Reading FC And The Worry Of Foreign Ownership

Zingarevich bought 51% share in Reading  (Image from Getty)Reading are right in the midst of a promotion battle after their 3-1 win away at QPR pushed them up to sixth. But behind the scenes, the club are wobbling after their owner, Anton Zingarevich, failed to finalize his full takeover of the club. The club’s chairman, Sir John Madejski, was reassured that Zingarevich would invest into the club however this hasn’t been the case. Like the money, Zingarevich has been non-existent at the Madejski Stadium since August and yesterday pulled the plug on his role at the club.

Anton Zingarevich and wife Katsia  (Image from Getty)

Anton Zingarevich and wife Katsia
(Image from Getty)

Since he took partial ownership of the club, Reading have been promoted and relegated, collecting a revenue of £90 million through mainly television rights. It seems like Reading could be on course for another promotion challenge with many pundits believing that they have hit form at the right time of the season, winning five of their last seven matches. Despite this, Zingarevich hasn’t felt as optimistic about their chances. In the summer of 2012, he claimed ‘Reading are one of the best investment opportunities in football generally.’ Since their drop back down to the Championship, the Russian owner’s belief has disintegrated and after watching their 3-3 draw with Watford on the 17th August, his interest faded.  Reading aren’t the only club to have had problems with foreign owners. Birmingham City have been involved in a long money laundering saga with their previous investor, Carson Yeung. In 2011, the Hong Kong businessman was arrested for alleged money laundering and since then, the club’s fortunes have gone downhill as they have become saddled with debt. Another foreign owner who has caused uproar is current Cardiff owner/dictator, Vincent Tan. Since he arrived at the club, he has changed the club’s crest and colours and in December last year he sacked fan’s favourite, Malky Mackay due to his side’s poor league position. This came after a Championship title and a trip to Wembley in the League Cup final against Liverpool.

Owners from Hell - Vincent Tan  (Image from PA)

Owners from Hell – Vincent Tan
(Image from PA)

More recently, Leeds United have also had difficulties co-operating with their new owner Massimo Cellino. The Italian gained control of the club on Transfer deadline day where he immediately sacked Brian McDermott causing great uproar and drama that evening. He then re-appointed him on the following Monday. It’s believed that Cellino wants to buy back Elland Road for £15.7 million but there are questions over how committed the new owner will be. In a recent interview, he suggested he may play a concert at Elland Road with Brian McDermott due to their love for the guitar. The danger with hiring foreign owners is that there carries a risk of the club going into meltdown – transforming a professional football club into a circus act. Sir John Madejski has said that he is awaiting the right buyer despite speculation that investors from the United States and Oman are very interested in buying the club. He has said:

“Football is very mercurial and very expensive and it is not for the faint hearted. It is very important we find somebody that’s earnest about owning a British football club if they’re foreign, and see the job through.”

Although he is not ruling out the possibility of agreeing a deal with another foreign owner, it seems that the Chairman is having doubts, like several other clubs are, about negotiating with investors from abroad. For now the Royals will remain under Sir John’s control.

Piece by Richard Waterhouse

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Di Matteo’s Sacking Unjustified But Along Time In The Making

You have to feel sorry for Roberto Di Matteo. The Chelsea manager was sacked yesterday by owner Roman Abramovich, who cited the failure to progress in Europe and recent poor performances as the reason. Whilst performances in this year’s Champions League have not been great for Chelsea and qualification for the next round increasingly difficult, the team itself is still firing on all cylinders. Sitting 3rd in the league, 4 points behind leaders Manchester City and still in all domestic cup competitions, its hard to work out exactly what Abramovich was unhappy about. That is until you delve into the past 12 months since Villas Boas was sacked and replaced by Di Matteo as interim coach. The Italian was clearly never the front-runner for the job long-term but his success in turning around the team and eventually delivering the one prize Abramovich wanted the most – the Champions League, made it hard for the Russian to give it to anyone else. Added into this, Chelsea’s first and some say only choice for new manager, Pep Guardiola’s  reluctance to take on the job, so soon after leaving Barcelona due to burn out, took the choice out of the owners hands. Abramovich tried hard to convince him but finally conceded that Guardiola needed 6 months of rest before he would feel ready to get back into management. Left with little option and growing appreciation from the fans and players towards Di Matteo, the billionaire handed Di Matteo the job.

However from day one, Di Matteo’s card was marked. It was Abramovich who carried out the summer transfers, spending heavily on talented youngsters like Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses, with Di Matteo sitting in the wings. It was Abramovich who publicly flaunted his love of Guardiola and his desire to appoint him as head coach only weeks after Di Matteo had bagged the Champions League trophy. And most importantly it was Abramovich that spent the $50 million to bring Fernando Torres to Stamford Bridge, only to watch his prize asset fail from grace spectacularly. The latter was not something Di Matteo could have prevented but this season, he had the chance to revitalize the Spaniard and make him the focal point of his attack, especially with the departure of Didier Drogba to China. But the Italian coach struggled to motivate Torres, who again has looked lackluster on the pitch this season, resulting in Tuesday nights humiliating relegation to the bench. Despite not having any other striking options available to Di Matteo to face Juventus, his decision to bench Torres may have been the final nail in his coffin as an enraged Abramovich watched on.

Torres looks frustrated on the Chelsea bench against Juventus

The timing of Di Matteo’s dismissal may be the only thing that surprises many. Granted Champions league progression is dependant on the final game and results going for them, but it’s still a possibility. With the league only 12 games in, Chelsea have been impressive scoring on average 2 goals a game, and having only lost two games so far – against Manchester United last month and at the weekend to an improving West Brom. They are in the quarter finals of the League Cup with a winnable tie against Leeds United, having already knocked out Manchester United and Wolves along the way. And with the FA Cup still in its early rounds, a domestic treble is still a realistic objective for the club. For Di Matteo to be sacked before the likes of Southampton’s Nigel Atkins (2 wins out of 12 games this season), Reading’s Brian McDermott (1 win in 11 games) and QPR’s Mark Hughes (0 wins in 12 games) is unbelievable. That is until the news surfaced that AC Milan was keen to hire Guardiola as their new manager. The Spaniard responded positively for the first time in 6 months, setting of alarm bells at the Chelsea headquarters and in particular to Abramovich. Not wanting to lose his prize, the Russian moved swiftly, clearing the space for Guardiola to take over, either immediately or in the summer. It would appear that he is likely to start in the summer as yesterday Chelsea announced that it had hired Rafa Benitez as manager until the end of the season. Discussions between Chelsea and Guardiola’s people continue with no news as yet.

One out – two in? Guardiola favourite with Benetiz waiting in the wings

For Di Matteo, the news is harsh but was expected. The timing is not great for him as he looked to be settling into the role and was undoubtedly planning for transfers in the January window but the coach will now likely spend that as a spectator. The only good thing to come from this whole experience, putting aside the exceptionally large payout he will receive from Chelsea as part of his dismissal, is that his reputation in the world of football has been enhanced. After less than fruitful managerial spells at Milton Keynes Dons and West Brom, the success he has had at Chelsea with increase his stock across the globe and he can be assured that it won’t be long before he findshimself in another high-profile role. For Chelsea, the hunt is on for manager no. 10 in the Abramovich era (Benetiz is the 9th), with Guardiola firm favourite to get the nod. But if the Russian billionaire is unable to persuade him to take the role, Abramovich may be left without a manager and with egg on his face.

Reading Boss Reveals A Little Too Much Information

No Love Lost with Abramovich

As a club manager, it’s vital to have a strong relationship with your chairman and owner. Chelsea is a great example of this. When the team is winning, Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire owner of the Blues, is your best friend, often showering gifts onto coaches as he basks in the positivity a victory run can bring. But when the times get tough, Abramovich is the last person you want near you, becoming more like a petulant child who will not take no for an answer. Many coaches have eventually fallen from grace at Chelsea – Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant, Ancelotti, Villas Boas – after falling out of favour with Roman. Ultimately this is his club, he owns the ground,employs the players and the staff so if he doesn’t like what he see, he changes it. Roberto Di Matteo has managed to give himself breathing room for the time being and win favour from Abramovich by securing the prize he wanted the most – the Champions League but now into his first full season in charge, he is under pressure to exceed again, not only domestically but in Europe as well. It may be only a matter of time before the wealthy Russian is sharpening his axe once more.

Just down the M4, another Russian is settling into life as a Premiership chairman for the first time. Anton Zingarevich arrived at the Madejski Stadium in May 2012 after purchasing then Championship side Reading from its owner, Sir John Madejski. Using his company, Thames Sport Investment, he bought the club just as it secured a return to the Premiership and promised money to manager Brian McDermott for the forthcoming campaign. He has duly delivered and has forged a strong relationship with McDermott as the two worked closely to secure signings like Russian international striker, Pavel Pogrebnyak from under the noses of Fulham. McDermott praised  Zingarevich’s contribution and a friendship blossomed between the two.

Just the Two of Us – McDermott and Zingarevich

However results haven’t been fantastic this season and Reading find themselves 3rd from bottom with only 6 points from the first 10 games which must add strain and pressure to their relationship. Like any good couple, disagreements are common but are often resolved by talking and some time away from things. Asked by TalkSport if he felt his relationship with Zingarevich had been fractured and a rift had emerged between them, he was quick to stomp out the rumours as untrue:

“That’s nonsense. I don’t know where that came from. We went for a drink after the Arsenal game. We talked about  players and we talked about football”

“He watched the game. We went to a local pub in west London. I stayed in the hotel with him that night. We had a few drinks with the locals. They all talked  about the game the night before. We talked about different players, went back to his hotel, had a drink back there and then went to bed. We woke up the next day, had another chat and that was it”

McDermott may have revealed too much about his relationship with his chairman but it would appear as though the two are still very close. But as the season progresses,  Zingarevich will be looking for McDermott to show to him that he is still the right man for him and for Reading or if divorce is on the cards for the two.

To hear the full interview for yourself, click here: