United ride high on Asian wave

KUALA LUMPUR - Manchester United may have lost their best player and their European crown but as a global brand, the Red Devils continue to blaze a fearsome trail. Touching down in Malaysia on Friday for the first leg of a pre-season Asian tour, the far-reaching appeal of the English champions was evident by the thousands of red-shirted fans present at the team hotel to catch a glimpse of their idols. The economic downturn, the meek surrender to Barcelona in the Champions League final and Cristiano Ronaldo's inevitable switch to Real Madrid have given detractors plenty of fodder to believe a crisis is a whisker away. All the more reason for the club to adopt a bullish tone. "Our operating profits are climbing and we continue to secure significant sponsorship deals. Our stadium is packed out and we have very good media revenues coming in," Teshin Nayani, a representative for the team-owning Glazer family, told Reuters. As roars continued to echo around the hotel when a pack of fans spotted a squad member heading for a lift lobby, Nayani cut a contrasting figure to the supporters. Quiet, calm and confident, he waxed lyrical about the club's finances. "On a normal business level Manchester United is in a very strong position and so far, unaffected by the downturn," he said. "It would be foolish to say there would be no impact, period, because you never know what's going to happen down the line, but our season ticket sales stand up well to comparisons in previous years. "I've been saying that one should expect an impact on our corporate sales but every club is faced with that. Having said that, the manager has a significant amount of money to invest if he wants to." NO MERCENARIES So why had Alex Ferguson resisted the temptation to splash the cash like Real Madrid and local rivals Manchester City in the last month? "The truth is a lot more prosaic," Nayani said. "The delay is because the manager has not been able to locate the players that he believes fit the Manchester United mindset. "Ones that are motivated to play for United. You don't want mercenaries ... to pay over the odds for players not willing to give their all for the club." Nayani said that restraint was a positive aspect of the club's approach at a time when others are spending so freely and denied the club was strapped for cash. "We do have debt service and carry a significant amount of debt but our interest payments are around 43.3 million pounds a year while our operating profit was 80 million topped by an extra 25 million from transfer profits," he said. "So we are talking about a net amount of about 60 million pounds. That's cash that can be reinvested in the squad, doing up the toilets or new carpets. The point is, there is money coming in to United." Nayani, who estimated the club had more than 300 million fans worldwide including 192 million in Asia, said the financial situation at the club had no overall say on its global appeal. "One thing that is certain, because of globalisation and the growing middle classes in India and the Far East is that the appeal of football is set to grow," he said. "We are part of that story."