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Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Hammers bidder Tony Fernandes courted by seven clubs

By Frank Keogh

Tony Fernandes
Fernandes has received 10,000 messages from West Ham fans

Seven clubs have asked businessman Tony Fernandes to consider a takeover after he failed to seize control at West Ham.

Three Premier League sides are among those to have contacted the Malaysian millionaire after he lost out to David Gold and David Sullivan at Upton Park.

But Fernandes is unlikely to invest in any club, including the Hammers.

"I love West Ham but there's clearly got to be one boss and I am not considering being a minor partner," the Lotus F1 team boss told BBC Sport.

Fernandes, a supporter for 35 years, said he would find it difficult to own another club after Gold and Sullivan took charge on 19 January.

"It's hard. I kind of love West Ham very much and I can't imagine supporting anyone else," he said.

"I've been approached in the past anyway, but the West Ham news has probably pushed me to the front in terms of ownership."

Along with the two Davids, finance firm Intermarket and Italian Massimo Cellini, the 45-year-old Fernandes was one of four parties interested in owning West Ham.

He said he offered fresh ideas and complete backing for manager Gianfranco Zola and assistant Steve Clarke.

"I don't want to say too much right now as I still may use those ideas at another club," said Fernandes. "I've been offered many clubs in the last week."

He said seven clubs in total had been offered to him, including three in the Premier League.

One of these is thought to be cash-strapped Portsmouth, although he declined to give identities.

Fernandes thought he was on the brink of sealing a deal for West Ham and flew his business partner in from Kuala Lumpur as negotiations continued late into the night of Monday, 18 January.

"We were looking to take Zola out on the Tuesday and they suddenly called us and said 'we've sold'," he said.

"My partner, poor guy, got off a 13-hour flight and did a turnaround. He was in the UK for an hour."

The stumbling block appeared to be that Fernandes was seeking 100% ownership, while Gold and Sullivan offered a controlling 50%.

"I think we just ran out of time. I wanted to be in total control of the club," said Fernandes, who is based in Malaysia but makes regular trips to Lotus HQ in Norfolk.

"I think they were just unsure whether I would complete in the expected time.

"We were in a bit of shock, to be honest. We thought we had it. I was pretty confident they would go with us."

After taking over, Sullivan revealed West Ham had run up debts of £110m.


Cost-cutting is expected at the east London club and chief executive Scott Duxbury announced his resignation on Friday.

"We would have removed a lot of the debt and given the club a new lease of life," said Fernandes, who said he had been boosted by an estimated 10,000 messages of support from West Ham fans.

"I talked to Scott about that already and to Nick (Igoe), the financial director, and certainly savings were on the cards."

Fernandes said he had been relishing the prospect of working with Zola, who guided West Ham to ninth in the Premier League in his first season but sees his side flirting with the relegation zone this campaign.

"I've got very close with the management, the players and the coaching staff over the last year, and I'm a big believer in Zola and I'm a big believer in giving people a chance," he said.

Sullivan and Gold have a four-year option to buy the remaining 50% from Icelandic bank Straumur, although they have urged Fernandes to invest in the club.

While not ruling out being involved at some stage, Fernandes said it was unlikely in the short-term.

"We've talked on the phone and SMS'd (sent text messages) a few times, but it hasn't really progressed from there. I think it would be a long shot to be honest but let's see - never say never," he said.

"You've got to be totally aligned with someone to be a partner.

"Of course, it would be a fantastic thing to be involved with West Ham, and I never close any doors."

Fernandes said he would have developed West Ham gradually, altered admission prices, investigated the benefits of moving from Upton Park to the new Olympic Stadium and introduced global marketing and cross-promotion of the West Ham and Lotus brands.

Gold and Sullivan edged out Fernandes in the takeover battle
Gold and Sullivan edged out Fernandes in the takeover battle

After what he called "phenomenal diligence", he admitted to being surprised at the extent of the club's financial turmoil.

"It's very typical of current financial excesses. There were some player transactions that looked very odd to me," he said.

In recent years, he has been to an average of about 10 West Ham games a season, but admitted he will find it difficult to attend his next match.

"It would feel a bit odd going there at the moment, when you come so close to owning a club," he said.

"I came there to see a club which was not in a great position.

"My expertise is to take an asset which is not being treated very well, to give it some love and care, and move it on."

Under the new owners, Fernandes believes the club he calls an "unpolished diamond" can still sparkle.

"The squad needs strengthening up front, but has a fantastic midfield," he said.

"It's a good squad. The new owners must believe in the squad, and it will perform. There's no need to chop and change too many things and to start panicking."

And he expects the days of Premier League big spending to be curtailed in the near future.

"Like Formula One, there needs to be a reality check, eventually even the billionaires need a reality check," he added.

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see also
Hammers chief Duxbury quits club
29 Jan 10 |  West Ham
Hammers debt is 110m - Sullivan
19 Jan 10 |  West Ham
Gold & Sullivan take over Hammers
19 Jan 10 |  West Ham
West Ham want Olympic venue move
19 Jan 10 |  London
Zola keen for takeover resolution
15 Jan 10 |  West Ham
West Ham hit by 115,000 FA fine
15 Jan 10 |  League Cup
Death hits West Ham takeover bid
12 Jan 10 |  West Ham
Top-flight finances stun Sullivan
11 Jan 10 |  Premier League

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