9 December ~ Next Tuesday hundreds of Sheffield Wednesday shareholders are expected to vote away their rights and the value of their shares, leaving the club in the sole hands of Milan Mandaric. That this has mostly provoked feelings of celebration and relief reflects the reality that the club was within days of administration, possibly liquidation. The preceding months of speculation and implausible, occasionally comical, takeover bids mean that this is very much the last chance.
Mandaric has been welcomed as a hero, having apparently cleared the majority of the clubs debts – a deal is said to have been reached with the Co-operative Bank to write off most of the estimated £23 million they are owed. The current board, blamed by many for the club’s plight, will have no further involvement beyond honorary life presidencies, a rather surreal condition of the takeover. Talk on the forums is again of big signings and a return to the Championship and beyond. There has been very little room for questioning – Mandaric is regarded as “successful”, “a football man” and with enough cash to ensure success.
However, from reading the newspapers it’s difficult to find the precise terms of Mandaric’s takeover, most having been happy to reproduce the Press Association release. Has the debt to the Co-op been “written off” or sold to Mandaric? Chances are we will never know, as he is only accountable to his own company, UK Football Investments LLC of Delaware, USA. Is he in for the long term? Experience at both Portsmouth and Leicester suggest not and that he will offload as soon as he can make a decent profit. Finally, the big one – to whom will he sell?
In Pompey’s case he was none too choosy, with catastrophic results. Oddly, many fans see this oligarchic model of club ownership as a positive, which is partially understandable given the internecine warfare of the past few years and the unfortunate experience with football trusts – ours famously backed a takeover bid by Ken Bates without consulting its membership. The belief that running the club should be left to the “professionals” is prevalent, rather like saying that people shouldn’t vote because they aren’t politicians.
So what does the immediate future hold? Given Mandaric’s previous form, manager Alan Irvine has most to worry about. On the pitch we have some decent players, but despite a couple of eye-catching wins performances have been far from convincing. Stability in the boardroom may result in improvement, but automatic promotion this season would be a major surprise. There are still enough concerns both on and off the pitch to believe that we have not seen the back of Wednesday’s troubles. Ken Toft