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Sunday, September 13, 1998 Published at 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK

Open to offers

Any offers?

The American bank Salomon Smith Barney says it has been asked to speak to Manchester United's financial advisers on behalf of a mystery client.

Observers believe this could pave the way for a rival takeover bid.

Martin Edwards tells BBC Radio 5 Live: "This is not yet a done deal"
The board of Manchester United has already stated it is open to offers if anyone can better the 623m BSkyB bid for the club.

A spokeswoman for Salomon Smith Barney was unable to name the client.

She dismissed suggestions that her own company could be planning to gazump the BskyB offer.

[ image: Martin Edwards:
Martin Edwards: "Not a done deal"
She would only say: "We have been asked to approach HSBC for information on behalf of a client."

A spokesman for United said the club had no comment to make.

Legal bindings

United's board would be legally bound to consider any offer of greater value than that from BSkyB.

BSkyB has already received undertakings from the directors of the club, who own 17% of the business, that they will sell their shares to them.

The satellite broadcaster bought nine per cent of the club's shares on Friday.

Speaking on the BBC's Radio 5 Live on Sunday morning, the Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards, said the takeover of the club by the media giants was not a 'done deal'.

[ image: Rupert Murdoch: May have competition]
Rupert Murdoch: May have competition
Lawyer Tom Usher told the programme on that there was still time for a rival bid to be made.

He said: "It is perfectly open for someone to come in and make a rival bid.

"This is far from being a done deal. The Office of Fair Trading will look at this takeover and weigh up the volume of complaints and analyse if it is against the public interest."

Mr Edwards conceded there was a possibility that BSkyB may lose out on United.

He added: "You are honour bound to listen to a bid. You are advised by your merchant bankers and they will tell you whether to discuss a deal or not."

Takeover mania

A spokesman for BSkyB remained "very confident" his company's bid for United would be successful, and declined to comment on Salomon Barney's statement.

He said: "We think it [BSkyB's offer] is in the best interests of the club, the fans and the shareholders of Manchester United."

Meanwhile, Sports minister Tony Banks reaffirmed his opposition to the football takeover mania.

Mr Banks voiced his fears when he met Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson during a visit to Soweto.

[ image: Tony Banks:
Tony Banks: "Might lose the backing of supporters"
"There are profound implications in this for football, for competition policy and for broadcasting," said Mr Banks, who is in South Africa to watch Britain compete in the athletics World Cup.

"As soon as football clubs went down the road of being publicly-quoted companies the possibility of takeovers existed.

"They mark a significant change for football and supporters must understand when it happens others will start to determine policy, both on and off the field.

Dramatic week

"The danger is that if the public feels clubs have become so divorced from their roots they actually might lose the backing of their supporters."

The new twist in the United saga comes at the end of a dramatic week for football.

Fans and City financial experts were stunned when news of the likely BSkyB takeover broke.

Since then intense speculation has surrounded the future of several top teams and millions of pounds has been added to their values at the Stock Exchange.

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In this section

Inquiry chief reassures Man Utd fans

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Countdown to the deal

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Man Utd: the jewel in football's crown

Is Mandelson a match for Murdoch?