“I will not benefit from the IPO” is a classic 24/7 news porkie

Ferguson…”I see no problem, the Glazers are great”

He’s a great one for the mind games is Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, but at times he also plays them off the field in terms of the club’s finances in general, and his role in them.

The Manchester Evening News has released this video of Fergie furiously defending his wounded innocence on the subject of New York flotation lucre. The MEN also adds beneath:

‘Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken out to say there is ‘not a grain of truth’ in suggestions he could benefit financially from the Glazer family’s New York flotation of Manchester United. The Reds boss has broken his silence in spectacular fashion via a strongly-worded statement’.

Well, strongly worded it may be, but it’s also very carefully worded. In response to media hints that he would make a bundle from the Glazer’s ‘Equity Incentive Award Plan’ outlined in the IPO document last Monday, the World’s Worst Loser said (my italics):

“I do not receive any payments, directly or indirectly, from the IPO.”

There are three key elements here: use of the present tense, ‘payments’ and ‘IPO’. The correct, wriggle-free question to ask is, “Will Sir Alex Ferguson be worth more after the IPO than before?” And I think the answer is unequivocally yes, he will be.

Ferguson and United CEO David Gill have both staunchly (even irrationally) defended the American owners in the past, much to the anger of those who see clearly how the club has been debt-laden since the Glazers’ leveraged buyout in 2005…but nothing whatsoever put in. Within the last fortnight, Ferguson has described the Glazers as “great” and suggested that “the majority of real fans will look at it realistically and say it’s not affecting the team”.

Well for starters, Fergie knows that simply isn’t true. The IPO hasn’t been launched yet, and already the Glazers have reneged on the main rationale for the launch: their promise to use all the funds from a successful flotation to reduce United’s £437 million debt.

Now call me cynical if you like, but hard-bitten pugilists like Ferguson and Gill don’t talk tripe unless they’re being well paid to do so. Although some have missed this, we do actually know exactly how Gill will benefit, because it’s in the prospectus: United’s executive committee, including Gill, are in line for a £1.25 million IPO bonus once the deal is done. (And that’s not counting the Equity Incentive Award Plan golden handcuffs fashioned with loving care by the Glazer family.)

Sir Alex wouldn’t defend obvious fast-buck carpetbagging unless he stood to benefit. I also have it on good authority that there are, actually, no fairies at the bottom of the garden after all. And no flies on Ferguson.

But there is a thing called the Manchester United Employee Trust. It’s a shadowy area, this one. You won’t find details of it anywhere in the public domain, because those nice Glazers took United back off the plc ladder soon after the takeover…and placed the accounts in Delaware (which as you know is quite handy to get to from Trafford Park). Delaware’s loose business reporting rules mean that every single agreement, back-hander, one-off payment, ‘special bonus’, and Employee Trust can be kept totally secret. As secret, in fact, as a numbered account in Switzerland.

That’s why Sir Alex has been studiously careful to skirt round any fibs relating to the public domain: not even the Glazers can launch an IPO without a prospectus. But they don’t have to release anything about the MUET buried deep in a Delaware silo.

Ferguson will not make any CASH NOW FROM the IPO. But I think he should answer these specific questions:

1. Will he be given any share options?

2. What is his deal under the MUET?

3. Has that deal changed in the last year?

4. Have his golden handcuffs had any new diamonds added of late?

5. Is there a clause anywhere in Sir Alex’s contract restricting his ability to critique in public what the Glazers are doing?

6. Does he accrue any additional financial benefit from that silence or dissembling?

It’s not much to ask. And – fair play – if we get all those answers with evidence to back them up, then I for one will give the United manager a public apology.

But somehow, I don’t think much of 1-6 is going to be addressed by Fergie – either now or after this ridiculous, two-faced, con of a flotation has flopped.