen of Manchester United, at the game v Burnley at Old Trafford in Feb 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Joel Glazer, right, and Avram have been driving forces since the Man Utd takeover

"To hate us when the club has been so successful, it's extraordinary," remarked Joel Glazer after Manchester United's emphatic Champions League victory against AC Milan in March 2010.

At that time the club's owners were caught in a pincer movement between the green-and-gold fans protest which wanted the US billionaires to sell up, and the Red Knights group of major City figures which was gathering support to launch a takeover bid.

Some five years previously - in 2005 - the Glazer family had taken over the Old Trafford club, in a controversial, highly-leveraged, buyout, which alienated a large chunk of its support and a mainly sceptical Fleet Street too.

And some of those fans were not - and are still not - prepared to let the secretive US owners forget their anger at the hundreds of millions of pounds of debt that the takeover put on the Old Trafford club.

'Measured'

"From an American perspective - where they have passionate sports fans of their own - it was still a shock for Joel Glazer to hear chants at the AC Milan game like 'Die Glazer die'. That was extraordinary," recalls Tehsin Nayani, who worked for six years as confidential media advisor for the Glazers.

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Image caption Man Utd players Juan Mata and Ashley Young celebrate a goal

Nayani, a former business journalist now PR executive, first began working on Glazer media matters in 2004.

And, although he would become immersed in the extraordinary trappings which accompanied being part of the club - particularly the luxury which surrounded the players, he would draw up his Glazers media strategy from the humbler surrounds of a terraced house in Norwich.

As he explains in his new book to coincide with the tenth anniversary of their takeover; while ageing family patriarch Malcolm was the figurehead for the owners, day-to-day running of the club was in the hands of his sons, headed by Joel.

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Image caption The green-and-gold protest saw fans wear the colours of pre-Man Utd club, Newton Heath

"A phrase that I repeatedly use, is to describe Joel Glazer as measured. I have dealt with hundreds of business leaders in my career, and he was constantly calm and assured under pressure," he says.

Indeed, so unassuming seemed the brothers that he dubbed them "middle-class billionaires" who would "not have looked out of place at a chartered accountants' convention".

'Busted flush?'

His introduction to the wealthy family from Rochester, New York, came in the feverish atmosphere of late 2004. Following one failed Manchester United takeover the Glazers and their advisors hatched Project Hampstead, a fresh strategy to win control.

"The Glazers were already controversial characters, having been perceived to have failed in their bid for Manchester United in 2004," recalls Nayani.

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Image caption Nayani says Manchester United is a UK cultural icon

"When I came on board, the question I asked myself was whether they were already a busted flush. However, I quickly realised that with [bank] Rothschild on board to advise, they were very much poised to buy Manchester United."

He says that because the Glazers were already Manchester United shareholders, holding 29% of shares, stock market rules meant they were unable to provide a commentary on their intentions, to the frustration of fans and the media.

Their breakthrough came when the Americans realised the Cubic Expression investment business, owned by Irish racing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus, would be willing to sell its 28.7% stake at the right price, probably 300p a share.

'Tense time'

"One thing the 2004 club AGM had smoked out was that the Irish duo would be unlikely to support the board, but it was always an unknown about whether they would be willing to sell their shares," says Nayani.

As it turned out they were, and he recalls the fevered activity of 11 and 12 May 2005, and the transfer of £235m to the Irish pair for their shares. But - with all negotiations done through third parties - he says there was a constant fear right to completion, that the transaction may not go ahead.

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Image caption Irish racehorse owner JP McManus and partner John Magnier held a major block of shares

Once they acquired the Irish stake the Glazers held the majority of club shares and were de facto Manchester United owners, (although it would be roughly another month before they acquired the rest of the shares).

"It was an incredibly tense time," recalls Nayani. When it became obvious that the Glazers were taking control "there was a lot of incredulity, this was Manchester United - a UK cultural icon".

'Growing revenues'

Once ownership was secure, his intention was to go on the "front foot", and explain who the Glazers were, including their "passion for sport" as exemplified by their ownership of NFL team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Image caption An anti-Glazer protest shortly after the 2005 takeover

"They had a very strong sports pedigree, were already shareholders, and saw Manchester United as the sporting jewel in the crown," says Nayani. "They were also very ambitious. They wanted to utilise their expertise as part of their ownership of the club."

But - in the wake of fan protests - almost immediately Nayani found his time was being used to mitigate the Glazer's leveraged - or indebted - business model. An analogy he uses is to compare the Glazer's club ownership to a household mortgage.

"Many people have a mortgage on their homes. Provided they have a steady income that can comfortably cover the interest payments it's not an issue," says Nayani, adding that Man United was also an appreciating asset.

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Image caption The Champions League trophy was won in Moscow in 2008

"Moreover, the Glazers set about significantly growing revenues via commercial deals, making the debt even more manageable." he says, while also pointing to ever-growing Premier League TV deals.

In addition, he says during his time at the centre of Manchester United events, manager Sir Alex Ferguson was always assured of having cash to invest in the team.

'Marathon not a sprint'

However, fan groups would continue to highlight the debt issue, believing that large interest payments being made to service the debt could be better used to invest in players.

Also, bar one interview by Joel with Manchester United's own TV channel, the family, which Nayani says "highly prizes its privacy" did not interact with the UK media, causing much frustration.

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Image caption Nayani says it seems the Glazers are looking to long-term ownership of the club

Matters came to a head in the first half of 2010, with the green-and-gold fan protest and the Red Knights emergence. However, Nayani says by June that year both had largely blown over.

"Looking back, things seemed high octane, but the reality was more prosaic, more mundane," he says. "Joel Glazer assured me many times during this period that the club was definitely not for sale.

"His mantra was always 'business of usual' and - although the club was pipped by Chelsea to the 2010 title - the show went on."

With the successful completion of a club bond issue in 2010, and after six years, Nayani felt the time was right to end his Glazer connection.

After a period when the club won a Champions League, three Premier Leagues, and two League Cups, he was given a payoff from the Glazers.

"I know my book The Glazer Gatekeeper will be unlikely to assuage those who have reservations about their ownership of Manchester United," says Nayani.

He adds: "It is five years since I was working for the Glazer family, but I am always minded of Joel's aphorism, 'it is a marathon not a sprint'. I can only estimate we are very much in the early laps of their long-term ownership."

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