Tuesday, 19 July 2011

'Dispatches: How to Buy a Football Club': The Foxes' view

Channel 4's Dispatches has uncovered a range of dodgy deals in its past - but last night it turned its attention to football clubs.

Visiting Thailand and former Manchester United skipper Bryan Robson, Leicester City were mentioned as a target of an aggressive money-making takeover. And whilst Sheffield Wednesday and their rivals Sheffield United took the focus of the programme, it raised a number of fears that the recent takeover by Vichai and Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn could be a part of the rule-flouting London Nominees Football Fund scheme.

The scheme identifies Championship teams to be taken-over by a fund, receiving investment to quickly see the club promoted to the Premier League before the investors take a big pay-off when they sell the now-successful football club. A club like Sheffield Wednesday - with sound infrastructure, a large stadium and solid fan base - that is floundering in the lower leagues is ripe to be taken-over and turned into the top flight giant it used to be. Of course, the now-owner of Sheffield Wednesday is the former Leicester City chairman Milan Mandaric. 

Owners: The Raksriaksorns were mentioned in 'Dispatches'
Joe Sim, the brains behind London Nominees Football Fund, cites his close relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson as being key to his business strategy of obtaining players on loan from top flight clubs (namely Manchester United). Leicester City fans - who have seen new Thai owners invest in their football club - may be rightly concerned about allegations fingering the Raksriaksorns as being a part of this deal: Vichai Raksriaksorn apparently consulted Sim before making his purchase of Leicester City Football Club.

However, there are a number of features of the Raksriaksorn deal that does not carry the hallmarks of a London Nominees Football Fund. For one, the idea of the Football Fund is that an investor can become an anonymous club owner, something that the Raksriaksorns have avoided as they have placed themselves firmly in the limelight, seen happily supporting their new club amongst ordinary fans.

But most significantly and most reassuringly, the Raksriaksorns have invested significant amounts of money in re-branding the club with their King Power duty-free brand. King Power is now the stadium sponsor as well as the sticker to be seen on the players' shirts. The Raksriaksorns' have made Leicester City a multi-million pound, national billboard for their Asian business and their intention to take the Foxes to the Premier League will only offer that billboard to a wider, global audience. Why risk the name of a respected brand by tarnishing it in a dodgy football deal?

King Power: Vichai is using the Foxes as a billboard for his venture
So, whilst there will be concerns amongst the Leicester City fraternity, even by the mention of Thailand as being the base for the controversial dealings uncovered by Dispatches, it seems the Raksriaksorns may not be directly connected to Joe Sim's illicit venture.

If nothing else, the lack of star signings on loan to the now-King Power Stadium from the red half of Manchester may offer a small crumb of comfort.
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