Desire to please fans clouded Owls decision, says Mandaric

TIME FOR A RETHINK: Sheffield Wednesday chairman Milan Mandaric. Picture: Steve Ellis.
TIME FOR A RETHINK: Sheffield Wednesday chairman Milan Mandaric. Picture: Steve Ellis.
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SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY supporters weathered by icy blasts for the best part of two decades probably knew that the recent sunshine would not last forever.

We are not talking about the club’s longest unbeaten run in all competitions since the start of the 1990-91 season being ended last Saturday against Nottingham Forest, but the death knell for Hafiz Mammadov’s planned £40m takeover of the club.

The Azerbaijan-born multi- millionaire RC Lens and FC Baku owner will now become another footnote in Owls’ history alongside the likes of Sammy Yu, Paul Gregg and Geoff Sheard as one who failed to claim the keys at S6.

Chairman Milan Mandaric’s statement that Mammadov’s takeover, ill-advisedly ‘announced’ back on June 10, had in fact collapsed represented a bit of a surprise, but not a major shock. All but the most wildly optimistic Wednesdayite probably sensed the development was in the wind a while back.

Not too long after the original announcement, oil and energy magnate Mammadov, described as ‘a true football man’ by Mandaric, was forced to strongly deny reports that he had been held in custody in his homeland due to financial difficulties.

It was the first clue that suggested all was not well, with days turning into weeks in terms of the club waiting for the deal’s ratification.

In the week leading up to the beginning of the season there was speculation that Mandaric, who had promised an update on the takeover ahead of the big kick-off, would announce the deal had collapsed.

Instead, he warned he was ready to pull the plug on the deal, with Mammadov unable to complete a purchase of the club’s shares. It was the beginning of the end.

The next development around a fortnight ago saw Mandaric blame the French press for forcing him to prematurely announce the takeover in early June. It was the forerunnner to yesterday’s news.

For Mandaric, it has undeniably been a bit of a PR disaster, with damage limitation arriving by way of his new update. At least he admitted that he had jumped the gun by deciding to announce that agreement had been reached with Mammadov in early June.

In that original statement announcing ‘confirmation’ of the deal, the penultimate paragraph from Mandaric hinted Mammadov’s takeover was not cut and dried.

The business line read: “This deal is still subject to ratification from the Football League.”

The picture of Mandaric with Mammadov that adorned the club website 87 days ago will probably take on a certain degree of infamy, although in terms of the takeover, many fans will have already moved on.

In announcing the collapse of Mammadov’s takeover, contrition and regret were palpable from Mandaric in equal measure yesterday.

Damaged pride was also clear in Mandaric’s statement, considering that he had made great play of not gambling on the long-term future of the club when it came to finding a suitable buyer in his own version of the ‘Fit and Proper Person’s Test’.

Mandaric was no doubt mindful of how fans had been led up the garden path regarding takeover speculation too many times before.

Hence, his and the club’s fierce original determination only to go public when something was water-tight and signed, sealed and delivered.

With injured pride has also come a fair bit of anger for Mandaric, judging by his revelation yesterday that he will consider legal action following the failure of the sale.

Mandaric said: “The legacy I leave behind is vitally important to me and I believed Mr Mammadov offered a wonderful future for the supporters.

“Unfortunately, despite working hard with both Mr Mammadov and his representatives since the agreement was signed, he has not been able to meet the obligations set out in the contract for either the purchase of the shares or the sponsorship arrangements.

“Our supporters were extremely excited when the takeover was announced; like me they believed that Mr Mammadov offered a great opportunity for the club. In hindsight my desire to please our supporters probably clouded my decision to grant further time for him to complete the process.

“During this period, I have continued to manage the business and to fund the ongoing financial requirements of the club as I have always done and will continue to do so.

“While I hope that Mr Mammadov will very quickly overcome his difficulties in Azerbaijan, I cannot allow this continued speculation to continue and have asked my legal advisers to take such legal action as they consider necessary.”

Mandaric’s conviction in the takeover was manifested in allowing the Land of Fire logo promoting Mammadov’s business to be emblazoned on Wednesday’s shirts.

Unfortunately, for Wednesdayities, it has been a land of confusion.