David Conn: Rooney may have gone west, but Kenwright is looking east for cash

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The Independent Online

The stresses of the last turbulent weeks at Everton no doubt explain why, away from the cynical musings of the "When Skies are Grey" fanzine and an army of unofficial websites, Goodison Park has developed into something of an irony-free zone. Otherwise, at last week's tense, nervous Extraordinary General Meeting, the Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, would surely have been wary of the contradiction lurking in his proud affirmation that Everton will continue to "brand" itself as the "People's Club".

The stresses of the last turbulent weeks at Everton no doubt explain why, away from the cynical musings of the "When Skies are Grey" fanzine and an army of unofficial websites, Goodison Park has developed into something of an irony-free zone. Otherwise, at last week's tense, nervous Extraordinary General Meeting, the Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, would surely have been wary of the contradiction lurking in his proud affirmation that Everton will continue to "brand" itself as the "People's Club".

Particularly when rumours are flying that Boris Zingarevich, one of the handful of men to emerge from post-Soviet Russia a multi-millionaire, is the power behind a proposed £30m deal to deliver Everton from penury.

Kenwright, the West End theatre impresario, is still negotiating the mooted investment with Christopher Samuelson, an offshore financier based in Geneva, who proposes as the vehicle the Fortress Sports Fund, based in Brunei. Zingarevich's son, Anton, has been involved in talks, but at the St Petersburg headquarters of Boris Zingarevich's vast Ilim paper and pulp company, they are keen to shred the idea that Russia's 75th wealthiest man will be investing his money in Everton.

"Mr Zingarevich and his family are not investing in football," Ilim's spokesman, Slava Bychkov, told me. "He is an engineer, interested in the paper business, not football. Also, we understand Everton are in difficulties and shareholders have been in conflict. Mr Zingarevich is not going to invest."

Mr Bychkov confirmed that Anton Zingarevich, a student at the private Regents Business School in London, is football-mad, and keen to be involved: "He has studied business and wants to make his career in sport. He became acquainted with Mr Samuelson and Mr Kenwright, and would like to be a partner sometime. For now, he has said perhaps he could be a manager of the fund - but he has not represented the family as an investor"

Mr Bychkov added that Boris Zingarevich, whose personal wealth was estimated at £330m by Forbes Magazine's revelatory "Russian Rich List" earlier this year, is not in the same financial or political league as oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, who made their money in the Yeltsin era, buying huge state-owned companies at knockdown prices in "loans for shares" schemes widely regarded as scams by ordinary Russians. With the Putin government having turned against several oligarchs, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia's richest, several oligarchs have looked to move their money, and themselves, west.

"Mr Zingarevich has no reason to do that," said Mr Bychkov. "He did not acquire Ilim in such a way and has built this company up himself. We have no skeletons in the wardrobe. Mr Zingarevich mostly stays in Russia and Everton would make no sense for him."

Sources close to Fortress tell it rather differently. Samuelson, along with a couple of former partners, has a long history of managing money in offshore tax havens - he has addresses in Bermuda, Gibraltar and Geneva - and he operated for several years on behalf of Menatep, Khodorkovsky's holding company. When Kenwright made contact with him, via the players' agent Jerome Anderson, Samuelson did reach into his Russian contact book. The sources claim he was indeed talking to Boris Zingarevich, hence Anton's interest, but when the stories emerged about his potential involvement, Zingarevich withdrew because he is extremely averse to the publicity.

Whichever version is correct, it seems Zingarevich's money is not coming to Goodison. However, Samuelson is said to have looked elsewhere, and be close to securing the £30m from a clutch of investors, as yet unnamed. Fortress sources have even come up with the surprising news that Samuelson is a longstanding Everton fan, for whom this is "more than business". If the deal is done - before the January transfer window opens because Kenwright wants £10m for the manager, David Moyes, to spend on players - Samuelson's nostalgia for Ball-Harvey-Kendal, or Ratcliffe-Sheedy-Sharp, may be put to the test.

Kenwright, a lifelong Everton fan, hopes that this is the deal for which he has been frantically searching almost since he took over the club, with his partners Paul Gregg, John Woods and Arthur Abercromby, from the Wirral hamper magnate Peter Johnson for £20m four years ago. He has described the months since last season ended with a 5-1 defeat at Manchester City as "horrible", as he has fought to stave off an encroaching financial collapse, faced fans' fury for the first time, beaten off an open, public challenge from Gregg and then been forced to announce the £30m sale of Wayne Rooney, the club's young prodigy, to Manchester United, an event seen by many Evertonians as a thunderous admission that theirs is no longer a major club.

Kenwright, however, survived last week's EGM, called by the Shareholders Association, partly by announcing the appointment of a new chief executive, Keith Wyness, and partly by arguing earnestly that better times are on the horizon. The Rooney money, £10m up front, £10m next August and a further £10m if United are successful with Rooney in the side - an arrangement condemned by Arsène Wenger, among others, for giving Everton incentives to do United favours on the field - has significantly eased their financial situation. Although their debts are not huge compared to pre-Ambramovich Chelsea or Peter Ridsdale's Leeds, at their last accounts Everton owed, net, nearly £45m, including the loan agreed in March 2002, £30m over 25 years, secured on future ticket income, running at 7.79 per cent interest - £2.3m - a year.

They have had to be cautious when splashing out on new players - last year they made an operating profit but lost, overall, £13m - and they have struggled to pay the top earners, Duncan Ferguson and Kevin Campbell, their £35,000 per week wages and edged well over the £5m overdraft agreed with their bank, Barclays, in Liverpool.

However, this summer the club secured a £15m credit guarantee, understood to be from Philip Green, a friend of Kenwright's and the owner of BHS.

The chief executive, Trevor Birch, hired after crafting narrow escapes for Chelsea and Leeds, left after just six weeks in the summer. Birch had tried to construct a contract which would eventually pay Rooney £50,000 a week, but Everton reached the point where they decided they had to sell him. Kenwright has said he considered stepping down, but he has rallied and at last week's EGM talked bullishly about the new investment via Samuelson. The plan is that Samuelson's fund will own 40 per cent of Everton, and he will sit on the board. Kenwright hopes a fresh start has been signalled by the 1-0 away win at City last Saturday.

Nick Williams, the secretary of the Everton Shareholders Association, said supporters would welcome money into their stricken club, but not unreservedly: "We want full information, about who any investors are, how they made their money, and why they have come to Everton. The club has a proud tradition and we want to know its good name will be preserved."

If football, the national game, reflects its country and times, Everton's evolution makes an absorbing study. Formed in 1878 by St Domingo Church Sunday School, Everton became a founder member of the professional Football League 10 years later. They left their Anfield ground when the landlord, John Houlding, wanted to increase the rent, and moved to Goodison Park in 1892, constructing football's first purpose-built stadium. Houlding, stuck with an empty ground, hired Scottish professionals, the "team of Macs", and called his club Liverpool. Everton purists have scorned Liverpool as flash pretenders ever since, a tradition being continued with the efforts to "brand" itself as the city's genuine club.

During the long years of the players' maximum wage, Everton were most successful in the 1930s, spearheaded by Dixie Dean. Following its abolition, the club was maintained financially by Sir John Moores, the Littlewoods owner who also bought large chunks of Liverpool. Their chairman, Philip Carter, was from 1981 a prime lobbyist for the Premier League breakaway, but Everton, one of the self-proclaimed "Big Five" then, have floundered in the resulting super-commercialised era, forever talking about building a new stadium but never making it out of Goodison.

Now, as debt-laden Premiership clubs look for overseas cash to bail them out, Everton are pinning their hopes on investors in a Brunei-based fund, pulled together by an offshore financier, based in Geneva. Such is the dialectic of history at the people's club.

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