Mohamed Al Fayed yesterday reacted angrily to reports that he was planning to sell Fulham Football Club, but confirmed that he had held talks with Thailand's billionaire prime minister about developing closer links.
Speculation grew as to Fayed's intentions after comments from Thaksin Shinawatra following a four-day holiday to Britain which included watching Fulham's Premiership match against Manchester United. He said: "I met Al Fayed over the weekend and teased him that I was interested in buying Fulham and he told me to come back to talk to him when I was seriously interested." Shinawatra said he had not decided whether to make a bid, adding: "I will invite businesspeople and the public to join the purchase. The price isn't a problem. It will cost a few pennies."
Experts believe Fulham would cost no more than £20m to buy because of the ongoing problems with its new stadium. The club will receive some good news in the next few days, however, as Hammersmith and Fulham Council are set to grant planning permission for the return to Craven Cottage. Nevertheless that is a temporary measure.
It is believed that Fayed would sell the club - but only if he could recoup the £100m plus he has invested in Fulham, which earlier this year announced losses of £33.6m, and make a profit. That is highly unlikely. At the same time the chairman is said to be "so fed up" with speculation over his businesses, including Harrods, that he is threatening to sue reporters who continue to claim they are for sale.
A source close to Fayed said that Shinawatra's comments had been misinterpreted. He said the two were "old friends" and that the conversation that had taken place had been "jokey, light-hearted stuff". "It was a conversation of a kind that takes place between wealthy people," he said. Fayed himself, issued a statement. "This is a club I love passionately and I have no intention of selling it nor would I think about discussing offers," he said.
Today Fulham will also hear the final appeal, in Switzerland, of their dispute with Lyon over the £11m transfer fee of the striker Steve Marlet, now on loan at Marseilles. Fulham have been ordered to pay the outstanding balance of £3.1m, but hope to overturn that decision at a special hearing.