An Indian entrepreneur has been linked with a deal to buy English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers. Saurin Shah, 38, a businessman with shipping and textile interests, plans to bring a touch of Bollywood glamour to the English team and will try to engage South Asians living in the gritty northern town, according to an AFP source. Mr Shah is the nephew of Niranjan Shah, vice chairman of the wildly popular Indian Premier League cricket tournament, and he hopes to import some of the marketing techniques if he is successful with his bid, the source said.
The process of due diligence - which opens up the club's financial accounts for evaluation to a potential buyer - has begun, the well-placed source said. "Once this is complete, Saurin Shah and his consortium will make a fresh bid for Blackburn," the source told AFP. The £35 to 45 million deal (Dh196-252m) includes debt, the source added, without elaborating. It is understood that Shah, who declined to comment, made an initial approach to the club offering about £25 million.
The Mumbai-based businessman had approached brokers in London about buying a club in the English game's top flight and settled for Blackburn because of its growth potential. Blackburn Rovers, who won the Premier League in 1994-1995, finished 10th last season. But the club has had a quiet close season, with the manager Sam Allardyce signing no new players with funds tight. The prospect of a new owner at the Lancashire club has dominated local news, leaving some fans concerned about whether money will be available for signings as the new season approaches in less than a month's time.
A successful bid from Mr Shah could see the introduction of a "high-growth revenue model" along IPL lines, the source added, with cross-marketing between the football club and the IPL through Mr Shah's Qubic Sports Investment firm. Mr Shah believes the IPL recipe - a heady mix of star footballers, innovative marketing, a carnival spirit and the presence of popular Bollywood film stars - could help bring the untapped local British Asian community to games.
Blackburn, like Mr Shah's hometown of Mumbai, was largely built on the success of its cotton spinning industry. A fifth of the town's population classed themselves as "Asian" or "Asian British" in the last census in 2001. "A bit of Indian-flavoured seasoning is what's required," the source said. English Premier League matches are shown live on television in India and the sport has won legions of new fans in the cricket-mad country in recent years.
Niranjan Shah was quoted by the Lancashire Telegraph newspaper last month as saying his nephew's interest was "serious" and they had the money to invest in the club. The club chairman John Williams has not ruled out a possible buy-out. "We are aware of fresh impetus with regards to the potential sale of the club, with at least one potential new buyer being identified," he told the Lancashire Telegraph earlier this month.
"In the event of a successful sale, and money being made available, we do have a list of players available in the back of our minds." Mr Shah is not the first Indian businessman to be at the centre of speculation surrounding European football clubs. India's wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, was linked to Liverpool while his younger brother, Anil, was seen as a possible buyer for Newcastle United. Both Ambanis denied the reports.
Mr Shah would join a long list of foreign Premier League football club owners. Americans control Aston Villa, Liverpool and Manchester United, Chelsea is owned by the Russian Roman Abramovich, while Manchester City were bought by Abu Dhabi-based billionaire Sheikh Mansour. * AFP