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Manchester United players including Shinji Kagawa, bottom centre, and Ryan Giggs, centre left, watch the racing at Chester Race Meeting, Chester England, Wednesday May 8, 2013. It was announced earlier that long serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson would soon be retiring. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Ferguson key in Man U’s financial transformation
Soccer » Under Sir Alex, United has become one of top sporting franchises.
First Published May 08 2013 11:27 am • Last Updated May 08 2013 11:33 pm

London • Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Apple and Steve Jobs. Will one of the world’s most recognized soccer clubs face the same challenges the world’s technology darling did after the departure of its iconic leader?

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The announcement Wednesday that the Manchester United manager, universally known as Fergie, will retire has raised concerns not only over the club’s dominance of English football but also about its financial future.

Almost 27 years after he took the helm of an underperforming club, Manchester United is back at the top of the English Premier League and among the highest echelons of Europe’s elite soccer teams, alongside the Spanish giants of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

With annual revenues of around half a billion dollars and a market capitalization of over $3 billion, the club rooted in the blustery weather of northern England has secured its status as one of the world’s top sporting franchises.

The pillars of English football wobbled after the 71-year-old Ferguson announced that he will be retiring at the end of this season — this weekend will see his final game when Manchester United takes on West Bromwich Albion at home. No matter — his team captured the Premier league title weeks ago.

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But the news knocked Manchester United’s share price — testament to the important role Ferguson has played in driving both the club’s financial and sporting success.

After sliding 5 percent at the open, Manchester United’s share price settled somewhat Wednesday, trading 1.3 percent lower at $18.52.

It’s only been nine months since the Glazer family, which owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL franchise, floated the club on the New York Stock Exchange as a way to reduce its debt overhang.

In its prospectus at the time, Manchester United warned that it was "highly dependent" on certain individuals. "Any successor to our current manager may not be as successful as our current manager," it conceded.

Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York, said identifying the departure of individuals like Ferguson as a risk factor that may jeopardize the club’s success "highlights the instability of investments in sports franchises revolving around specific individuals."

In Apple’s case, its share price may be trading higher than what it was when Steve Jobs was at the helm, but it is facing criticism from users and analysts that it is taking its time coming up with the latest piece of must-have tech and is simply trading on past successes.

Nonetheless, analysts expect continuing success for Manchester United — and company. Randal J Konik, an equities analyst at Jeffries International, said Manchester United "has wisely been planning and preparing for the eventual retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson" and that "a new, highly qualified manager" will be appointed.

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