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Man Utd takeover?

Jim O’Neill, a close friend of Sir Alex Ferguson, emerged last night as a key player among the Red Knights, who hope to wrest Manchester United from the clutches of the Glazer family.

As details emerged of the first tentative meeting between the group of leading City financiers who plan to put together a consortium to buy United, the name of O’Neill, who briefly served as a director at Old Trafford and has strong ties with Ferguson, figured prominently.

There is no indication that Ferguson, who has been outspoken in his public support of the much-loathed Glazer regime, has had any contact with the group, but the involvement of O’Neill, the head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs and a lifelong United supporter, is certain to attract his attention if the campaign progresses beyond yesterday’s meeting at the Fleet Street offices of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

Also present at the meeting were Keith Harris, the executive chairman of Seymour Pierce, and Mark Rawlinson, a senior partner at Freshfields, the legal firm that advised United before and during the Glazer family’s hostile takeover in 2005. Other prominent figures who have expressed support for the campaign include Paul Marshall, the co-founder and chairman of Marshall Wace, one of the City’s largest hedge funds, and Richard Hytner, the deputy chairman worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi and a co-founder of the Shareholders United group that fiercely opposed the Glazer takeover.