Makeover Or Takeover?

By Nigel Ross

After the initial euphoria, should Evertonians be deliriously happy reading the media reworking of Everton’s latest press release on Ardavan Farad Moshiri becoming their largest shareholder or should they once again be vigilant of anything Bill Kenwright is involved in?

Saturday 27th February 2016. Finally, after sixteen years of frustration, disappointment and disillusionment the news every Evertonian had impatiently waited for suddenly was announced.

Bill Kenwright had finally found the investor he had searched the world for. An investor that would return Everton to competitiveness in the Premier League. An investor that would address Everton’s perennial problems, a 21st century club playing in a 20th century stadium and one of the weakest commercial performances in the Premier League.

Problems that have combined to prevent Everton from competing with their peers who have already addressed these same issues decades ago.

Despite months of increasingly frenzied rumours surrounding American, Chinese, Thai and Middle Eastern interest, the confirmation that Ardavan Farhad Moshiri had purchased a 49.9% stake in Everton followed just 24 hours of intense speculation that the British-Iranian billionaire was indeed Kenwright’s chosen successor.

The brief club statement, devoid of any real detail, led to an understandable explosion on Everton related social media where, rather inevitably, many Evertonians erred on the side of caution due to Bill Kenwright’s track record as chairman. A track record the mainstream media choose to remain mind numbingly oblivious to.

To understand why Evertonians are  cautious one needs to understand the truth behind Kenwright’s tenure rather than the myth.

When Bill Kenwright assumed control in 1999 the world, like Everton, was a very different place. Social media was essentially the letters page in the Echo and Evertonians, after a series of relegation battles and enforced sales of players, were collectively desperate for an alternative to beleaguered owner Peter Johnson.

Following the well received takeover by Kenwright’s consortium True Blue Holdings, Kenwright famously stated  they had no money but they did have a plan. The stated plan was to sell to someone with the ability to invest in the club but in the interim, unexplained at the time, in place of any inward investment whatsoever from the directors the club’s assets would be sold to fund Everton’s day to day activities.

Over the years everything that was nailed down went as security for loans. Everything that wasn’t was sold, players, buildings, land, £10m alone from the sale of the training ground, went straight to the banks to address an unacceptable level of debt on a now negative balance sheet. A balance sheet it should be noted, that was in much better health under previous owner Johnson.

On several occasions Bill Kenwright spectacularly failed to address both the investment issue and the stadium issue. Many of these failures brought the board into direct conflict with fellow shareholders and fan groups whose scepticism was proven to be appropriate time and time again.

Has Bill Kenwright shown reckless stupidity or shrewd business acumen during his tenure? Your viewpoint is most probably influenced by your source of information. Believing the media and the club PR machine you’re likely to see Bill Kenwright as the greatest living Evertonian.

Experience him personally parading charlatan investors, bogus directors and failing to deliver an incredible stadium project through personal animosity before wasting millions on a non-deliverable stadium solution, then your viewpoint could be slightly different.

Where did it go wrong for Bill Kenwright? What lessons can be learned for Everton and what of the future under Ardavan Farad Moshiri?

Well, let’s be honest, in the end, nothing has gone wrong for Bill Kenwright. Perhaps more by accident than by design Everton, despite the recognised and aforementioned challenges, has become an increasingly attractive proposition recently. A proposition that should have had prospective owners queuing around the block.

With relatively little debt, in Premier League terms, and vastly increased revenue streams, primarily due to the £8.5bn media deal, Everton is not only attractive it’s also an exciting proposition. It’s often said that money can buy anything except history, well, this could just be the exception that proves the rule.

At the time of writing it is unknown whose shares have actually been sold and, as these form a private transaction between the parties concerned, what also remains unknown is the exact price paid, the vehicle employed and its country of registration through which the transaction has been conducted.

It is believed that the 49.9% sale is comprised of the whole of the 23% shareholding held offshore by BCR Sports, with the 26.9% balance provided by Bill Kenwright and Jon Woods from their combined shareholding of 45%.

In all likelihood this initial tranche of shares, approximately 17,500, will be increased to over 26,000 shares or 75% of the company through the sale of shares held by Bill Kenwright, Robert Earl, Jon Woods, Arthur Abercrombie and the Carter family.

It would appear from an Everton press releases that the initial tranche sale value per share is £5,000 per. Not a bad return for Bill Kenwright’s investors who paid just £857 a share. It is not yet known how much the second agreed tranche will be transferred for.

Bill Kenwright has nothing to learn about teasing out a profit and keeping costs under control, he survives at the top of the theatre world where he has a reputation of being a tough operator.

He will have learned of the disadvantages of dealing with and handling a consortium, perhaps this was one of the reasons he chose to not to accept the £20m higher offer from JJ Moores and Charles Noell’s consortium, one of the reasons, but not the final deal breaker.

One piece of indisputable good news is that the exit of Robert Earl finally brings down Everton’s association with Philip Green. Let’s not pretend any further that Green has not extensively influenced Kenwright’s governance of Everton.

By his own admission Green organised a £30m credit line with RBS to buy the club, because ‘he liked him’ and once the transaction was completed the shares were mortgaged through RBS.

What other club requires their CEO and team manager attend meetings at Green’s office to discuss budgets? What club has a director whose shares were paid for by Green before being registered through an anonymous offshore entity?

What club has had a CEO resign citing undue outside influence and concern over the legality of what he was being asked to do, only to be urgently paid off after a James Bond style chase across the Mediterranean?

Green’s influence is at an end but not apparently his anger at Bill Kenwright accepting a bid £20m lower than that of the American consortium who had insisted they did not want any of the existing board. Instead preferring their own people. And opposite to Ardavan Farad Moshiri’s bid which allowed Bill Kenwright to stay on.

It’s somewhat surprising that Ardavan Farad Moshiri is happy to allow Bill Kenwright and Jon Woods to carry on regardless in their current roles. His background and character, a highly valued accountant and analyst to Alisher Usmanov, the 14th richest man in Russia, would indicate that after looking at Everton for over seven months he’d understand every strength, weakness, opportunity and threat to the business which would indicate that any interim position would be extremely interim indeed.

At face value Bill Kenwright has indeed delivered a billionaire, yet it’s difficult to see how Ardavan Farad Moshiri alone can deliver the investment needed by Everton to turn them into a high end performing club, both on and off the field of play, in the Premier League.

The bulk of Moshiri’s £1.3bn wealth is derived from his 5% shareholding in Alisher Usmanov’s £16bn valued company, Metalloinvest.  Moshiri’s twenty-five year close personal and business relationship with Usmanov was rewarded in 2008 when Usmanov, 58, rewarded him for years of service as an adviser and confidant by granting him a 10% stake in Gallagher Holding Ltd, the company through which Usmanov controls Metalloinvest.

Moshiri has been chairman of Metalloinvest since 2006 and represents Usmanov on the boards of some of the other companies Usmanov owns shares in, including OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel. Russia’s largest mining company, and OAO Megafon, the second-largest mobile-phone operator in the country.

Moshiri does operate independently of Usmanov, but not often and not too successfully. In 2007 he purchased 9.9% of stockbroker Panmure Gordon for £4m. In 2009 a leading Qatar investment bank bought 45% of the company, he now holds 4.99% of the company which is worth less than £500k.

Those who have worked with Moshiri describe him as driven and determined, his strengths appear to be in business analysis and management, his best work has undoubtedly been done with Alisher Usmanov who, it appears in the world of Russian billionaires, is actually something of the real deal.

From spending two years in jail in the 1980’s Usmanov’s fortune has developed initially from the supply and manufacture of plastic bags to metals, telecommunications and social media. Last year he invested £200m in Uber.

Has Bill Kenwright managed to finally pull off the deal that will transform Everton back into a top Premiership club? Or will the promises fade away like so many of his attempts in the past which resulted in nothing further than a mid-table squad and a lick of paint for the grand old lady?

One of Bill’s famous catchphrases is “watch this space.” Perhaps now, and finally, it is time for all Evertonians to look beyond Bill Kenwright.

All eyes should now be firmly on Ardavan Farad Moshiri and beyond.