Fans will be at 'centre' of Zilliacus' Man United takeover as club announces debts of £1bn

United released their key financial figures for the three months ending December 31, 2022 on Thursday

Manchester United fans with banners aimed at the club's owners are seen in the stands before the FA Cup quarter-final match against Fulham at Old Trafford on Sunday March 19, 2023. PA
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Finnish businessman Thomas Zilliacus said Manchester United fans would be at the centre of his proposed takeover the day the club announced it owed debts of nearly £1 billion.

Zilliacus last week threw his hat into the ring to takeover the English Premier League giants, proposing purchasing half of the club – through XXI Century Capital, an investment firm owned by his holding company – with the other half purchased by fans, who will then be involved in the club's decision-making process.

United are the subject of at least two other takeover bids, with British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani urged to increase their initial offers after a deadline to submit proposals by merchant bank Raine, which is assisting with the sale of the club, was extended.

There was no mention of current bids for the club or the ongoing process in United's announcement. There were no comments from chief executive Richard Arnold within the release, nor was there a scheduled conference call – something that has been standard in previous years.

United owners, the Glazer family, are reportedly holding out for a bid of £6 billion which, if met, would represent the highest price paid for a sports franchise.

The Americans have been massively unpopular with United fans since their leveraged £790m takeover in 2005. There have been several large-scale protests against their ownership.

Zilliacus said his proposal would see his consortium buy the Old Trafford club and then sell shares to supporters worldwide.

“It [United] was there long before all these people who are bidding for it were born and it will be here long after all these people who are bidding for it have passed away,” he told the I newspaper.

“The backbone of that institution is the fans and in that respect it’s hugely important the fans are at the centre of the decisions.”

The 20-time English champions released their key financial figures for the three months ending December 31, 2022 on Thursday.

United reported a net profit of £6.3 million in second quarterly fiscal results on Thursday, against a £1.4 million loss a year earlier. But the club owed £969.6m through a combination of gross debt, bank borrowings and outstanding transfer fees with associated payments.

A change in the exchange rate means that, while United's principal debt remains at $650m, the club owed £535.7m compared to £477.1m at the same point in the previous year.

In addition, £206.2m has been taken from a rolling credit facility, with another £227.7m owed in outstanding transfer fees. The club did have £31m in cash or equivalent, figures show.

Wages decreased £20.4m to £77.3m due to their absence from the Champions League and what the club termed as “squad turnover”.

Zilliacus says that if his bid is chosen, supporters will be given a say on major issues such as ground redevelopment and squad building, but not team selection.

Although an outsider and a latecomer to the race to buy United, Zilliacus claims his investment group should be considered serious contenders.

“I actually saw that the deadline was last Wednesday, literally on Wednesday morning and then I had to act very, very fast,” the former chief executive of Nokia in Asia said.

“I called the bank [Raine], told them we would like to participate, Raine said it was kind of late and they weren’t sure it made much sense.

“They discussed it internally and got back to us and said ‘OK, here’s an NDA [non-disclosure agreement], sign it then we’ll discuss the next steps after that’.

“We signed the NDA, put in a bid in general terms on Wednesday but then the deadline was extended to Friday, which gave us two more days to put in a revised bid, which had an actual number of what we were bidding, and that’s how it’s played out.

“I have been doing business all my life, I have started companies, bought companies, sold companies so I have a global network and I have done this on a global scale – first with the largest phone company in the world, Nokia, then with my own group.

“I have a network that spans the globe of people who want to participate in interesting ventures, and this certainly is one. To put together financing for something like this – and it is a big sum – is something I’m used to.”

Zilliacus has previously been involved with HJK Helsinki football club and ice hockey champions Jokerit in his homeland. He is the founder and chairman of new social media group novaM Group.

United are currently third in the Premier League table ahead of this weekend's matches but have not won the title since Alex Ferguson's departure in 2013.

Updated: March 31, 2023, 4:57 AM