The Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung yesterday tabled an £81.5m cash offer to buy Birmingham in a deal that, if completed, could also see the ownership of West Ham change hands.
The phrase "if completed" is key in an intriguing episode of potential Premier League merry-go-round. The Independent understands that Birmingham's current major shareholders, David Sullivan and David Gold, are actively interested in West Ham, which is up for sale, but a source stressed last night, "that there's a huge difference between an offer for Birmingham and a done deal".
Little is confirmed about Yeung's wealth. His main investment vehicle, Grandtop International Holdings, is registered in the Cayman Islands and is a small, loss-making firm which already owns 29.91 per cent of Birmingham but little else. Grandtop's accounts to 31 March 2009 showed annual revenue of £828,000, and losses of £7.16m.
Yeung, 49, a former chairman of Hong Kong Rangers FC, will initially borrow the £57m he will need to seal the deal then raise funds to repay that via a share issue. His fellow directors at Grandtop include an eclectic mix of former footballers but none will invest heavily in Birmingham, if at all. Yeung has, however, paid a non-refundable £3m deposit on his buyout.
Grandtop's directors include Steve McManaman, 37, once of Liverpool and England, Christian Karembeu, 38, formerly with Middlesbrough and France, and Fan Zhiyi, 39, once of Crystal Palace and China. They are "expert advisors".
McManaman and Zhiyi have both expressed an interest in management careers although a statement by Grandtop to the Stock Exchange yesterday stressed that if the takeover goes ahead: "It is intended that the current first team manager, Alex McLeish, will continue in this role, supported by his existing backroom team."
Grandtop's masterplan for Birmingham is to achieve something that many bigger clubs have failed to do to date, namely become hugely, lucratively, popular in China. The firm says it wants to "significantly increase its global fan base", especially in Hong Kong and China, and "develop the club by investing in and strengthening the squad and infrastructure of the club over time".
While claiming TV audiences in China have risen, Grandtop seems not to have realised that ratings have fallen to almost zero for Premier League games since a minor pay-TV station, Win, acquired the rights. And while a free-to-air broadcaster, Guandong, will show games this season, they will be limited to one per week, most often featuring the "big four".
But Yeung is nothing if not optimistic. Despite failing to buy Birmingham in 2007 after not raising the funds, he has returned with this new bid and with loans in place.
He is also confident he can pass a Premier League fit and proper persons test, required if he owns 30 per cent of the club or becomes a director. One hurdle could be that he was prosecuted and fined by the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission in September 2004 for offences related to share holdings and trading, but he escaped with a £3,300 fine and his misdemeanours are likely to be regarded as minor.
If Yeung buys Birmingham – and completion or failure is expected within six weeks – that will mean 10 Premier League clubs – half of them — would be in foreign hands, though probably not for long. Sullivan and Gold would then bid for West Ham, currently owned by CB Holdings, in turn 70 per cent owned by an Icelandic bank, Straumur.
Gold, a schoolboy footballer with West Ham, has never hidden his affection for the club, and if he sold Birmingham he would certainly want to reinvest elsewhere.
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*West ham are owned by CB Holdings, an offshoot of a troubled Icelandic bank, Straumur, whose spokesman, Georg Andersen, has said: "Every club is for sale at the right price."
*Fulham are owned by Mohamed Al Fayed, who once dreamt of making them "the Manchester United of the south" but who would now walk away if he could recoup anything near the £200m he has invested. Unlikely.
*Blackburn are owned by the Jack Walker Trust, who have made no secret of their desire to sell.
*Portsmouth are in limbo, waiting to see if Alexandre Gaydamak can offload the loss-making strugglers to Sulaiman Al Fahim or AN Other buyer.Reuse content