By Ross Stapleton

Since American sports entrepreneur Malcolm Glazer bought the
world’s most famous football club Manchester United for 800 million pounds
earlier
this year, very little has gone
right for his investment against a background of continuing fan
hostility,
while the last few weeks have been nothing less than a PR nightmare.

Hard on the
heels of the club’s captain Roy Keane being sacked for daring to say what most of the football world has
been thinking for some time – that the current team isn’t good enough to mix it
with the other big boys of European football; the club and besieged manager Sir
Alex Ferguson are also feeling the financial heat from a possible early exit
from the Champions’ League.

Now comes
the overnight news that its major sponsor – phone giant Vodafone – is also
departing Old Trafford two years early on its current 9 million pound-a-year shirt
sponsorship deal. The United spin
puts a huge gloss on the defection of Vodafone as an exciting opportunity to
link with a new shirt sponsor, but recent
events do nothing to enhance the club’s brand or disguise its fading playing fortunes.

Glazer is
now sweating, along with Ferguson, on United avoiding elimination from the Champions’
League after its 0-0 draw at home against
Villarreal yesterday. It’s estimated an
early exit could potentially rob United of 10 million pounds in revenue, so the price
tag for the Vodafone successor now becomes even more critical to the club.

Both
Liverpool and Chelsea qualified for the
Champions’ League knockout stage this morning, with Harry Kewell coming on very late in
the game at Anfield, as Liverpool drew 0-0 with Real Betis.