In an extraordinary twist to the saga over who will take control of West Ham United, the Premiership club yesterday held a surprise meeting with the Icelandic businessman Eggert Magnusson. The development, ahead of today's board meeting, once more casts serious doubts over the chances of the consortium fronted by Kia Joorabchian gaining control.
Magnusson, the head of his country's football association, has resubmitted his £75m offer, plus taking on the club's debts of £22.5m, with a greater proportion of the money being paid in equity. He has also now confirmed to West Ham the identity of his main financial backer. He is thought to be Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the head of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki, who is wealthy in his own right and is using his own personal funds.
Sources close to the club last night confirmed that the meeting had taken place. They also said that Magnusson's proposal is certainly being taken much more seriously and may actually be greater than the offer that is being tabled by Joorabchian. At the same time West Ham have grown irritated by the delays and hold-ups in Joorabchian's bid, which is being backed by the Israeli property magnate Eli Papoushado and advised by NM Rothschilds.
Joorabchian is holding fresh talks with Papoushado, who is haggling over the price he has agreed to pay in light of what he regards as "extra debt" most specifically the £4m outstanding on the transfer of Dean Ashton. There are other player and contract costs which would, in theory, bring the total to £13.6m.
But West Ham have given any attempts to reduce the price, which has followed the process of due diligence, short shrift, arguing that the payments are part of the running of the club and include such things as goals and appearance, but also players earning international caps and winning the Champions' League.
Contrary to reports, however, there has been no fresh deadline set on the Joorabchian bid and there will certainly be no announcement following today's monthly board meeting. Interestingly, Magnusson has not only refinanced his offer, answering a number of questions raised by West Ham, so that it is not so highly leveraged, but has also changed the make-up of his consortium so that it is more of an Icelandic/Scandinavian bid.
In effect, Magnusson inherited a consortium when he was first approached about being the figurehead of a deal but has since decided that he wants to make his own takeover. Last night Magnusson's team refused to confirm whether a meeting took place yesterday.
Magnusson had grown frustrated by West Ham's unwillingness to talk to him, but the board appears to have had a change of heart. Some sources close to the deal remain sceptical, however, as to just how seriously he is being taken and whether it is a ploy being used to help to push through the Joorabchian takeover and then argue that other options were examined.
Whatever the tactics, it now appears that it may still be some time before West Ham's future is decided, with sources claiming it could be " several weeks". If Magnusson is allowed to proceed, it is unlikely he would finalise a takeover before Christmas.
Magnusson has also pledged transfer funds for the January window and has said that the manager Alan Pardew will be given time. Pardew's position, should Joorabchian and Papoushado take over, would be less secure. Joorabchian, who would be in charge of player transfers, has already made clear he would expect the two Argentines he brought to the club, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, to start. Pardew will refuse to give any such guarantees.