football

Ferguson’s race horse row, Colonel Gaddafi and how Glazers bought Man Utd


Manchester United’s on-field activities are currently being played out beneath a backdrop of unrest and anger.

Fan protests against the Glazer family show little signs of dwindling after causing their Premier League clash with Liverpool to be postponed.

Further protests are planned as United fans ramp up the pressure on their American billionaire owners, who have never really won over popular support since taking over the club in 2005.

In a statement reiterating their commitment to the club, co-chairman Joel Glazer said: “I want to reassure you that my family and I care deeply about Manchester United and feel a profound sense of responsibility to protect and enhance its strength for the long-term, while respecting its values and traditions.”

That commitment was somewhat enforced upon Joel Glazer and his brothers after their late father, Malcolm, spotted an opportunity to buy one of the world’s biggest football clubs.

The events leading up to that takeover which set Joel Glazer and his family on their current path are quite extraordinary.

This is the story of a row over a race horse, a near miss involving Colonel Gaddafi and the opportunity presented to the Glazers which led to their takeover.



The Glazer family took over Man Utd back in 2005 after a dramatic chain of events
The Glazer family took over Man Utd back in 2005 after a dramatic chain of events

Rock of Gibraltar

Sir Alex Ferguson has long had investments in his other sporting passion, horse racing.

Back in 2001, he had a conversation with Irish businessman John Magnier which led him to believe he owned half of a horse called ‘Rock of Gibraltar’.

Magnier and JP McManus, however, disagreed.

Magnier and McManus were both part of the Coolmore racing conglomerate but were also shareholders in Manchester United.

Rock of Gibraltar ran in Manchester United colours and, like the football club, achieved huge success.

He retired late in 2002 as the world’s most well-known flat racing horse and ready to make his owners huge money by going to stud in retirement.



Sir Alex Ferguson became embroiled in a bitter dispute over the Rock of Gibraltar race horse
Sir Alex Ferguson became embroiled in a bitter dispute over the Rock of Gibraltar race horse

It was at that stage, with Ferguson believing he was set to be in the money with estimates the horse was worse around £50million, that the trouble began.

Magnier and Ferguson entered a battle which ended in the Irish high court with the dispute over his ownership eventually reaching Old Trafford.

Roy Keane revealed in his autobiography that he advised Ferguson against pursuing his legal case.

“Somebody I met in Ireland had told me to tell him (Ferguson): ‘You are not going to win this.’ I mentioned it to him,” Keane wrote.

“And I told him that I didn’t think it was good for the club, for the manager in a legal dispute with shareholders.



The bitter dispute led to Magnier and McManus selling their shares to the Glazer family
The bitter dispute led to Magnier and McManus selling their shares to the Glazer family

“I felt I was entitled to say that. He was just a mascot for them. Walking around with this Rock of Gibraltar – ‘Look at me, how big I am,’ – and he didn’t even own the bloody thing!”

Having failed to take Keane’s advice, the situation escalated and got messy.

In 2004, Magnier and McManus infamously submitted ’99 questions’ to the Manchester United board demanding answers over various issues including finances and transfer dealings.

It was clear that relations between the two main shareholders and the club had seriously soured.

Glazers take action

Whilst Ferguson’s row with Magnier and McManus escalated, Malcolm Glazer was watching on from afar and quietly buying shares in the club.

When he realised an opportunity was presenting itself, the American billionaire made his move.

In May 2005, Glazer approached Magnier and McManus with an offer for their 28.7% stake in United.



The Glazer family took charge in 2005 after Malcolm Glazer decided the time was right to make a bid
The Glazer family took charge in 2005 after Malcolm Glazer decided the time was right to make a bid

Just a month later, a takeover worth £790m was completed with Magnier and McManus reportedly making £70million profit from their stake.

“I think if that particular discussion over the horse had never taken place, we could be watching a very different Manchester United today,” football finance expert Kieran Maguire has previously told Goal.

“If that relationship had remained amicable, then Manchester United might not have been sold.”

Colonel Gaddafi near miss

Malcolm Glazer was not the only major figure keeping an eye on the Manchester United situation.

In 2018, now Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman revealed he was summoned to Libya by private jet in 2004 whilst he was searching for a buyer for Magnier and McManus’ shares. .

He claimed that a deal with Colonel Gaddafi to buy the shares was “just hours away” and the Libyan dictator, killed in 2011, almost took control at Old Trafford.

Dalman told the Sunday Times : “People don’t realise how the (takeover) deal was a whisker away from going to Libya.



Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi held talks over buying the shares as Man Utd had a near miss
Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi held talks over buying the shares as Man Utd had a near miss

“Gaddafi almost bought the club. That’s how close it got – literally, you’re talking about a few hours.”

Son Saadi Gaddafi also discussed the potential deal in a 2005 interview with the Financial Times.

“Seven or eight months ago we were about to buy shares in Manchester United,” he claimed. “It’s very hard, maybe impossible because of the fans and the history, very difficult.

“It’s a golden, golden, golden, golden club.”

Whilst United may not be happy with the Glazers, the fact it could have been Gaddafi represents something of a near miss…

What did Ferguson say?

Sir Alex Ferguson did address the chaotic takeover situation and his fall-out with McManus in Magnier in his autobiography.

However, he gave just two paragraphs to the dramatic affair which changed the course of United’s history.

“Rock of Gibraltar was a wonderful horse; he became the first in the northern hemisphere to win seven consecutive Group 1 races, beating Mill Reef’s record,” he wrote.

“He ran in my colours under an agreement I had with the Coolmore racing operation in Ireland. My understanding was that I had a half-share in the ownership of the horse; theirs was that I would be entitled to half the prize money.



Sir Alex Ferguson later addressed the Rock of Gibraltar dispute in his autobiography
Sir Alex Ferguson later addressed the Rock of Gibraltar dispute in his autobiography

“But it was resolved. The matter was closed when we reached a settlement agreeing that there had been a misunderstanding on both sides.

“Obviously, there was a potential clash between my racing interests and the ownership of the club, and when a man stood up at the AGM and insisted that I resign, there was awkwardness for me.

“I have to say that at no point was I side-tracked from my duties as manager of Manchester United. I have an excellent family lawyer in Les Dalgarno and he managed the process on my behalf.

“It didn’t affect my love of racing and I am on good terms now with John Magnier, the leading figure at Coolmore.”





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