The Israeli businessman Eli Papoushado has confirmed that he is willing to help to fund the £100m takeover of West Ham United. The property magnate, who shuns publicity, has been linked with a move by Kia Joorabchian for the Premiership club but has, until now, maintained his silence.
However, in a statement released yesterday, Papoushado said: "This is to confirm that Mr Kia Joorabchian has spoken to me about leading a consortium of investors in football projects. After considerable thought, I have agreed to participate if Kia decides to go forward with any such project."
The confirmation represents a significant boost to Joorabchian's chances of buying West Ham. Initially, it had been thought that the 35-year-old Anglo-Iranian entrepreneur was struggling to find investors. He needs £70m to buy the club's shares and just under £30m to clear its debt.
Joorabchian's chances of taking over the club are still rated at no more than "50-50". But sources suggested yesterday that Papoushado, who founded the Red Sea Group in the 1960s and made his fortune through property and hotels, could actually be willing not just to be part of a consortium but fully finance the deal himself - and that talks were now set to progress.
In his statement, Papoushado added: "I would like to confirm that I will not be taking part in any management but will be solely an investor. This statement does not suggest that there will or will not be a project in the near future, just a clarification of reports about my involvement as a potential investor with Mr Kia Joorabchian."
Although the statement does not specifically mention West Ham, and no bid has yet been tabled for the club, it is clear that Joorabchian is targeting the club following the astonishing deal he helped to broker to bring the Argentine World Cup stars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to Upton Park.
Earlier this month Joorabchian was forced by the Takeover Panel to confirm that he had not "ruled out" a bid. Last night he said of Papoushado's statement: "We are delighted to have him on board."
Joorabchian was first linked with a bid 12 months ago when he was president of Media Sports Investment, but that deal foundered as the two parties failed to agree on a valuation amid suggestions that Joorabchian, who has since left MSI, lacked sufficient backing.
If the takeover goes through, it will raise serious question marks over the future of the West Ham manager, Alan Pardew, at Upton Park. He has already made clear that he is concerned at the implications of any deal and has spoken publicly about the need to maintain the club's "integrity" and heritage.
Pardew will want cast-iron guarantees that there will be no interference from the new owners, which may prove problematic. During his time at MSI, Joorabchian fronted the deal to take control of the Brazilian club Corinthians and bought Tevez and Mascherano. More worryingly, he was rumoured to have interfered in team matters and in the dressing-room.
Pardew will not stand for any suggestion of that and it could be that, despite signing a new contract last season, and despite his popularity, he would walk out on the club he helped to rescue from bankruptcy and brought back into the Premiership.
There are also concerns that Joorabchian could turn West Ham into some kind of football factory to showcase South American talent in Europe with the players then moved on to other, bigger clubs. That would be particularly galling for fans, who have prided themselves on West Ham's desire to encourage young, British players.
Although West Ham is nominally a public company, its shares are not traded on any conventional market and Joorabchian has, effectively, to buy out just three men to take control. They are the chairman, Terence Brown, who controls 40 per cent of the shares, plus two descendants of the men who founded the club in 1895. They are Charles Warner, who owns 21 per cent, and Martin Cearns, who controls 9.1 per cent of West Ham.
Brown would stand to make £28m from the takeover and has endured a turbulent time as chairman, especially after the club were relegated in 2003 when he was the focus of the fans' anger. But he will not sell easily. West Ham have bounced back, reduced their debts and, following their success under Pardew, which includes reaching last season's FA Cup final and qualifying for the Uefa Cup, are in a much healthier state than before.
Papoushado's interest is undoubtedly intriguing, not least because he has previously shown little interest in football. A clue may lie in his business background, especially as, in six years' time, the Olympic Games will transform the East End of London and make it more attractive to investors. West Ham also hope eventually to move from Upton Park to occupy the Olympic Stadium, which would free up their current stadium for redevelopment.