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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Irish pair increase Man Utd stake
JP McManus (left) and John Magnier
Are the Irish horseracing tycoons set to mount a takeover?
Irish horseracing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus have increased their stake in Manchester United to more than 23%, triggering fresh speculation that the club might be taken over.

The duo bought the shares from UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB, which said it had offloaded its 10% stake - 26 million shares - at 2.39 a share.

Man Utd said the shares were bought by Cubic Expression, an investment vehicle of Mr Magnier and Mr McManus, which now owns 23.15% of the club.

The transaction is the latest in a series of dealings in Man Utd shares which have fuelled intense speculation over a possible takeover bid for the club.

Nothing gets investors going like a takeover battle - but is the speculation rooted in reality or just so much football talk?

Rumours of a takeover attempt have gathered pace since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Manchester United's Premiership rivals Chelsea in July this year.

The bid talk has lifted the club's shares by more than two thirds in the past three months, and by 20% in the past two weeks alone.


The stock was up again on Tuesday, climbing 12 pence to 247.75p.

So far, speculation as to the identity of potential bidders has centred on wealthy investors, such as Mr McManus and Mr Magnier, who have been steadily buying up Man Utd stock.

His explosive early exploits in the betting ring earned him the nickname the Sundance Kid

Last week, it was reported that Florida-based American football magnate Malcolm Glazer had doubled his stake in the club, taking his holding to 6%.

Dutch television entrepreneur John de Mol, another Man Utd shareholder, has also been mentioned as a possible suitor.

Wealthy individuals with a love of sports own a high proportion of the club's shares.

Institutional investors tend to steer clear of football clubs because their financial performance is unpredictable, and most do not make enough money.

World famous

But analysts say Man Utd would make an attractive takeover target because, unlike many of its Premiership rivals, the club is free of debt and makes healthy annual profits.

The 60m question is what will happen to Old Trafford boss Sir Alex Ferguson

It also owns one of the best-known global sports brands thanks to its long run of success on the pitch, and its roster of celebrity players.

BSkyB's stake in Man Utd dated back to its own abortive attempt to buy the club in 1999.

The broadcaster's bid ran into strong opposition from the club's fans, and was eventually blocked by the government on competition grounds.

David Buik, analyst Cantor Index
"They [the new shareholders] will now have a strong say in the future of the club"

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