Magnusson puts case amid foreign investment boom

International businessmen are increasingly recognising the Premiership's financial potential. West Ham's new Icelandic chairman tells Jason Burt his plans for his latest venture
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The Independent Football

Eggert Magnusson yesterday started his first (official) day as the man running West Ham United. It should be some ride. Before the home game against Sheffield United two Saturdays ago, the Icelander was in the club store at Upton Park playfully asking supporters who he should buy in the January transfer window.

"Ronaldinho", shot back one young fan. "Ah, I might have to save up for him," came the reply.

Then in the club's White Horse Suite he was orchestrating the singing with a claret-and-blue scarf above his head. "I could get used to this," he said before doing his little jig on the pitch.

It has been the warmest of charm offensives for "Eggy" as he is now to be known in the East End of London following the £108m takeover of West Ham, which was understandable given he has become part of the controversial new trend in English football - the buying of Premiership clubs by overseas owners.

Magnusson chose his words carefully on the subject - "I will be living in London. This is the place where I am going to be. I cannot speak of others who invest in English football and are not here" - but the charm offensive has continued. He sought out Tina, the wife of the manager, Alan Pardew, and spoke to her in her native Swedish. He is now looking forward to his promised kick-around with the staff at the training ground and, yesterday, he told of how West Ham fuelled his own wife's interest in football.

"I took her to a match here in England," he recalled, looking even more slight in the vastness of the chairman's suite at the club. "It was 1977, '78 and, could you believe it, it was at Upton Park. We were sitting close to the pitch and the atmosphere was as usual here. It suddenly forged her interest in football." Magnusson claimed that Nanna, his wife, had little choice. "She found the only way to have my company was to be interested in football and so she is also very interested."

The couple married when Magnusson, now 59 and "a football man all my life", was 18. His wife was just 17. "I think she will not be seeing a lot of me now," he added. "I have two houses in the [United] States and was hoping, maybe, to relax a little bit. But forget it. There are four matches over Christmas, for example, and I've spent the last two Christmases in Florida. But that's all over now."

Magnusson has four children and five grandchildren. He says the " richness" of his life comes not from his wealth, partly made from an import-export business whose interests included biscuits, but his family. He has moved from Reykjavik to London to be a "hands-on" chairman and said Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the billionaire who owns 95 per cent of WH Holdings, has full faith in him. "He has complete trust and I have complete control over what I want to do," Magnusson said.

And there is much that he does want to do. Magnusson reiterated his belief that the club should be "competing every year for the highest honours here in England and for a place in the Champions' League" and pledged to continue the "West Ham tradition of producing good players". There is a pointed extra caveat: "But not selling them."

Those days, he promised, have gone. Even if West Ham are relegated, a possibility he vociferously rejected, there will be no fire-sale. "The players we have here and the manager are far too good," he said when asked about the prospect of relegation. But if it did happen? "We would look full steam ahead to strengthen."

For now that strength includes retaining Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. It is an uneasy situation. Their "economic rights" are held by Kia Joorabchian, who lost out to Magnusson's consortium in his own attempts to buy West Ham. Magnusson said: "As I see it now they will be staying until the summer, for sure." That is because Fifa has clarified its rules stopping players featuring for three clubs in one season.

"And now, after everything is settled, I really expect those two players to show us that they are world-class players and they can stand on their own in the Premier League." Will they stay longer than one season? "That is not up to us," Magnusson said. "It is clear they can be taken out next summer." So would he have entered into such an agreement? "No.No way. No way. I think the club should hold the rights to the players. I'm not happy with agents or consortia owning players. It's not the way I want to go forward. As a football man I don't think it's the correct way."

Pardew has been promised no interference. Money will be made available and the manager, whom Magnusson rates highly - "I have full trust in him" - has to deliver. Talks will be held with Chelsea over Shaun Wright-Phillips "sooner rather than later" while if Pardew wants, say, David Beckham " I will do my best to bring whoever he wants here".

It is not all cosy, though. "The manager is responsible for the team," Magnusson said. "I've told Alan 'it's your team, it's not for me to tell you which players to play because you are going to be judged on how the team perform. So it's your throat that will be cut if you don't produce results in the long run'." Slitting throats is a metaphor that sits a little uncomfortably with this urbane character. But it reveals the steel that is certainly there.

The ambition also covers a move to the stadium at Stratford, to be built for the 2012 Olympics. Talks are ongoing and West Ham have made clear they want a 60,000-capacity arena. A proposal will be submitted by the end of this month. The timetable is "very tight", but "it can be done". Magnusson knows he has had "a tremendous reception" at West Ham. "Now it's up to me to show that I can accomplish something," he said.

Other foreign owners in top flight

* MANCHESTER UNITED

The American businessman Malcolm Glazer, owner of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, took control in 2003 in a deal valued at around £800m.

* CHELSEA

The Russian Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003 and spent over £100m on players in his first season.

* PORTSMOUTH

The French-born businessman Alexandre Gaydamak invested around £15m last January, before taking control in July.

* ASTON VILLA

Doug Ellis sold to American Randy Lerner for around £65m in September. Like Glazer, Lerner owns an NFL team: Cleveland Browns. Unlike Glazer, Lerner used his own money.

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