Martin Samuel: Red Knights? Let's go one better and send for Barron Knights

08 March 2010 11:04
The Red Knights? Manchester United would be better off being run by the Barron Knights. At least there were only five of them.

There were 40 Red Knights at the last count, or maybe it was 60. The list seems to be growing all the time, because fantasies do. They start small - a seat on the board to represent the supporters, perhaps, and end big - 'Hey, let's buy the whole damn club!'

The idea is to assemble a collection of investors willing to put in between £10million and £15m each to oust the Glazers from Manchester United. We are still at the stage in the relationship where the perfect happy ending is possible, but this is a marriage of inconvenience.

The more Knights, the more potential for conflict if the dream is realised: people with different goals, different expectations, different concepts of how the club should operate, different personal circumstances, different hopes of a return.

Laughable: United's Red Knights are as much a parody of reality as 1960s comedy group the Barron Knights (above)

I once asked a friend in a Premier League boardroom if a football club was the hardest business to run. 'No,' he replied, 'a football club owned by a consortium is.'

The counter-argument is that Manchester United had 35,000 owners when the club was a plc and still enjoyed many successful years. This is not entirely true. The success was there - but then United have been successful under the Glazers, too - although the harmony was a myth.

As a plc, United had about 34,995 investors who Leaguewere under the impression they were running a football club and five who really mattered, and by the end it was a bloodbath.

Cubic Expression, an investment company owned by John Magnier and JP McManus, controlled 28.9 per cent and ended up at war with the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and the board.

Remember those 99 questions? The club fell into the hands of the Glazer family as a result of the conflict. Now times that by 30 and enter the world of the Red Knights. The idea that 60 investors, who are out of pocket by more than �10m each, will sit idly by while Keith Harris and pals call the shots is preposterously optimistic.

Harris, an investment banker with Seymour Pierce, has been looking to get his hands on United for years. One problem: he hasn't got the money. None of the Red Knights has.

Jim O'Neill, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, was actually on the United board. He advised against the Glazer sale but was powerless to stop it. Sir Roy Gardner, a former chairman of United, is also believed to be involved. The same goes for him.

If these people need 60 allies even to get close and, if everybody is equally committed financially, who gets to play the big boss?

Sorry to be a killjoy. The green and gold protest is admirable and if there is a rock solid Manchester United fanatic out there with £1.2billion to spare, he should get to work immediately. If there is a guy who can walk in, write a cheque, tell the Glazers to clear their desks and begin running a debt-free club that afternoon, oh happy day.

  More from Martin Samuel. MARTIN SAMUEL: The schoolboy error of thinking MPs are clever04/03/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Terry wins over the England fans as nobody does it better04/03/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: It's time the boo boys stopped hanging John Terry out to dry.02/03/10 Martin Samuel on the Carling Cup final: We've no right to a free hit on the house28/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: How can so many broken legs be down to chance?28/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Jonny Wilkinson is just a mirror of England's mediocrity28/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Left back at home, Wayne Bridge let nobody down 25/02/10 Martin Samuel: Jose Mourinho is a master of both Chelsea and Inter Milan24/02/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE  The Red Knights - and how presumptuous is that name, considering the status of the manager - are nothing like that. There is no guarantee that within months, this unwieldy collective will not have descended into a squabbling circus, as egos and personal pressures come to the fore.

What about their Red Ladies, for instance? The 60 wives - or partners - of the Knights, who might have an opinion about £15m going up the wall on a football club when the west wing of the estate needs doing.

What happens if a Lady asks her Knight what sort of return he is going to get on such a substantial investment, only to be told he cannot say for certain and, anyway, he is not part of the decision making process. Might there not be a little tension in Camelot?

This is a genuine sentence from a well-sourced report on the Red Knights proposal. One imagines this information comes straight from the top.

'If they (the Red Knights) succeed, they will also need to create a means of catering for the different requirements of investors, some of whom will want a return, while others are happy to hand over their money in exchange for seeing their name carved on a Knights honours board at Old Trafford.'

You've got to love the optimism in that 'some'. Some of the Knights will want a return. Only some, mind you. The others? They're just the sort of guys who sling £15m at a project and don't care if they see tuppence of it again.

Even if they knew somebody else was making a fantastic living off their investment, and being paid a huge salary, someone like - ooh, name at random, Keith Harris - they wouldn't ask for a penny back. They would just tip their hat, say 'Glad to be of assistance, sir' and trip happily on their way.

Oh yes, the world is full of people like that. The world according to Sesame Street.

Still, what about that honours board? That's got to be a winner, don't you think?

Ambitious: Keith Harris

'Honey, I'm home.'

'Hello, darling. Have a good day at work?'

'Wonderful. I gave £15m of our money to Manchester United.'

'Isn't that rather a lot?'

'Well yes. We may have to give up the villa in Porto Cervo and I'm thinking those three weeks in Barbuda at Christmas might take a hit, but it will be worth it. You'll never guess what I get in return: they're going to.'

'Let you play centre forward?'

'No, they're going to.'

'Sack Alex Ferguson and give you the job?'

'No, I'm going to have my name.'

'Tattooed on Bobby Charlton's forehead?'

'No, they're going to carve my name . on a board.'

Get real. You put your name on a board if you want next go on the pool table, not if you are about to hand over £15m. These people are businessmen. They might talk an idealistic game now, but pretty soon that primal Wall Street instinct is going to kick in and they will be playing hard-ball on returns and dividends. That is if they can get the plan past the wife.

My husband, the director of Manchester United, has a certain ring to it. My husband, the name on a frigging board, not so much. By the time all 60 start claiming proprietary rights you won't be able to get a ticket on match days. They'll have to make the Stretford End the Directors' Guests Suite.

Already, there is trouble in paradise. Sources within the self-aggrandising Red Knights have contrived to alienate a very real Red Knight, Ferguson, by claiming he supports the bid and is willing to invest money in it. Ferguson's angry denial now puts them at odds with the most important man at the club.

Also, the very rich do not haggle if they want a deal done, yet the Red Knights are already adjusting valuations of United, claiming it is worth no more than £800m, a bit of a drop from the £1.2bn, even £1.5bn, that was being quoted at the start of last week. Nobody has had to commit one penny and already the hand seems overplayed.

Now the fantasy is in danger of becoming reality, Manchester United's value would appear to be dropping £100m a day. Give it a week and, at this rate, maybe the Barron Knights really will get to have a go.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT.Michael Owen, it turned out, was not as advertised in the brochure. The warning signs were there: four pages in the glossy promotional booklet his advisers circulated to clubs in the summer were devoted to Owen's injury problems.

The same physiotherapist who treated Dean Ashton, now retired, and Kieron Dyer, now being encouraged to retire, said Owen would play at the highest level for many years, trouble free.

MICHAEL OWEN BROCHURE: Read the complete 32-page agents' dossierFabio Capello, the England manager, has never been convinced. From the start, he saw Owen as an impact substitute and fretted over his lack of games and injury record. It was horribly ironic that Owen's farewell to World Cup season should be a beautifully-taken goal for Manchester United in the Carling Cup final at Wembley, before a hamstring gave way again.

If there is a silver lining - and it is not one for the player, sadly - it is that Capello wisely did not gamble England's campaign in South Africa on a partnership between Owen and Wayne Rooney. We would be panicking now, if he had.

 Zing when we're winningHasn't the hockey been wonderful? No, not that North American snooze-fest on ice that the BBC thought was so fascinating last week: the game with no rules and no form. I'm talking real hockey, field hockey, the sport that England are really rather good at.

Have you been watching it? No, of course you haven't. The BBC devotes hours to events in which British participation is something of a joke, but the Hockey World Cup is only available on channel 789 if you have Sky. Zing TV.

Jolly hockey: England's Ashley Jackson (left) and Ben Hawes

By night the place to go for Bollywood and music programming aimed at the young, urban, Indian; by day, home of the 2010 Hockey World Cup.

England went into this as European champions, having defeated Germany, world champions and ranked No 1. Yet this team, and its achievements, have been criminally ignored by the BBC and our major specialist sports channels.

Ranked sixth in the world, England have overcome horrid injury problems and a tough group to record four straight wins and qualify for the semi-finals with a match to spare.

Their last victory knocked the hosts, India, out of the tournament; their first defeated the favourites, Australia, 3-2. Australia promptly scored 17 goals in their next two games.

If England beat Spain on Monday they will top Group B. Either way they are through. Instead of mimicking the revolting 'Own The Podium' campaign from Vancouver - as if the essence of an Olympics is to invite the world to your country, and then crush them - it would be nice to simply celebrate an England team doing rather well.

It would not have been too expensive to cover England at the Hockey World Cup and no doubt the BBC will find the resources to be in New Delhi for that woeful school sports day known as the Commonwealth Games.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch a decent England team, a fastmoving, skilful and exciting sport - and hear some pretty funky tunes between matches, too - head for Zing TV. And no Matthew Pinsent, either. Bonus.

 Here we go again. It only takes one poor match, not even a match actually, just a lousy 45 minutes, for questions to be asked about Frank Lampard's place in the England team. And that old chestnut surfaces, the one about not being able to play with Steven Gerrard.

So, one more time for the hard of thinking: the way England's team is set out under Fabio Capello, Lampard plays deep on the right, Gerrard high, starting on the left. The two players do not operate in the same areas of the pitch and only link up, rather than operating as a partnership.

To say they cannot play together is akin to arguing that Wes Brown is incompatible with Gareth Barry.



Source: Daily_Mail