I know nobbyd and I’ve got no reason not to believe what he says about the club being up for sale. In fact the reports on BBC all but confirmed the fact this morning. Nobby certainly has a tangental connection into the club and he was the one who broke the Gary Waddock story (albeit via a different source). Yes, it’s golf club talk ultimately and you can never wholly trust anything that isn’t official, but I can say for certain that it’s not what you might call a first degree lie in the mould of Joe Cole to Oxford.
But, we probably should be careful by the definition of the term ‘For Sale’. In a sense the club is always for sale, it would seem somewhat absurd to think that Ian Lenagan values the club beyond all financial measure and the report on the radio confirmed that he has always said he’d welcome extra investment. Why wouldn’t he? While I doubt he’d ever put his personal situation at risk funding the club, there is a ceiling beyond which he won’t go in terms of financial support. Any extra investment could come from a partner or a complete buyout.
What this means, in reality, is that Lenagan is not going to wildly spend his way to success. But that’s been part of the strategy for the last year with the new focus on home grown youth. The threat, of course, is that this proves not to be good enough and the club fails as a result.
One of the reasons that nobbyd gives for Lenagan’s willingness to sell up is the club’s spiralling debt, which has apparently grown to £6 million. Again, we need to consider the nature of that debt.
If we’re to believe the Lenagan (and I do) then that debt is ‘soft’ which I understand to mean that the club effectively owes most of its money to Lenagan himself. There are few creditors, such as the bank or Inland Revenue, who could move to put the club into administration. Which means he’s unable to simply walk away from the problem (unless he is prepared to write off the debt, of course). More likely is that he will factor the debt into the asking price of the club. That’s certainly what Lenagan did when he bought the club, and what Firoz Kassam did before that.
His dilemma is that he can’t stop spending completely because if the club’s fortunes do plummet, the asking price (i.e. the £6million debt) would be beyond most reason. However, the more money he does sink into the club without a return on the pitch effectively puts the price of the club up as the debt grows.
It seems unlikely that Lenagan will spend his way out of the situation even if he were able. There has to be a point, after eight years of ownership, in which he must realise the immovable limitations being placed upon the club.
The most interesting of all the possible exit strategies for Lenagan is perhaps the most innovative. The idea is that Lenagan engineers the sale of the club and the Kassam Stadium to a developer who demolishes the Kassam and re-develops the land whilst relocating the club to a new home.
With that scenario Kassam wins because he’s rid himself of the heartache of running the stadium company, cinema and so on. The extra revenue available from the site must be moderate (for a multimillionaire); the club is unlikely to be in a position to grow revenues in the short term and the Bowlplex, cinema and the like are hardly teeming the customers themselves. But this is valuable land in the right hands; with housing prices booming, particularly in Oxford, this land could be very attractive for development.
Lenagan wins because he gets out, and the club wins because it gets a new home and its debt cleared – and hopefully benefits from the seven day a week modern football business model that others in new stadiums have enjoyed. All of which should have happened when we left The Manor.
It might leave the club at risk of becoming homeless if the new investor isn’t prepared to re-home the club, but that should be covered by planning regulations. I’m no expert in such things, but the council are unlikely to entertain changing the planning use for the stadium without getting some assurances that the club will be secure, they couldn’t handle that PR disaster.
Can it all fall into place? Well I’d have thought chances were less than 50:50, more likely is that a takeover will be like-for-like with the current arrangement, but it could be the dream ticket. Because, rather like people complaining about Roy Hodgson or the players for their abject World Cup performances whilst ignoring the corrosive impact of the Premier League, for every complaint about Lenagan or Waddock or the players, the real villain of the piece is, and always has been, the stadium.