Villa in van of Premiership's vulnerable

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The Independent Football

To the financiers, they are known as Phoenix clubs - Premiership football clubs which are ripe for takeover and ready to rise like the mythical bird. The £60m deal to sell Chelsea has led to speculation that others may follow. After all, the old business adage is that one takeover usually leads to another.

That probably will not happen in this case. Investors such as Roman Abramovich are few and far between - as Moham-ed Al Fayed, desperate to off-load Fulham, knows. Yet several clubs appear vul-nerable. Chief among these is Aston Villa, according to John Moore, a director of stockbrokers Bell Laurie Wright and an expert in football finance. "Like Chelsea, they have an older chairman and owner [in Doug Ellis] and are in need of strategic change," he said. Amazingly, he calculates it would only cost around £16m to secure the biggest club in the Midlands.

"They may not be as attractive a proposition as Chelsea simply because they are not in London," Moore said. "But they are a big club in the Premier League, profitable, with a large fan-base, a young manager and good young players coming through - look at their Under-18 team. They also own the freehold on a large stadium with land."

Villa are the most obvious example of a recent trend which Moore has identified. "What you can do at present, because of the situation in football, is buy a big club at a discount, not a premium as before. Villa are valued at less than the money they receive from television [£20m]."

The Merseyside giants - Everton and Liverpool - may also interest investors. "The fan power there provides a huge mandate," Moore said. Everton, for example, could be exploited through their recently forged connections in the Far East - they have a Chinese shirt sponsor - and the potential provided through Wayne Rooney. They also, of course, have a good young manager in David Moyes.

"Someone may want to take a strategic stake," Moore said. "It may need a wealthy hands-on entrepreneur, but they are an interesting proposition, especially if the issues surrounding their ground can be sorted out." Everton are attempting to negotiate a move from Goodison Park to a new, modern stadium.

Liverpool have a greater cachet, and despite being owned by the wealthy Moores family, who made their millions through the Littlewoods empire, are not thought to be invulnerable to takeover, especially after the relatively unsuccessful spending of the past decade. There is also concern over the management - of the club as a whole, and not just the team - with some analysts considering it "lax". Sunderland also, it is thought, need a change - even if they have now dropped down a division.

In London, the most easily purchased, and attractive, of the top-tier clubs are probably Charlton Athletic - regarded as the best-run in the Premiership. They are valued at just £11m. "That's incredibly cheap," said Moore, "and although they may not be the most glamorous of clubs and may have reached their potential, they do have their attractions". The club hold the freehold on the Valley stadium and have little debt. Even as a property investment the club are inexpensive.

And the bravest investment? That would have to be Leeds United. "There may well be someone out there who is brave enough or mad enough," said Moore. "But the figures are frightening."

It would take, he estimates, £160m to clear the debts, provide the money for a new stadium and leave "a little" cash to strengthen their now depleted squad of players. "£160m before you even blink," Moore said. "And that, with the best will in the world, is for Leeds United."

Most financiers say it is difficult to find a solution for Leeds, apart from a very long haul back. "It is an untenable situation," said Moore. However one intriguing suggestion is that a group of investors may create a shell company and raise finance to rise again.

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