Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fernandes could complete Hammers takeover on Friday

14 January 2010

The takeover of West Ham United is on schedule to be completed on Friday, and Gianfranco Zola will immediately be handed an injection of substantial funds to buy his way out of relegation trouble.

Tony Fernandes


Tony Fernandes: Air Asia boss a West Ham fan.

ESPN Soccernet has been told that the five lending banks have all agreed to hand over control of the crisis torn East End club in time for Zola to embark on a spending spree before the January transfer window closes.

It should be completed in the next 24 hours and, as ESPN Soccernet reported on Wednesday, Tony Fernandes is in pole position, but is being hotly pursued by former Birmingham City owners David Gold and David Sullivan, with Massimo Cellino, a property developer based in Miami, making a late bid.

Fernandes, the boss of Team Lotus - the returning Formula One outfit - and founder of Air Asia, has already outlined his plans in detail, and has made a very impressive pitch.

Debts have spiralled out of control since the collapse of Landsbanki, the Icelandic bank in which Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the former owner of West Ham, held a 41% stake. Although CB Holdings' £100 million asking price has never been met, the equity investment proposed values West ham at around that amount.

Without the takeover going through the Hammers would be hard pressed to stave off relegation, and ultimately will have to face the unsavory act of selling off their best players like Scott Parker and Matthew Upson.

ESPN Soccernet's source comments: "Every day counts if the funds are to be made available to the manager, everyone is acutely aware that time is running out, so minds are focused on trying to tie up a deal as soon as possible. It wouldn't surprise me it if went through on Friday."

The feeling among the lending banks is that Fernandez will be the better long-term investor. With payments spread over a period of time with the capital going into the club to alleviate debts of £75 million, that is of paramount importance.

As for the late intervention of Cellino, that has put the cat among the pigeons, but not without its problems, as he is already an owner of another club - Cagliari - which would cause problems with UEFA. And of course, the Premier League are tightening up their status exploration of any new owners and the source of their funds to buy a club.

Rothschild, the investment bank appointed by CB Holdings to handle the sale, is sure to play a prominent role in scrutinising the source of funds, which has also caused Canary Wharf based InterMarket to fall down the list of potential purchasers.

Cellino has been reported in the press as saying that he is acting as a frontman for an unidentified consortium, but ESPN Soccernet has been told that he has so far suggested he would be a potential purchaser in his own right.

The 54-year-old's fortune is apparently accrued from running his family's commercial farming and property business, before taking control of Cagliari in 1992. He convinced Zola to return to his homeland club after his hugely successful spell with Chelsea.

He moved to Miami three years ago, but remains an active president of the club, attending the majority of their matches. He also serves as vice-president of the Italian League and has maintained close links with Zola and Gianluca Nani, the Italian who is West Ham's technical director, so his connections with Cagliari would need to further scrutinised before he could even be considered a viable alternative bidder.

Cellino is a successful owner at Cagliari, providing the finance for the club's new training ground and sports complex in Assemini and recently announcing plans for a new stadium, the Karalis Arena, which he hopes will form part of Italy's candidacy to host Euro 2016.

Intermarket, the London-based investment company, registered an interest, but City sources have always been sceptical about the source of their funding, while the proposed takeover suffered a setback last weekend with the death of Jim Bowe, the company's chief executive.

By Harry Harris, Football Correspondent

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