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Blue chip firms and mega-brands - including Google, Yahoo, IBM, Levi Strauss and Coca-Cola - are apparently lining up to take over the shirt sponsorship of Manchester United after Vodafone's decision to curtail its £9m a year shirt sponsorship deal. The Observer quotes unnamed City sources to support a theory that all are prepared to pay more than Vodafone in order to be associated with the Red Devils. Conspiracy theorists will note that Google recently established an office in Manchester.

The story about "advanced talks" between Bryan Glazer, son of sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer who controversially took over Manchester United via a debt-financed £800m bid last year, and five high profile brands presents Vodafone's walk-out in a highly favorable light. Much like talking to a bloke after his girlfriend ditched him, the Glazer family find themselves well shot of Vodafone, which (is too clingy) doesn't have a well known brand in the US. (Unlike that well-known sport of Associated Soccer-ball)

"The withdrawal of Vodafone gives Bryan the chance to show his commercial and marketing mettle," the source told The Observer. "Here is an opportunity for the Glazers to show that they can leverage the Man United brand at a time when the club's fortunes on the pitch have taken a turn for the worse."

Manchester United need to win away at Benfica next week to be sure of progressing in the highly-lucrative Champions League and there is some speculation about the future of manager Alex Ferguson. ®

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