Saudi 'to bid' for West Ham

By Simon Evans
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:35
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola may find himself working for a new owner
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola may find himself working for a new owner

Ali al-Faraj, the Saudi property investor who recently failed in his attempts to buy Portsmouth, is believed to be considering a bid for West Ham United. Al-Faraj, who claimed to have agreed a deal to buy Pompey at the end of August, is thought to have set his sights on the heavily indebted East End club.

It is not known if Peter Storrie, chief executive of Portsmouth and former managing director at West Ham who brought Al-Faraj into the bidding process at Pompey at the 11th hour, is involved in the approach.

However, Storrie finds himself in an invidious position at Portsmouth having backed the offer of Al-Faraj in favour of the ultimately successful bid from Sulaiman al-Fahim, which looked to be floundering amid concerns about his ability to fund the deal.

Yesterday, Al-Fahim appeared to give his backing to Storrie, claiming not to have plans to replace him with a new management team: "Peter is a capable chief executive and I do not doubt he has acted with the club's best interest in mind." But a return to Upton Park for Storrie, a lifelong Hammers fan, would prove difficult to resist should it arise, after he was acrimoniously sacked by the club in 1999 by then chairman Terry Brown. Storrie has insisted, in a Portsmouth News interview, that he is staying at the club.

Whoever takes over at West Ham will have to grapple with a substantial debt pile. Recently published accounts for the Hammers show they lost £37.4 million in 2008, following a blighted year off the pitch which saw the collapse of XL Leisure, their main sponsor. The club's latest accounts have yet to be filed but the situation is thought to have deteriorated during 2009. It is believed that the Hammers have breached debt covenants laid down by creditor banks to the club, which in theory could have tipped them into administration. However, the banks have so far resisted triggering such a move.

West Ham's chief executive Scott Duxbury last week admitted they were only able to buy new recruits – striker Alessandro Diamanti and centre-half Manuel da Costa – after the club's sponsor, Sbobet, advanced a payment to the club earlier than scheduled.

The extent of Al-Faraj's wealth is not known. He enjoys a holding in Sabic, the Saudi petrochemicals conglomerate, while he is reported to have a substantial family trust.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth are understood not to be out of the financial woods, writes Steve Tongue. Funds received for players in the last hectic few days of the transfer window may have to go straight to paying off creditors like the Inland Revenue, and it is even suggested Al-Fahim has only agreed to put money in until the end of this month. He has insisted there will be "significant investment" in players and the youth academy. Theoretically, the club made a profit of £27m in transfers over the summer, but much of that will be paid in instalments and the whole sum barely covers the amount owed to Standard Bank, who wanted it back by 31 August.

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