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Knights secure £1.5bn war chest for takeover battle

SIXTY super-rich investors have pledged up to £1.5bn (€1.65bn) in their bid to seize control of Manchester United.

Although the Glazer family have insisted that the champions are not for sale, the leaders of the Red Knights, the group of leading financiers behind the move, were due to sit at their round table today to sift through a rich list of applicants ready to back a buyout.

“We thought we had 40 investors – well, it is already 60,” one of the Knights said last night.

The strength of the bid will become clear later, when Jim O'Neill, head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs and a lifelong United supporter, and his team analyse the offers on the table at the City of London headquarters of law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

With him will be Mark Rawlinson, a senior partner at Freshfields, and Paul Marshall, the multimillionaire founder of the Marshall Wace hedge fund.

The Red Knights believe the club is worth about £1bn (€1.1bn), while the Glazers' valuation – which they insist does not equate to an asking price – is approximately £1.2bn.

David Gill, the United chief executive, dismissed the Red Knights out of hand this week, describing their takeover plan as unworkable.

But anger at the massive debts run up by the Glazers that has rippled through the Old Trafford stands is now making waves in boardrooms as it appears that leading investors as well as fans, who have been hit by big increases in ticket prices, are rallying behind the Red Knights.

The Manchester United Supporters' Trust (MUST), which is campaigning to oust the Glazers, said today that membership was on target for 110,000 – more than doubling in a day since the Red Knights' plan emerged on Tuesday.

Duncan Drasdo, the chief executive of MUST, said: “The growth rate is absolutely phenomenal. MUST now has more campaign members than the official Manchester United membership scheme.”

There is still a long way to go, though. According to Gill, the Glazers are adamant they will not sell one of the most prized assets in world sport, while O'Neill, who has been given leave by Goldman Sachs to pursue the bid, and his group still have to prove that they have the cash to wrest control from United's American owners – though they may be able to do so sooner rather than later.