Football: Palace pay a high price for Goldberg's coup

High-profile takeover of south London club has resulted in turmoil on and off the pitch.
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IT WAS less than two years ago that Ron Noades, the former chairman and owner of Crystal Palace, took a telephone call from a man who said he was a lifelong fan of the club and had plans to transform it. Noades had never heard of the caller but soon discovered the potential investor was a moderately wealthy businessman and entered into negotiations about how they might work together. Mark Goldberg duly realised his dream when he bought the club from Noades last summer, but the transformation of the club has not been quite what he had in mind.

Goldberg spent a large part of yesterday negotiating the departure of Terry Venables, the man he brought in to be the club's saviour following their relegation from the Premiership last summer. Not only have the team failed to perform on the pitch since the much-heralded return of the former England manager, but the club's finances have been severely stretched and Goldberg's dream has become ever more distant.

Although by 1997 Goldberg was a major shareholder in a successful computer recruitment company, MSB International, he had a less than glittering business past. In 1991 he faced severe financial problems when his Brighton- based hotel business, Aquamarine, and MSB Appointments - the company that became MSB International - were put into voluntary creditors' liquidation. "I was too busy winning business and didn't pay attention to the money side," he was later quoted as saying of those failures.

Goldberg's takeover of Palace was hardly a straightforward affair. He became a director of Palace in August 1997, putting pounds 3m into the club, which gave him an option to buy it for pounds 30m or, in the event that he would be unable to do so, to have a 10 per cent stake for his investment. Negotiations for his purchase of the club dragged on as Goldberg tried to come up with the money. Noades eventually dropped the price to pounds 22.8m, but even when Goldberg sold his 2.5m shares in MSB, he was still short of the capital he needed. Noades loaned him pounds 4.5m to complete the deal (and also loaned Palace pounds 1.5m to keep their then pounds 5m overdraft at bay). The takeover was finally completed in June last year. Yet even Noades admitted his buyer had paid over the odds, leaving himself without the working capital to turn the team around.

After gaining control, Goldberg made much of his five-year plan for the club and spoke ambitiously about the future. However, the pounds 10m for transfers which Venables said had been promised failed to materialise. Instead, players were sold for a total of more than pounds 7m, although nearly pounds 6m was reinvested in the transfer market.

One of the problems for any club relegated from the Premiership is a wage bill based on Premiership income. While the departure in the autumn of men like Michele Padovano and Valerien Ismael helped to reduce Palace's costs, some of the incoming players have not been cheap in terms of wages. Moreover, as Goldberg indicated when he complained about having a 40-strong squad, the sheer size of the playing staff has clearly been a drain on resources.

The wisdom of some of the signings is also open to question. Having sold Dean Gordon for pounds 900,000, Palace replaced him with David Amsalem, an Israeli international who cost pounds 800,000. He has started only six matches so far, and so is unlikely to have his work permit renewed, which could see him leave without a transfer fee being paid. Palace also spent pounds 400,000 in October on a goalkeeper, Matthew Gregg, an 19-year-old from Torquay, who has yet to play for the first team. The following month pounds 300,000 was paid to Rangers for Gordan Petric, who in recent weeks has not been able to get into the side.

One of the few players of genuine quality at the club, the promising Matt Jansen, is likely to be sold soon for around pounds 4m as Goldberg attempts to alleviate Palace's severe financial difficulties.

Goldberg announced last month that a locally-based company, Tramp Oil, had invested in Palace and said their investment had "strengthened the financial position of the club in contrast to recent speculation". However, the extent of Goldberg's financial problems is underlined by the fact that he is being sued by his own solicitors for more than pounds 400,000 in relation to the takeover. In addition, a public relations firm working for Goldberg said yesterday that it was owed more than pounds 60,000.

It is all a far cry from Goldberg's vision for Palace. Only last month he wrote in the club programme: "I am proud to have assembled one of the strongest management teams in the country, and a squad who, over the five years, will take this club to heights it has never experienced before."