GOLDIE, our tame Eagle, tries to pick out the bones of truth from the latest tabloid reports about takeover bids at Selhurst Park
“We don’t comment on speculation.”
That was all a spokeswoman for Crystal Palace would say this morning when asked about the overnight reports that Tony Adams, the former England and Arsenal captain, was heading up a £200million takeover bid for the Selhurst Park club.
The report, originating from that font of all that is reliable and true, millionaire pornographer Richard Desmond’s Daily Star, is, at best, a tad ahead of itself.
No formal bid has been made to the club’s owners as yet. Certainly, that is the position of Palace club co-chairman Steve Parish, via his Twitter account.
“This story is not true, there are no deals in place or discussions to sell the club,” Parish said.
Of Adams, Parish said, “I shook his hand and said hello once at an Arsenal game for 10 seconds, other than that I’ve never met him.”
So will that be the end of it? Possibly not.
Five days before the start of the 2017-2018 Premier League season, and the lack of trading in the transfer market by Palace, both before and since the arrival of Frank de Boer as manager, has made some fans edgy about the strength of the squad.
It is more than 18 months now since a pair of American “investors”, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, made what was described as a “cash injection” of £50million and each took 18 per cent stakes in the club. That December 2015 deal valued Crystal Palace as being worth around £140million, but that was before the latest Sky TV deal kicked in, bringing in more than £80million per season to each Premier League club.
But Americans, familiar with sports franchises and profit margins, have never really understood the notion of relegation. Or if they do, they certainly don’t like its risks when they have $100million at stake. Because above all else, Harris and Blitzer are hedge fund managers, as the founders of private equity firm Apollo Global Management.
So, after last season’s latest bumpy ride at Selhurst Park, might they be looking to cash-in and walk away from the roulette table that is English football?
That’s the way some Eagles fans see it, as they ask where the promised “cash injection” has gone, or when it might appear.
In truth, the club spent approaching £30million during the last transfer window, in January, to acquire some of the players that kept them in the Premier League, and in reach of the Sky riches. This summer, De Boer has made some shrewd and encouraging signings. But he’s not been spending millions of anyone’s money.
Yesterday, teenaged Dutch defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah underwent routine medical checks before joining Palace on a season-long loan from Manchester United.
Scouting reports suggest that the 19-year-old, who can play at full-back or as centre back, is an outstanding prospect, and United boss Jose Mourinho apparently has no intention of selling him off any time between now and 2020, when his Old Trafford contract expires. The Dutch under-21 international has made 11 first-team appearances at United, having broken into the squad during Louis Van Gaal’s spell in charge. And Van Gaal and De Boer are known to be friends and to swap coaching notes.
So a spell under De Boer in south London will help Fosu-Mensah mature into the finished Premier League article. And Palace get a decent player for not much outlay.
Likewise with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the box-to-box midfielder who was not getting enough game time at Chelsea. Loftus-Cheek has already impressed the Selhurst faithful in pre-season.
But other than that…? The only money spent so far, with another three weeks to the end of the transfer window, is the £7.9million to Ajax for Jairo Riedewald. In fact, more players have left Palace this summer than have been signed.
None of which is necessarily a problem if De Boer has at his disposal enough and high enough calibre players to achieve the (modest) goal of mid-table mediocrity. The consensus among those who have endured the past three seasons of survival is that De Boer is lacking in key areas, not least up front.
So if the Americans’ £50million was not enough to kick-start improved results or a stadium development (perhaps to provide a venue for a London-based NFL franchise, as suggested by Forbes magazine), has the time come when even more investment might be needed?
That’s the nub of the Daily Star report, as Adams and former Chelsea executive Paul Smith have been traipsing around a series of clubs, apparently on behalf of some serious Chinese money.
Aston Villa and Sunderland have both been courted, and rejected, by Adams and Smith, and the former Gooner’s dalliance with management at doomed Granada at the tail end of the last La Liga season (playing record under Adams: P7 W0 D0 L7) may also have been symptomatic of a desire to move into European football.
Adams was installed into the Spanish job by Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang, the owner of Link International Sports. Lizhang bought Granada last summer, and he should already be known to Harris and Blitzer through his part-ownership of NBA franchise the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Today’s reports suggest Smith (Adams is essentially the public, footballing face of the dealing) has secured backing from European investors for a Palace coup. Before working at Chelsea, Smith was an executive at two of the biggest agencies in global sport, IMG and the notorious ISL. That such an experienced operator should allow even a peep of such a high-octane deal to get on to the tabloid back pages looks like a ploy to test the waters to see how receptive the current owners might be to cashing in their chips.
And the football?
Palace kick off their season at Selhurst Park at 3pm on Saturday (make the most of that rare treat) against Huddersfield Town, a club which last played in the top tier of English football in April 1972 when their opponents were… Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. It’s as if the Premier League has arranged it that way.
On that day, 45 years ago, Ted Heath was an out-of-touch Prime Minister in an unpopular Tory Government, America had an egomaniac for a President, “Amazing Grace” by the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards was No1 in the music charts, a pint of beer was 13p, Derby County under Brian Clough won the Football League, and Frank Worthington and Bobby Tambling were Huddersfield and Palace’s star strikers.
The Palace v Huddersfield game was a 0-0 draw. And Palace got relegated the following season.
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