The Red Devils are in the detail
Manchester United fans, I've got some bad news.
Experts have clambered all over your team's accounts, got their calculators out and decided the whole shebang - the massive debt, the not-too-distant retirement of your inspirational "CEO", the reliance on one key performer and the growing threat from rival brands at home and abroad - is just about sustainable.
So, sorry, you're stuck with the Glazers. They've gone to the well again and drawn another £504m in IOUs.
It gets worse. Those experts didn't give you an unequivocal thumbs-up. They looked at the numbers, winced like car mechanics and said 'yeah, we can fix that, but it will cost you'. And I mean you - the tangible fans at Old Trafford and the intangible fans in Bangalore and beyond.
It's been about three weeks since rumours of the Manchester United bond first emerged but it seems like much longer. It took half a century and two World Wars for the sun to set on the British Empire but the pundits have called time on United's Premier League hegemony in under a month.
Bundled out of the FA Cup by old foes from across the Pennines, beaten in the Carling Cup by uppity neighbours and subjected to "where did it all go wrong?" analysis in the nation's sports pages, it has been a bleak midwinter for Sir Alex Ferguson and his men.
City boss Mancini (right) wants to supplant Fergie's United as top dogs in Manchester
Even Prime Minister Gordon Brown was moved to comment on United's predicament, which is a terrible sign as he normally only comments on matters of the utmost seriousness, things like global warming, the recession and Britain's Got Talent.
But what's that you say? Look at the table? A game away from Wembley and all still to play for in Europe? Well, quite. It seems the picture is more complicated than some might suggest.
The carcass of the infamous bond prospectus has been picked clean by the papers so I won't dwell for too long on what The Guardian's David Conn described as the most dispiriting document in football history.
The sums the Glazers have given themselves, the cash they took out of the club to pay the debts they piled up buying United and the fees and charges they incurred refinancing it all are laid out over 322 pages of soulless sales pitch.
I realise this is a legal requirement but it must have hurt the Glazers to spell out the worst-case scenarios so candidly. It underlined just how much their gamble - and £716.5m of debt is a gamble no matter how you slice it - depends on what happens during those 90 minutes that used to start at 3.00pm on Saturdays. I find that quite heartening.
In a previous blog, I mentioned that most City traders I have spoken to said the bond would get off the ground but it would have to fly without them. Football was just too flaky an investment, even at mighty Manchester United.
One corporate bond expert, a regular at Old Trafford, told me he had asked his 10 biggest clients if they were interested and only one said yes. He also told me he had just been offered a price freeze on his season ticket if he reconfirmed by March.
And yet the club's financial advisors claim the issue was oversubscribed twofold, with 50 large "low-risk investors" buying the bonds. So what was it they could see in the Glazer's business methods that United fans and football writers could not?
In a word, money - a juicy return on investment, from a well-established cash cow, for the next seven years. They're not in this for love. The sterling-denominated bonds, half of the total, give a fixed return of 8.75% a year, with the rest going in dollars at a rate of 8.375%.
That's £45m a year in interest payments the club will have to meet, a higher total than was paid out this year. Which prompts the question, why have the Glazers done this?
It's the same answer but in a more roundabout way.
They borrowed about £500m from various banks to fund their takeover of United. The average interest rate on those loans was 8%-ish and they were secured against the club.
Unfortunately, £500m wasn't enough so they also borrowed £135m from three New York hedge funds. The average rate on that is a horrible 14.25% and it piles up annually. The total debt is now over £200m and if a chunk is not paid off this summer the rate will rise to 16.25%.
United fans made their feelings about the club's owners known before last Saturday's game against Hull
That is the scenario the Glazers were heading towards (and it was the Glazers in this case, because the hedge-fund debt is theirs, not the club's) but have probably now avoided with this bond issue.
Pre-bond, the bank loans were United's most senior debt (first in line to be repaid), with strict conditions attached. For example, the club had to make a minimum annual profit of £65m, before all the usual deductions. There was also no question of tackling the hedge-fund burden before settling with the banks.
Post-bond, the banks and their troublesome small print are off the Glazers' backs. They can now use up to £70m of the club's cash to reduce their personal liabilities. That, however, doesn't make them go away: we should expect another refinancing, although it might not be so easy next time.
The bonds are currently being traded between investors for 5% less than they were worth on Friday. When I asked one City insider what this meant, he said: "The quality of investors was poor. Sensible investors avoided it because it was too expensive."
A poor opening on the secondary market will not affect the Glazers in the short term - they've got their half a billion come what may - but it does hurt their reputation. Losing a section of the Old Trafford crowd is one thing; annoying investors is another. Try it again and it could be a case of 'Ah, junk bond, we've been expecting you'.
All this FT stuff, of course, should be completely irrelevant when Wayne Rooney and co attempt to put those arrivistes from Eastlands in their place in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final.
But the truth is that anything other than a convincing victory for United will prompt further speculation about the financial foundations of their global ambitions. Comparisons with the money's-no-object owners of Manchester City will not flatter the Glazers.
There is a fin de siecle mood in Manchester these days but to suggest that City will be knocking United off their perch any time soon is a bit previous and the evidence of such a reversal is patchy.
A day after Ferguson appeared to prepare for the departure of £20m-rated Nemanja Vidic by signing Chris Smalling for £7m, a little-known Brazilian prospect snubbed City for not being a "big European club". There's still a gulf between the clubs but Arab money is filling it.
So let's enjoy this evening's contest for what it is, the second act of fiercely competitive cup tie, and let the money men worry about debt thresholds and yield management. What happens on the pitch will settle the Glazers' fate much quicker than any fans' protest or belated regulatory response from football's inattentive authorities.