It may have taken many more years than Evertonians might have hoped but Bill Kenwright has finally delivered on his promise of attracting investment to Everton Football Club.
It’s a key word because while there has been talk and speculation of billionaire buyers and takeovers by foreign consortia, the Chairman has, in the main, talked of finding an investor to help push the club forward. It’s a vital distinction and it might go part of the way to explain why, as clubs up and down the Premier and Football Leagues have changed hands during Kenwright’s 16-year stewardship at Goodison Park, it has taken this long to achieve.
Of course, there must surely have been more than an element not only of selectivity but also reluctance on Bill’s part, a reflection of his desire to remain at the helm to steer his Blues to the brighter future we all want or to ensure that the club remains in the right hands should he sell up, that served to prolong the search. And as uncertainty has grown around Kenwright's recent health problems and their potential severity, fears have built in tandem among many Blues that he might be forced into a rushed sale — not necessarily to the first bidder to come in with the requisite cash but perhaps to a party less ideal than might have been the case a few years ago.
Quite where the Moores-Noell consortium fell along that spectrum we might never know but the hesitation shown by Swansea City’s supporters trust when it came to their proposed investment in their club last year, coupled with a general unease about the track record of US venture capital vehicles in Premier League football in general, meant that was plenty of apprehension around what it would mean for Everton were their proposed bid to go through.
Ultimately, whether it was due to their insistence that they rather than Kenwright called the shots or some other more finance-related reason, the Americans' negotiations did not end with a successful takeover at Goodison. Instead, Iranian-born billionaire Farhad Moshiri has acquired a 49.9% stake in Everton, one that makes him by far the club’s largest shareholder and the overriding vote in the boardroom but stops short of giving him complete control.
By negotiating those terms, bringing in a new shareholder with the promise of further investment, and keeping himself at the wheel in terms of remaining Chairman, Bill gets to have his cake and eat it too. He also safeguards the club, at least in the extreme case, from the whims of a single shareholder and retains Evertonian influence as the nominal face and head of the club.
There will be plenty of fans who are sceptical over Bill’s continuing chairmanship, his stock with them having fallen precipitously over the course of his rein at Everton – not least because of incidents like the failure of the Kings Dock, the Fortress Sports Fund charade, the Destination Kirkby controversy, the paucity of Robert Earl’s presence in the boardroom, and the opaque nature of Sir Philip Green’s involvement with the club’s affairs. The new structure at the club is a win-win in many ways, however, particularly for those who retained their faith and support in the Chairman throughout. The importance of keeping a Blue with a hand on the tiller should not be underestimated, not least because the owner of that hand was responsible for almost all of the transfer negotiations that helped assemble the promising team we watch week in, week out. It certainly beats the flying leap into the unknown that would be a wholesale takeover by a foreign buyer or buyers with no attachment or affinity to the club at all.
Moshiri’s arrival doesn’t herald an overnight transformation of Everton’s prospects in the way that, say, Sheikh Mansour’s billions did at Manchester City; indeed, there's small chance of him bankrolling a spending spree on players and it’s unlikely there will be any radical change in the short term. Given the relative financial stability afforded by the current broadcast revenues, there isn’t any pressing need in that regard.
What it does offer, however, is what many have been calling for and what the club desperately needed – fresh blood, the promise of fresh investment into the club’s playing staff and (crucially where the stadium issue is concerned) infrastructure, plus the addition of experience in business and investment to a boardoom that had become sparsely populated and stale. All without Everton FC becoming the plaything of a foreign oligarch.
Furthermore, Moshiri brings precious knowledge of the inner workings of the Premier League from an association with one of England’s most stable and well-run football clubs. While he may have only owned 15% of the Gunners personally, with his longtime associate and partner Alisher Usmanov he owned almost a third of that club with an apparent desire to increase that stake to eventually acquire overall control at the Emirates, something that majority owner Stan Kroenke has remained steadfast in resisting.
While frustrated by Kroenke’s desire to remain in control of Arsenal and deny the pair a seat in the boardroom, Usmanov and Moshiri have refused to rock the boat or take any action that might damage the club. As an open letter to the Arsenal board of directors from 2012 published on the BBC website and co-signed by the pair illustrates, however, they had a keen understanding of the issues facing the club and were very much aware of the concerns being voiced by supporters, particularly on social media and Internet forums. Their call for the Gunners’ board to address fundamental issues like “the financial model, the lack of investment and the Club's future strategic direction” and their vision for a debt-free club should strike a deep cord with Evertonians.
That kind of focused ambition tempered by a measured approach are qualities that should sit well with Blues fans apprehensive about Moshiri’s assumption of the mantle of largest shareholder at Goodison. Unable to achieve his goals in football at Arsenal, he has found a new avenue with our club amid a new ownership structure that allows him to get his feet under the table and lay of the land without having total control. Everton could well be the beneficiary of Moshiri's pent-up energy.
There is plenty we don’t know for sure certain yet, of course. For instance, how much did Moshiri pay for his 49.9% holding in Everton? Was it as little as £30m, as was suggested yesterday, in order to give him the “bandwidth” to plough investment straight into the stadium issue or was it closer to £85m which would value the club at around £175m? Whose shares did he buy and how many do the remaining directors hold? Has that long wait for Bill to make good on the pledge he made all those years ago been worth the drawn-out saga?
Those are answers that will be forthcoming in due course but while these winds of change won't sweep the boardroom clean in the manner that some would have been hoping for, the feeling is that there is much to be optimistic about given the sound impression one gets about Moshiri from his past dealings and those who know him personally. As with any new chapter in the club’s history, it’s a step into the unknown that requires faith and patience but it could mark a turning point at Everton in all the right ways.
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