THE DEEPEST, darkest fears of Manchester United's owners have been laid bare in a 322-page document circulated to potential investors in their proposed £500m bond issue.
The paper acknowledges the threats posed to the club by factors as diverse as Alex Ferguson's retirement, Uefa's proposed "financial fair-play initiative", the boundless spending of their rivals -- and even terrorism.
The prospectus lays out United's business strengths and their future strategy as the club looks to ease the financial burden of the huge debts brought about by the Glazer family's takeover in 2005. But United also acknowledge numerous risk factors that could affect the club's financial wellbeing in the seven years before the bond matures.
Since Ferguson abandoned his planned retirement in 2002, the issue of the manager's successor has been one that the United hierarchy has been only too willing to put off. Yet Ferguson is 68 and has maintained that he will not manage beyond the age of 70.
The firm expectation is that he will carry on next season, but, sooner or later, United are facing a moment that may take the club into a period of transition or, worse still, decline.
"We are highly dependent on members of our management, including our manager and players," the document states. "Our ability to attract and retain the highest-quality players and coaching staff is critical to the first team's success ... and, consequently, critical to our financial performance.
"Any successor to our manager may not be as successful as he has been. A downturn in the performance of the first team may adversely affect our ability to attract and retain such coaches and players."
Then there are the concerns about Uefa's plans to introduce regulations by 2012 whereby clubs who operate at a loss could be excluded from European competitions.
United should not fall into that category, but, after paying £41.9m in interest on their debts in the past financial year, they required the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid to turn a £31.8m loss into a £48.2m profit. Michel Platini, the Uefa president, has frequently voiced his distaste at United's debts, last recorded at £699m.
Concerns are aired about the big spending of some of United's rivals, which presumably means Manchester City and Chelsea in the Premier League and Real in Europe. "In the Premier League, recent investment from wealthy team owners has led to teams with strong financial backing," the document reads. "Other European football clubs are spending substantial sums on transfer fees and player salaries.
"Competition has led to higher salaries for our players as well as increased competition on the field. The increase in competition could result in our first team finishing lower in the Premier League and jeopardising our qualification for, or results in, the Champions League."
Most terrifying of all is the threat of terrorist activity, whether at Old Trafford or on the team's pre-season tours. Those fears increased last July, when a bomb killed nine people in hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia -- including the Ritz-Carlton, where the United squad was due to arrive the next evening.