BCFC: What Moved the Takeover Goalposts

With Jude Bellingham once again turning it on for England in the round of 16 World Cup match against Senegal, it’s somewhat deflating to turn attention back to the never-ending saga that is Birmingham City’s ownership travails.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

However, with a couple of days to think about things and to talk to people who know more than I do, I wanted to offer some thoughts on why Maxco felt the need to renegotiate terms with BSHL / Vong Pech, and the issues that may face other potential bidders in the coming weeks and months.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think we’ll be given any kind of official reason as to why things ground to a halt.

Birmingham Sports Holdings denied even being in negotiation with Maxco, stating that the discussions were between Maxco and Vong Pech only for the stake held by the Cambodian businessman’s investment company Oriental Rainbow Investments.

As for Vong Pech, the only quotes I can find attributed directly to him are from this recent Radio Free Asia article where he denied that Wang Yaohui was any way involved with Blues.

While there are no official sources as to what has happened, I think I can offer an informed opinion on what might have happened based on what I know and what I have heard.

However, as with anything like this I think it’s important that people read this and then come to their own conclusions as to what they believe.

The “P” Word

I think the most obvious thought that has gone through people’s heads is that the owners have got cold feet about selling the club due to how well Blues are doing in the league.

This might seem slightly counter-intuitive bearing in mind that at the World Cup break Blues lie 14th in the Championship, but the fact is Blues lie just three points away from sixth place after nearly half the season.

There can be no doubt that the Championship this year is incredibly tight, and I think it’s only logical to believe that if a team can go on a good enough run at the right time there is a real chance to get promoted.

It’s common knowledge that the Premier League is where the money is in football, and promotion to the top flight would massively increase incomings to the club thanks to the huge sums available from TV rights alone.

Of course, there would be increased outgoings too; wages for players would go up and there surely would have to be investment in the playing side of the team.

However, even taking that into account I’m sure that promotion would vastly change the financial situation at Birmingham City.

All that being said, I don’t think this is where the goalposts have been moved.

I think the owners would have gone into this whole process with this in mind regardless of how things went on the pitch.

For example, we know that when ORI bought a stake in the club, there was a clause in the profit/loss sharing agreement which massively favoured ORI if the club went up.

Therefore, I can’t believe that neither Vong Pech nor BSH would not have put clauses into the deal with Maxco which would bring a higher payment for the club if Blues did get promoted; especially considering the staged nature of the deal.

The Jude Clause

As I said at the start of this post, it’s been magical watching Jude Bellingham play for England at the World Cup.

All the promise we saw as he bossed games at 16 years old in the Championship is coming to fruition and I’m sure every other Blues fan feels immense pride that one of our own is taking the world by storm.

From a capitalist standpoint, what Bellingham is doing in Qatar is also having a massive effect on his perceived value as a player.

I personally think Bellingham was worth £100m before the World Cup but I think that has massively gone up now. Borussia Dortmund have been good at holding out for value for their players and I think should Bellingham leave them this summer there will be a bidding frenzy for him.

I’m 99.99% certain that Blues have a sell-on clause for Bellingham, which would mean if he did leave Dortmund for a huge transfer fee, Blues will receive a fair old lump of cash.

That promise of a huge lump sum of money in the future has led the more cynical amongst us Blues fans to wonder if maybe the club’s owners are holding out for it.

After all, while it would be the club that receives any money from a sell on clause, both ORI and BSH have huge amounts owing from the club which as per the accounts have no set repayment date.

While I can understand why people would be cynical about this sort of thing, I’m not sure if this would be enough to make the owners delay a deal being done.

Any deal for a potential takeover of the club would have to involve getting rid of the debt owed by the club to BSH and ORI.

I think Maxco would have agreed a percentage of that debt even before any due diligence was done, and if the goalposts were to be moved on that it would be more likely moved by Maxco once they’ve properly looked through the books.

Tie in what I heard about the owners wanting the deal completed by Christmas and it doesn’t make sense that they were holding out for a lump of cash that they wouldn’t get before January at the very earliest.

The Wang Yaohui investigation

The elephant in the room during this takeover has been the investigation into Wang Yaohui by the EFL.

As one would expect from the EFL, there has been zero public announcements from them concerning their investigation leaving us all in the dark. Indeed, we only know for sure it’s still ongoing because of what Shabana Mahmood said in the House of Commons in November.

The only thing we know for sure is that there will be an outcome to this investigation.

It might be that Birmingham Sports Holdings are able to convince the EFL that Wang Yaohui has nothing to do with the club and thus nothing happens.

Alternatively, the EFL could decide that rules have been broken, which I think would see Blues back in front of an Independent Disciplinary Commission as they were for breaching profitability and sustainability rules.

It’s impossible to know what would happen from there, but if I was buying the club I’d want to insure myself against the possibility that the investigation negatively affects the league position of the club; especially if I’d seen the internal workings of the club and had a good idea of where any disciplinary might go.

Therefore, I think it’s entirely believable that this is where the goalposts might have been moved.

I can easily imagine that Maxco may have wanted to insert a clause whereby if the club’s league position is adversely affected because of the Wang Yaohui investigation, the total amount to be paid for the club is reduced.

Such a clause would put the owners into a difficult position.

If the owners were convinced that the investigation was going nowhere, then they would accept it without an issue because they would know it wouldn’t ever become relevant.

However, if there was any doubt in the minds of the owners that their innocence in this matter would be confirmed, I think there is no way they could accept it.

It’s for this reason that based on what I know, this is the mostly likely cause of the breakdown of takeover talks between Maxco and the owners of BCFC.

I’ll reiterate once again that it’s almost certain that we will never know for sure why the Maxco takeover ground to a halt.

However, I think it’s important to realise just how complicated any takeover for the club will be, and to remain circumspect if and when a new bidder comes into the open.