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Zilliacus & a new Man Utd model? Why Ratcliffe & Sheikh Jassim must take his call

COMMENT: Well, he certainly has Manchester United fans talking. Debating. Thomas Zilliacus and this supporter-themed bid. Can it actually work...?

A few weeks ago, this column wrote that with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim making their offers, United's support couldn't lose. Two sportsman. Two football men. And most importantly two Manchester United fans. They knew the club. It's history. It's traditions. And as individuals, there would be an instant connection between the fanbase and the owner. This wasn't a hedge fund or a conglomerate of faceless investment companies taking over. There would be a personality in charge. A football fan. Something and someone tangible whom fans could get their arms around.

Well, we can add Finn Thomas Zilliacus to that shortlist. Whoever succeeds, United fans can't go wrong. Like Ratcliffe and the Sheikh, Zilliacus is a football man. Now 69, he was a youth teamer with HJK Helsinski before returning to become club chairman for four years. His eagerness to be involved in football didn't end there, with a business move to Singapore seeing Zilliacus join the board of Geylang International - essentially the rock n' roll club of the S-League. During his time, Michel Platini would even turn out for Geylang, with games having to be moved to bigger stadiums such was the demand.

Indeed, it cannot be emphasised enough how much football has influenced Zilliacus' business career. In Singapore, his office walls were adorned by football memorabilia, including a signed Liverpool shirt boasting the autographs of the three goal scorers — Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso - from the famous 2005 Champions League final triumph in Istanbul. And whenever he pitched business ideas, particularly to members of the press, he would use examples from the football world to get his ideas across.

So they have another one, do United fans. Another genuine football man keen to get involved. The only difference being, while his competition have spoken about involving the community and the supporters at a greater level, Zilliacus has gone a step further and actively invited them to buy in - literally - into his project.

Of course, since that first offer and blaze publicity last week, the Finn's proposal has been adjusted. It won't so much rely on a 50 per cent fans stake to fund the bid, but there will be opportunity for those keen, to get themselves financially involved. Indeed, after less than a week of engaging with the wider supporter base, Zilliacus does appear to be open to any range of ideas to get his fans-themed model over the line.

And that would include a joining of forces with Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim.

“I want what's best for the club, there is no ego in this," the Finn told the Manchester Evening News. “I don't only aspire to be the only owner, that's why I'm asking to join forces for the best of the club."

Perhaps egos will get in the way, but bringing the three together to form a new board isn't the worst idea by any stretch.

Just as is Zilliacus' fan-based model. As we've mentioned in previous columns, the key to all this is seeing United reach it's financial potential. It's about finding the best steward for the club.

With the Glazers' debt-based model thrown out, United will begin with a clean slate and be able to compete in the transfer market with any club in the world. Given the right management, there would no need for the unlimited investment Sheikh Jassim would bring. At a Newcastle or a Chelsea, you can understand the need of such a model. But such is United's global popularity and earning potential, that there is no need for such financial benefactors - so long as that debt goes with the Glazers.

As we say, Zilliacus has walked back plans of a supporter-funded bid, instead he's now focusing on greater global fan involvement via an app. The suggestion similar to the Fan Tokens of the likes of PSG and Arsenal (which have so much untapped potential). Though we'd say with a lot more substance - much in the way of the voting models of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Which again this column would welcome, given it would get beyond the gatekeeping of English football's Supporter Trusts.

Whether it happens, time will tell. But you do hope Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim give Zilliacus' ideas an airing. It would be transformative, not only for United, but the local game in general. And if there is one club on English shores capable of handling a move to truly legitimise a fan voting structure - and maintain an on-field competitiveness - it would be Manchester United.

From being the first English participant in European competition, to choosing the Club World Cup over the FA Cup, for better or worse, United have been a trailblazer. And however these takeover offers land, both Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim should give Zilliacus' proposal serious consideration. Given the history of this club, it could actually work.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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