Russian tycoon may tackle United bid

THE Irish millionaire duo of John Magnier and JP McManus may soon find themselves fighting a bitter takeover at Manchester United, where they own more than 24% of the club’s shares.

The pair’s investment company, Cubic Expression, holds more than 24% of the club after making a number of purchases this year, including buying out the interest of BSkyB.

But Ralif Safin, one of the founders of Russia’s largest oil company Lukoil, has contacted a London-based investment bank about a possible offer for the club.

And shares in Manchester United rose yesterday as the Russian oil mogul became the latest millionaire to be linked with a bid for the Premiership champions.

Mr Safin quit Lukoil in 2002 to become a member of the Russian parliament’s upper chamber, the Federation Council.

Speculation has been growing for months that a mystery Russian was set to bid for the club following the takeover of Chelsea FC by Roman Abramovich for around €85 million.

Shares in the Premiership table-toppers rose by 3% to £264.25p yesterday as a result of the speculation.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ owner Malcolm Glazer is also believed to be interested in taking over the club.

The club will not comment on any takeover speculation, but one financial analyst last night played down the likelihood of a firm offer for the club from Mr Safin, whose 20-year-old daughter Alsou is a Russian pop star.

Henk Potts of Barclays stockbrokers said: “Given how far Manchester United shares have moved this year and considering that the big players have strengthened their positions, Mr Safin would have to pay an absolute fortune to take over the club.”

It’s believed Mr Safin first contacted London bankers several months ago but decided to wait until after Russia’s elections before making a move.

However, financial experts believe any takeover of United will be launched by either Glazer or McManus and Magnier.

The Irish businessmen can buy up to 29.9% of the club before they have to declare if they intend making a bid.

Mr Glazer upped his stake in the club to 14.3% last month. The club is valued at just under €995m after takeover speculation helped shares more than double in the last year.

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