An Indian-born businessman who’s in talks about buying Blackburn Rovers says he’d invest 100 million pounds ($156 million) in new talent to turn the Premier League soccer club into “a top team.”
Ahsan Ali Syed, founder of Bahrain and Switzerland-based Western Gulf Advisory AG, told Bloomberg News he’s set aside 300 million pounds to invest in the 1995 English champion. That includes about 60 million pounds to buy the team, 20 million pounds to clear debt and further funds to boost infrastructure, he said.
“We hope a deal can be completed before the close of the transfer window in August,” Syed said in a telephone interview from Bahrain today. His negotiating team is currently in England to sign an exclusivity agreement with the club, giving them four weeks to look over the accounts.
The Premier League, the richest in global soccer, has attracted investors from around the world, including Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City and Russia’s Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. Not all foreign investments have worked out.
Portsmouth, which went through four owners in six months, became the first top-division team to seek bankruptcy protection in February after racking up debt of more than 100 million pounds. Liverpool, an 18-time English champion, is also searching for a buyer as American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks seek to pay off a bank loan of 237 million pounds.
Blackburn hasn’t been a contender for the championship since winning the Premier League title for the only time. That success was financed by Jack Walker, a Blackburn fan who made his fortune in the steel industry.
Walker died in 2000 and the club is operated by a trust that bears his name. For much of the past decade the team has hovered in mid-table.
Syed, whose firm recently completed a 300 million-pound debt-for-equity swap with Irish construction company J&M McCabe Properties Ltd., said an investment in Blackburn suited his investment strategy better than “other offers that have crossed my desk”.
“We invest in undervalued or distressed assets,” he said. “What’s more interesting, taking over an established team or a team like Blackburn Rovers back to the top?”
John McCabe, founder and managing director of J&M McCabe Properties, said Syed “is definitely legit.” The Irishman said he couldn’t provide any further details of his company’s involvement with Western Gulf Advisory because of a non- disclosure agreement. “We’ve had no problems with them,” he said in an interview.
Syed said WGA is an investment fund responsible for his family’s assets, which stem from a long-established private- lending business in India.
Blackburn, under coach Sam Allardyce, beat Everton 1-0 in its first Premier League game of the season two days ago. Syed backed Allardyce to remain if a deal can be completed.
“I’m a big fan of Big Sam,” he said. “He’s worked miracles and with the right backing he can take the team even further.”
Allardyce led Blackburn to a 10th-place finish last season.
With Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool close to its Ewood Park stadium, Blackburn rarely plays home matches in front of capacity crowds.
Improved performances, better players and qualification for competitions like European soccer’s elite Champions League may help bring in more fans, Syed said.
He added that he plans to improve the club’s 31,000-seat stadium and also keep on funding its youth academy.
Sales fell about 10 percent to 50.9 million pounds for the year ended June 30, 2009, Blackburn said in its latest annual filing. It posted net income of 3.6 million pounds and had net debt of 20.3 million pounds. The wage-to-revenue ratio for the 2008-09 season was 90.6 percent, among the highest in the Premier League.
Blackburn spokesman Paul Agnew didn’t immediately answer a request for comment.