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Michael Knighton's 20m bid for Manchester United was doomed to failure
Published : 17 Aug 2009 18:23:50
Twenty years ago on Tuesday, the portly property magnate with a vision of transforming United into the global brand it has now become donned a training kit and performed a ball-juggling act in the centre-circle at Old Trafford after seemingly striking an agreement to buy the club for just a quarter of the £80 million that Real Madrid deposited into United's bank account earlier this summer for Cristiano Ronaldo. United owner Martin Edwards, who had come close to selling the club to Robert Maxwell for £10 million in 1984, was now determined to offload the controlling stake he had inherited in 1980 from his father, Louis, after becoming disillusioned by his unpopularity among the United supporters. Related ArticlesOwen backed to find scoring touchRooney gets United goingFerguson facing defensive crisisFerdinand out for two weeksSport on televisionKnighton appeared the perfect fit. Supported by business associates Robert Thornton, the former Debenham's chief executive, and Stanley Cohen of Parker Pens, the one-time Coventry City apprentice unveiled plans to plough £10 million into the redevelopment of Old Trafford and exploit United's history and tradition before 'brand marketing' had even entered the football vocabulary. An intensive study undertaken by Knighton before his move for United highlighted the huge scope to exploit the emotional attachment of the club's supporters through merchandising and television revenues. It was a visionary plan, one which has now been adopted by football clubs across the globe, but the showman overshadowed the business brain and Knighton lived to regret his theatrical performance before the 1989-90 season opener at home to Arsenal, which resulted in a 4-1 United victory. The day, and the headlines, should have belonged to Neil Webb, United's £1.5 million summer signing from Nottingham Forest who marked his league debut with a stunning volley against the defending league champions. But Webb was instead forced to read back pages about Knighton rather than his own memorable arrival on the Old Trafford scene. Webb, whose 1990 FA Cup winners' medal goes under auction with Cameo today, said: "We had heard about the takeover, but this chap came into the dressing room before the game, introduced himself as the new owner and then asked for a kit! "We thought he just wanted to join in with the warm-up, but I couldn't believe what I was seeing when he ran on to the pitch and whacked the ball into the net at the Stretford End. "It was hilarious, really. Unbelievable. He just decided that he wanted to go out there and have his own little cameo role. "It was the kind of thing that football chairmen just don't do and we all wondered what was going on, but it turned out that Knighton didn't have the money Martin Edwards pulled out of the deal." Knighton ultimately failed to buy United as a result of adverse publicity surrounding the deal, persuading Thornton and Cohen to withdraw their support, leaving Knighton unable to conclude the purchase. A seat on the United board and 30,000 shares were taken by Knighton as part of the agreement to withdraw his bid. In 1992, he resigned from the Old Trafford board in order to buy Carlisle United. Twelve months earlier, United had floated on the Stock Exchange with a valuation of £47 million. Seven years later, Rupert Murdoch's £680 million bid for the club was accepted by the PLC board before being blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. In 2005, United were sold to the Glazer family for £790 million. Earlier this year, a survey by the American business magazine Forbes listed United as the world's most valuable sporting franchise with an estimated worth of $1.8bn, ahead of the second-placed Dallas Cowboys, valued at $1.6bn. Knighton, described by Sir Alex Ferguson as having "self-confidence to burn", declined the opportunity to discuss his failed takeover when contacted by the Daily Telegraph, preferring instead to remain out of the limelight, having become the subject of ridicule during the intervening two decades. A book chronicling the events surrounding his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to buy United is, Knighton admits, "gathering dust on a shelf somewhere", but whether it ever sees publication now rests on him allowing the showman to rear his head once again. "I don't regret it [going onto the pitch]," Knighton has admitted. "It made everybody happy and, for 64 hours or so, I was a hero." Going up, up up... Manchester United are now valued at over £1 billion, but in 1989 Michael Knighton had the chance to buy the club lock, stock and barrel for just £20 million. Here's how the value has rocketed: 1989 Martin Edwards agrees to sell for £20m. 1991 United valued at £47m when floated on London Stock Exchange. 1998 United PLC board accepts £680m takeover offer from BSkyB, but deal is blocked by Monopolies Commission. 2005 Glazer family complete takeover of the club at a cost of £790m. 2009 Valued at $1.8bn (£1.1bn) by Forbes magazine.