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Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Who are the Red Knights?

Manchester United fans protest against the Glazers
Some Manchester United fans are protesting against the Glazers' ownership

Since the Glazer family wrested control of Manchester United in 2005, supporters' groups have been opposed to their ownership of the club.

Their opposition intensified in January when it was revealed that the Old Trafford club had been saddled with massive debts in excess of £700m.

Now, a group informally known as the Red Knights is plotting to oust the Glazers with a billion-pound takeover bid and they have recruited the Japanese investment bank Nomura to help them put together a deal.

Who is behind the consortium?
The group, who first met in March, is made up of City bankers and lawyers.

Among them are Jim O'Neill, a former HSBC investment bank chief executive and chief economist at Goldman Sachs; Seymour Pierce stockbroker Keith Harris; Paul Marshall, a partner at the hedge fund Marshall Wace; Richard Hytner of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi and lawyer Mark Rawlinson, a partner in Freshfields' corporate practice, who advised United during the Glazer takeover negotiations.

Does the group have the fans' interests at heart?

Keith Harris reveals interest in Man Utd takeover

Self-professed United fan Harris, the man brokering the potential takeover, claims the group want "to do something for the good of Manchester United and the good of football."

In the past, he has been involved in the takeovers of West Ham, Manchester City and Aston Villa, but last year, he correctly predicted that football's finances were set for a crash, and has been extremely critical of the debt-burden the Glazers have brought to Old Trafford.

O'Neill, another lifelong United fan, briefly served as an Old Trafford director, and is a close friend of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Do the Red Knights have any public support?
The Manchester United Supporters' Trust (Must) has said it has been in discussion with the Red Knights "for some time" and has welcomed the intended move by the group.

Must is responsible for organising protests which have included fans wearing green and gold scarves - the original colour of the Newton Heath team before they became Manchester United. Membership in the group has more than doubled to over 100,000 since the Red Knights revelation became public.

How serious are the Red Knights?
Although Harris said he was confident the Red Knights could raise the necessary funds for a takeover, the posturing until now had been verbal.

That soon changed when the potential investors recruited the Japanese investment bank Nomura on 11 March.

"Until now it's been seen as a bit of a fledgling campaign, with the Red Knights and the protesters at Must," said BBC sports news correspondent Dan Roan.

"But when they hire a big investment bank like Nomura it's a statement of intent. They are the biggest investment bank in Japan and a big global player."

How will they raise the funds?

David Beckham wearing a green and gold scarf at the end of the game at Old Trafford
David Beckham put on a protestor's scarf after the Man Utd-AC Milan game

One way they hope to reach their £1bn target is by attracting 40 donations of £20m each, and then borrow the remaining £200m to top up the offer - thereby, keeping debt to a minimum.

Roan said there are about 70 interested investors and one of the Red Knights told him they have turned away two "super-investors" fearing they might end up with the same problem they already have.

"People with hundreds of millions of pounds would like to invest in this effort," Roan said, "but they have turned them away because they do not want to have a new Glazer."

Are the Glazers likely to sell?
The Glazers maintain the club is not for sale - just as they did when a Chinese consortium expressed an interest last December.

But the recruitment of Guy Dawson, who will lead the effort on behalf of Namura, is another positive step. He advised the Manchester United board when they sold to the Glazers in 2005.

Professor Chris Brady, dean of BBP Business School and an expert in football finance, said it could take "£1.5bn" to buy the club. Yet the fact that the Red Knights are turning away investment suggests that figure is not insurmountable.

What will happen with United's debt it they don't sell?
The Glazers have moved to reduce the club's debt with a successful £500m bond issue - twice oversubscribed.

Professor Brady believes this has given the owners significant room to manoeuvre. "The bond issue has effectively given them a seven-year window that they can play around with if they really want to," he added. "If they want to hang for seven years, they can hang on."

United have said its gross debt was £507.5m by the end of last year, compared with £716.5m in June.

What happens next?
In short the Red Knights have to put together a deal which will interest the Glazers. That is a very complex task for Dawson given the number of people involved.

Roan said: "Ultimately they would like to get hundreds of thousands of potentials members around the world and for each of them to have a stake in the club. It's unprecedented - we've seen it happen in Spain with Madrid and Barcelona, but to actually buy the club off a tycoon is a new one.

"I spoke to various sources who are saying perhaps a month from now they could potentially have a deal in place to put to the Glazers. Realistically it will be months but there's no reason why this should take years."

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see also
Red Knights get advisers for bid
11 Mar 10 |  Business
Financiers 'discuss Man Utd bid'
02 Mar 10 |  Man Utd
Manchester United debt hits 716m
20 Jan 10 |  Business
Football finances under spotlight
01 Mar 10 |  Business
Premiership clubs 'owe most cash'
24 Feb 10 |  Business
Glazer wins control of Man United
12 May 05 |  Business

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