It was thirty-two years ago when the new football season at Old Trafford was preceded by the infamous sight of Michael Knighton, prospective new owner of Manchester United, jogging on to the pitch and juggling a football in front of the Stretford End.
Concluding our pre-season podcast series on the early Alex Ferguson years at United is a timely episode – an exclusive, in-depth feature interview with Michael.
Supporters have clamoured for a takeover and new owners at United for years, with protests against the Glazers reaching fever pitch at the back end of last season.
I sat with Michael for a far-reaching interview where we talked about the practicalities of Knighton’s proposed takeover, and how it would realistically have happened.
Michael talks about how safe Alex Ferguson’s job would have been under him and also his involvement in the 1989 summer spend.
“I’d only been there for seven days when Alex wanted a word with me,” Michael said exclusively on our TalkingDevils podcast. “Alex says, ‘Michael, I need to buy Gary Pallister.’
It was effectively my decision. Martin Edwards knew that Alex wanted to sign Gary and also complete on the Paul Ince deal. I said to Alex, ‘Just go and do the deal. Phone Middlesbrough up today, I don’t care what it costs. I know Gary Pallister, he’s a tremendous young prospect, we need a young centre back next to Steve Bruce. Without Pallister, we weren’t going to win anything.’ Alex looked at me. His chin dropped to the floor.”
“My exact words were ‘Break the British record. I don’t care what it costs.’ Martin looked agog… I did sanction that transfer, and the Ince deal. Martin wouldn’t go a penny above £1.8m to sign him. Yes, that was Michael Knighton’s doing. I had to show that I would put the club’s money and my own money were my mouth was. I was there to prove I was a football man first and a business man second.
The episode was recorded before the more recent spate of protests, back in December 2020, but the stories remain relevant.
Knighton discusses how the Glazer family were an ‘inevitability’ in terms of an owner who would eventually take advantage of United’s financial power.
And the controversial businessman, who went on to be a director at United for a few years before becoming chairman at Carlisle, says he has a new plan that could see United become an even greater commercial giant in the modern age.
“I have written a second blueprint which I must tell you is more revolutionary than the first one I wrote,” he said. “In my dotage I’ve always been busy. It (the second blueprint) doesn’t involve the break-up of the wonderful pyramid; on the contrary, it enhances it. Back in 1989 I was told how I couldn’t increase the revenue anymore but there are still things today in this wonderful digital shift, there are still so many commercial initiatives that many big clubs are not doing, Manchester United in particular, and I am astonished. It would shift United up to another plain and provide even more revenue.”
You can listen to the full fascinating conversation exclusively on our TalkingDevils podcast on all major podcast platforms later today.