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United shirt deal proves Glazer rift healed-director

Written by: Staff

MANCHESTER, Apr 6 (Reuters) Manchester United's record shirt sponsorship deal is proof that the rift surrounding last year's takeover by the Glazer family has healed, commercial director Andy Anson said today.

The 790 million pound buy-out by the Americans in mid-2005 was unpopular with a large number of United supporters and a decision by Vodafone to end their nine million-a-year sponsorship agreement two years early also bruised the club.

United found a replacement sponsor today, announcing a 56.5 million pound (99 million dollar), four-year deal with insurance and financial services giant American International Group (AIG).

Anson believes the new deal shows the furore surrounding the Glazer bid is now a thing of the past.

''I think we're through that,'' Anson told reporters.

''I think the time Vodafone pulled out, that (the takeover) was still casting a shadow over everything that was going on here and that coupled with the performances on the pitch meant there was a lot of negativity.

''I honestly think that most people have got past that. I think you see it at games on a match-day. It's a lot more positive environment than it was six to nine months ago.

''When people see this and the size of this deal, and the type of deal we done just adds to the feel-good factor and hopefully the fans will think is a great deal for us.'' Vodafone announced in November they would end their deal at the end of this season and United were then knocked out of the group stage of the Champions League, a major money-earner for the club who were European champions in 1999.

In the past two months United, inspired by England striker Wayne Rooney, have gone on a superb run, cutting the Premier League lead of champions Chelsea to seven points.

''INCREDIBLE OPTIMISM'' ''There is an incredible optimism about the place at the moment and this helps the feel-good factor around Manchester United,'' Anson said.

''We have got to be canny and shrewd in the transfer market and we've got to move forward next season.'' Manchester United chief executive David Gill said the deal with AIG ''answered a lot of critics''.

Anson said the agreement, which is worth less than that on offer from rival bidders Mansion, underlined the Glazers' commitment to United and their value at Old Trafford.

''It's positive in a number of aspects. One of them is that they (the Glazers) are not just obsessed by the money, they are obsessed about the long-term positioning of Manchester United as a football club.

''We could have taken a bigger deal. We didn't. We took the deal that was right for Manchester United and this is with their full backing, approval and awareness.

''We are not just trying to make the fast buck. We are trying to do the things that make us stand out from the crowd.

United pulled out of a proposed deal with on-line betting company Mansion last weekend.

''We wanted a big corporate blue-chip brand where there is very little controversy or negativity surrounding it,'' Anson said.

''But more than that, somebody who could really help us on a global basis. Even our present sponsor Vodafone isn't truly global, they are international. This is a global company.'' REUTERS PDS RAI2148

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