United switch focus from boardroom to Burnley

The focus on Manchester United will switch away from the boardroom and back to the pitch on Saturday when the champions face Burnley in the Premier League at Old Trafford, weather permitting.

Freezing conditions caused most matches to be postponed last weekend, but the temperature around Old Trafford was chilly for another reason as United's owners began to take steps to refinance the club's existing 700 million pounds debt, provoking frosty hostility from supporters groups.

The Glazer family, who control United, plan to raise about 500 million pounds with a bond issue and while the intricacies may be lost on most fans, United have had to reveal to potential investors a number of risks that could affect their returns.

Among them is the question of manager Alex Ferguson's retirement and his successor, an issue that is beginning to take on more signifance after Ferguson turned 68 on December 31 and has said he plans to retire when he is 70.

Ferguson has brought Manchester United trophies galore since becoming manager in 1986 and victory over Burnley would keep them right in the hunt for a fourth successive League title - unprecedented in England.

However, United admitted publicly for the first time that the club was concerned about what happens after he leaves.

"Any successor to our manager may not be as successful as he has been. A downturn in the performance of the first team may adversely affect our ability to attract and retain such coaches and players."

United also said they faced increased competition from other Premier League clubs who have benefited from "recent investment from wealthy owners", and that UEFA's new financial fair play initiative could limit their ability to attract top players.

Other risks include the economic climate and the threat of terrorism but while all that is hugely important, Ferguson and his men face a more immediate challenge to see off Burnley.

Their Lancashire neighbours will be out to impress their new manager Brian Laws who takes charge for the first time, and United will not forget it was Burnley who provided the first major shock of this unpredictable season when they beat them 1-0 at Turf Moor in August.


That was one of five League games United have lost this season - in addition to a Champions League defeat by Besiktas and their stunning loss to League One Leeds United in the FA Cup.

The last thing Ferguson wants is another upset, especially as Burnley have not won for nine League games or beaten United at Old Trafford since a 5-2 win in 1962.

Four of the top five teams are in action on Saturday.

League leaders Chelsea are at home to Sunderland, fourth-placed Manchester City are at improving Everton while fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur are loooking for three points against second-bottom Hull City after beating them 5-1 away.

Arsenal, who are third, visit Bolton Wanderers on Sunday with the home side playing their first match under new coach Owen Coyle, whose immediate priority is to lift Bolton out of the relegation zone.

The weekend's matches could also see two old campaigners and Arsenal team mates returning to Premier League action after a few years away.

Patrick Vieira, 33, could make his Manchester City debut nearly five years after leaving Arsenal and the Premier League for Italy.

Former England defender Sol Campbell, 35, could make an even more unlikely return for Arsenal, if, as expected, he rejoins them following a reserve appearance as a free agent and Liverpool's troubled season continues with a trip to Stoke City.