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West Ham Takeover?

John Simkin

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The Guardian, Tuesday October 14 2008

West Ham were yesterday the subject of a takeover approach by Dubai's sovereign-wealth fund Zabeel Investments. The same company, controlled by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, declared its interest in Charlton Athletic last Friday in the form of an "indicative bid". But yesterday's approach was far more discreetly conducted.

Club sources confirm that contact was made but insist there are "no talks" after the owner, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, rejected the offer. Twenty-four hours earlier he had informed high-level staff that his commitment to West Ham was as strong as ever and that he would remain with the club in the long term.

However, it is believed that talks are continuing with Gudmundsson on a personal level as he faces increased pressure to cash in on his £85m investment. Dubai's bid is serious and Amanda Staveley, the dealmaker who introduced the Abu Dhabi United Group to Manchester City, is understood to be in the Emirate to talk through the potential purchase.

Although West Ham continue to insist that they are viable - unlike several other clubs to have changed hands in recent years, no takeover debt was loaded on to them- Gudmundsson's personal finances have been hit by the financial crash. He and his son Thor Bjorgolfsson were, until last week at least, Iceland's two richest men. But as 41% shareholders in the collapsed Landsbanki, the country's second-biggest bank, and having guaranteed loans in the charter airline XL, which folded a month ago, they have been heavily exposed to the meltdown of their nation's economy.

West Ham, an attractive proposition given their proximity to the 2012 Olympic stadium, face a potential eight-figure liability in the shape of Sheffield United's compensation claim in the Carlos Tevez case. They are contesting this through the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

There have been two approaches for West Ham from the Gulf and another from China in recent days, but Dubai's appears to be the most likely to succeed. If it does, Premier League ownership rules will forbid Zabeel's takeover of Charlton.

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