Manchester City’s windfall is adding to the pressure on Bill Kenwright over Everton’s proposed move to Kirkby, as Mark O'Brien explains
On the closing day of the transfer window, Everton smashed their record by spending £15 million on the relatively unknown Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini. After a trying summer, one that Bill Kenwright described as “the worst I have ever known in the transfer market”, it should have been big news, but like just about every other move that day it was overshadowed by the events up the road.
The Abu Dhabi takeover at Manchester City has left everyone reeling to some extent, as fans of every club in the top flight attempt to get to grips with the impact a new financial superpower could have. Manchester United and Chelsea bullishly claim to be unmoved by the crass predictions coming out of Eastlands, while Liverpool’s and Arsenal’s understandable fears for their Champions League places were given away by Arsène Wenger’s complaints about City’s publicised desire to eventually add Cesc Fábregas to their “dream team”.
For Everton, like other clubs just beyond the top four, the effects could be wide-ranging. For a start, in terms of what aspirant clubs expect from prospective owners, the bar has been raised to stratospheric levels. Where once a fairly well-off consortium of businessmen and well heeled supporters might have been welcomed into a club, it’s no longer enough. At a recent EGM, called to debate Everton’s plans to relocate to Kirkby, Kenwright came in for more general criticism and responded by saying: “The Arabs buying Manchester City will make things all the more difficult for a club like Everton. There was a chart... that showed the top 13 owners in football. We weren’t in it. It does not include Tottenham, who are owned by ENIC, nor were Blackburn, who had a wonderful millionaire behind them. There wasn’t even Sunderland, who have got four multi-millionaires behind them. I am a pauper when it comes to other chairmen. I cannot go on like this, we need a new owner and we will continue to try to find one.”
It then transpired that Kenwright has employed the services of Keith Harris, the ex-chairman of the Football League and now head of brokers Seymour Pierce, and more crucially the man responsible for setting up the deals whereby Roman Abramovich, Randy Lerner and Thaksin Shinawatra invested in their clubs.
Anil Ambani, the Indian industrialist said to be the world’s sixth richest man, is the first big-hitter to be linked with Goodison following a brief flirtation with Newcastle. There are suggestions, though, that Ambani is looking to speak to a number of clubs in order to force asking prices down.
Philip Green keeps being mentioned, as the retail billionaire is a close friend of Kenwright – indeed, rumours persist that the owner of the Arcadia Group has been a sometime source of emergency loans. However, Green, a Spurs fan, has stated he has no interest in investing in football and has never set foot in Goodison.
While the search for a new, super-rich owner goes on, the present Everton board insist that the move to the new stadium is the only route forward. According to Robert Elstone, the acting chief executive, Goodison generates around £800,000 on a matchday, as opposed to the £3.3m that Arsenal rake in at the Emirates. Few fans argue that the Blues need a bigger and better home, then, be it a redeveloped Goodison or elsewhere, but the bone of contention is the location, with many objecting to a move beyond the city boundaries into Knowsley.
Opinions are also divided over how the future of “Destination Kirkby” may affect investment, with proponents of the development arguing that potential owners are going to look favourably on a club with a brand new home built relatively inexpensively, thanks to the input of partners such as Tesco and Knowsley Council. Others believe that investors of the calibre that Everton require would have the kind of wealth of their own that would enable them to build a new ground at a more attractive site within the city of Liverpool itself.
In footballing terms, the widely held presumption that Man City will shortly parachute straight into the top four means that other sides will all shuffle down a position. For Everton that means that even UEFA Cup qualification will become more tricky, never mind any hopes of repeating the feat of 2005 and gatecrashing the top four again.
Furthermore, there is the added worry about the “Steve Sidwell effect”. While City clearly covet such names as Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres, prising those players away from their present employers promises to be easier said than done. As things stand, though, if Mark Hughes fancied padding his squad out with Mikel Arteta, Yakubu or Joleon Lescott – excellent Premier League players whom Everton fans adore – David Moyes would be almost powerless to stop him.
The threat of losing your best players to Man Utd is bad enough, but to City?
From WSC 261 November 2008