United fans disappointed at Lucas Moura miss

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How can a club worth more than $2billion fail to beat their rivals to the signings of the world's top players?

It's a question a vast number of Manchester United fans will be asking themselves as, within days of the much-anticipated public stock offering, they missed out on 19-year-old Brazil sensation Lucas Moura.

Yes, Paris St Germain paid over the odds, yes, he's untested at the highest level, but wait, since when did Manchester United lose out to Ligue 1 sides in transfer battles? Ferguson certainly had no qualms about spending more than £25m on an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney.

Wealthy owners lavishing outlandish wages is only part of the story, for PSG can reasonably offer Lucas Moura a more compelling vision of where their club is going. PSG are plainly on the up - propelled by Qatari cash - but nonetheless poised to crash the Champions League party. It's exciting times for Parisians.

In contrast, Manchester United are a club struggling with an acute identity crisis. The 19-league champions have suffered the indignity of watching their nearest rivals, supposedly 'forever in their shadow', steal the Premier League title on a frantic final day.

And the supporter-led green and gold revolution against the Glazers refuses to die. In fact, the club's Initial Public Offering (IPO) has served to reinvigorate the crusade.

At the top end of the club's share valuation, due to take place today, Manchester United would have been worth $3.3billion. But United's bankers have been forced into a sheepish revision. Rather than $16-$20 a share, United's stock will begin trading at $14. That's $100m in potential proceeds wiped out in a single swoop.

Of course, much to the fans disgust, the Glazer family were planning to stow away half of those proceeds. Still, that's $50m down the drain for the Glazer's, and another $50m lost for the club. Just about the same price as Lucas Moura.

A GMF poll asked United fans which player they were most disappointed to miss out on. From nearly 15,000 votes, 40% said Moura. Another 39% said Tottenham star Luka Modric, while Eden Hazard, Samir Nasri and Gareth Bale received small proportions.

The two clear winners demonstrate the fans desire to see Sir Alex Ferguson strengthen his midfield. Modric and Moura would have both been expensive - north of £30m - but Ferguson hasn't shied away from that price tag before. So why now?

Although Ferguson insists otherwise, the Glazer family have impacted his transfer activity. The debts accumulated have to be paid down, and to pay them down, funds have to be diverted away from other areas. Almost £500m has reportedly been lost to interest payments, administration fees and debt reduction actions.

The Glazer's bought an incredibly successful sports team, and are now reaping the financial rewards. While Manchester City and Chelsea's owners may be skewing football's landscape with their deep pockets, at least they're not milking the club for their own financial gain.

United's summer did start brightly enough, the purchases of Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell setting up a strong transfer window.

But, despite the best efforts of an unusually forthcoming Ferguson, United have failed to capitalise on their good start. The United boss's vocal pursuit of Lucas Moura ended in disappointment, reminding fans of last summer's failed attempt to sign Samir Nasri and this season's ill-fated Eden Hazard chase.

Some have suggested, perhaps with tongue firmly planted in cheek, that such public pursuits are nothing more PR exercises, designed to place United in the spot light, and drive up interest in the IPO.

Such talk is hard to believe but Ferguson's reputation has been tainted by association with the Glazer's and although the Scot refuted suggestions he was set to profit for the share sale, his defence of the American owners has perplexed some fans.

The club's debt mountain was last reported at £423m - today's IPO should reduce that, but a significant chunk will remain. Trophies, world-class signings, and great football will not be the Glazer legacy - their lasting contribution will be debt, interest repayments and higher ticket prices.

Their buyout of the club in 2005 valued Manchester United at close to $1.47billion. Today's IPO will likely see it valued at close to $2.3billion - a healthy jump and good business for the Glazer family. But the stock floatation has not been without hiccups.

Twice aborted, once in Hong Kong and again in Singapore, their New York listing has suffered from what some analysts call the Facebook effect.

Sam Hamadeh, founder of New York-based analyst PrivCo told the Guardian he views United as a "collectible not an investment".

"Sports franchises have this emotional flourish, then everybody wakes up and wonders, 'Do I really want to own this?'" said Hamadeh.

Another Wall Street watcher is calling the United float "son of Facebook", referring to the huge hype and subsequent letdown of the social media's stock offering. Facebook now trades at almost 50% of its initial share price.

Analyst's concerns have contributed to the share price cut, with some uncomfortable with such a high proportion of the cash raised not being re-invested back into the club.

The United shareholder roadshow, designed to drum up interest in the floatation, boasted about United's 19-league titles, and it's 660 million fans around the world. Buy into United the brand was the message, but analysts aren't sure about their business model.

Making profits while winning titles is difficult, as Arsenal have demonstrated. Investors will want returns - how can these be reconciled with United's need to match the big spenders in the transfer market? City and Chelsea don't concern themselves with such problems. By doing so, United place themselves at a disadvantage.

And historically, sports teams have been losers on the stock exchanges - hardly encouraging for potential investors. All of which explains the revised share price.

But the United brand will still be the key to selling the club, although those 660 million fans which form the worldwide brand have concerns of their own.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) is acting on these concerns, and wants to hit the Glazer's where it hurts by discouraging commercial sponsors from working with the Americans.

"The MUST has today called for a worldwide boycott of Manchester United sponsors' products," said a MUST statement. "The boycott strategy is intended to send a loud and clear message to the Glazer family and club sponsors that, without the support and purchasing power of the fans, the global strength of the Manchester United brand doesn't actually exist."

MUST's boycott proposal acknowledges the Glazer's success in commercial operations. The American family have struck huge sponsorship deals since 2005, the most recent £422m agreement with General Motors Chevrolet the largest.

These deals, along with the mammoth Premier League TV agreements, are what keeps the Glazer's interested in Manchester United.

Notice, few fans support a boycott of the club itself, the supporters will continue to support the on-pitch product.

But if the on-pitch product deteriorates, and last season was the first trophyless campaign since 2005, that could change. Huge commercial deals haven't translated into bigger transfer budgets for Ferguson - and in the age of City, Chelsea and PSG, that could prove to be the Glazer's most costly mistake.

In the United States, where the Glazer's own the NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, franchises are threatened with TV blackouts if their games are not sold out.

A combination of government legislation and NFL regulation keeps games off the air within a 75-mile radius of the stadium if the match isn't sold out.

Ironically, in the Premier League, it's the TV money - and the most recent £3billion agreement - which proves so lucrative for the Glazer family.

The club's IPO sees the American owners hand over 10%. A huge number of United fans would like to see the other 90% change hands as well, but it's unlikely.

Even this sale as been carefully structured so the Glazer's will retain control through the issue of dual class shares - publicly traded shares are stripped of voting rights.

But looking further down the line, perhaps today's tentative float hints at a Glazer sale in the future. In recent years, the Glazer's have reportedly negotiated with parties interested in buying the club, but talks have broken down over differing valuations.

Today's public offering definitively values the club, which will be a useful benchmark for the Glazer's in negotiations.

Most fans will not be happy until they've gone - today's float could bring that one step closer. But for now the Glazer's are here to stay.

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