It was announced this morning that West Ham, the English Premier League club has been acquired for £85 million by a consortium of Icelandic businessmen led by Eggert Magnusson, currently the president of the Iceland FA (a post he will now resign). The real money behind the deal seems to come from Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, chairman of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki. Until recently the club had been in negotiations with another consortium, led by Kia Joorabchian, an Iranian investor, backed by the Israeli property developer, Eli Papouchado. This caused great outrage in the media and among the fans about the threat of asset stripping. Back in August Joorabchian had brokered a deal to bring two of the most sought after young players in the world, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano of Argentina, to the club. The background to this deal seemed shady, and concerns were also expressed about business links to Roman Abramovitch, the owner of Chelsea, and various other Russian and Georgian businessmen.
West Ham is one of the most traditional football clubs in England, and ownership has been passed down among local family businesses for a century, so why the sudden entanglement with exotic investors? The answer is the London Olympics. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, there is controversy over the post games use of the Olympic Stadium The sports minister Richard Caborn appears to want a football club to move in, and West Ham is only a couple of miles away. Caborn’s boss, Tessa Jowell (secretary of state for culture, media and sport), apparently set the condition that it must retain a running track and be sold for at least £100 million- hence the search for investors. Papouchado was an ideal backer, since he had no interest in football but would be well placed to finance the purchase of the Olympic stadium and the redevelopment of West Ham’s existing site. However, the concern that football is losing its identity, being “sold out” to foreign interests and turned into a business led to widespread public opposition.
Hence the involvement of the seemingly more respectable Icelanders. However, it has also been mentioned that one quarter of the teams in the Premier League are now under foreign ownership. This is only to be expected given the global appeal of the Premier League, and many more foreign investors have been linked with EPL clubs. The question is whether this will undermine support for the existing organisational structure of the “football family”, and in particular support for the release of players to play for their country.
As the great Einar Benediktsson said, Hve blásnautt er hjarta sem einskis saknar.