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Chinese buyer interested in United stake

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An unknown Chinese buyer has expressed an interest in buying out some of Manchester United's shareholders.  Negotiators claiming to act for a billionaire investor have contacted some of United's independent shareholders in recent weeks over a possible deal to buy a stake in the club.

There have been reports that some members of the Glazer family are ready to sell a bigger chunk of United to investors, following a stock market listing in 2012 when an initial ten per cent was sold and a second share sale in 2014.   The Glazers control about 80 per cent of the club.  The rest is held by investment funds in New York and London.

There is no prospect of the club being sold in its entirety because family members, and in particular the co-chairmen Avram and Joel Glazer, consider it a valuable trophy asset.  Nevertheless, three of the six Glazer children are said to be interested in a partial sale.

It was claimed that a sizeable block of shares, about eight per cent of the club, was being offered for sale last week by an American broker.   It was not clear who owned the stake.

The commercial success of United off the pitch has not really been reflected in its share price.  United shares have risen only marginally from $14 on their debut five years ago to $17.10 at Friday's close. Critics  have argued that the original float price was set far too high.  Shareholders have complained about the difficulty of buying and selling freely on the open market.

Chinese buyers have bought a number of English clubs, including Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Wolves and even League One's Northampton Town.   Investment company Lander Holdings is in talks to buy Southampton and a Chinese-backed consortium has been linked with a move for Liverpool.  Last year Manchester City sold a 13 per cent stake in its parent company to a Chinese consortium, in part to improve its access to the Chinese market.

Beijing has imposed strict controls on the flow of capital leaving the country, leading to suggestions that the Chinese investment boom in football might be coming to an end.  However, many wealthy Chinese have enough cash stashed outside China to continue doing deals.   Even a minority stake in United would be as big a trophy asset as you can get.

It was subsequently announced that the Glazers were selling two per cent of their shares which would bring them in £56m, none of which will go to the club.