West Ham was taken over by an Icelandic bank in government control yesterday to prevent the Premier League club from going into administration. A moratorium on West Ham chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson's debts was set to expire yesterday in Iceland, so Straumur Burdaras Investment Bank assumed ownership of the club after having provided the finance for its 2006 takeover. CB Holding, formed by the creditors of Gudmundsson's holding company, took control of West Ham in what Georg Andersen, Straumar's head of corporate communications, said wasn't a cash deal and a "complicated transaction".
Gudmundsson, who will leave the Hammers, had been looking to sell since being hit heavily by the global economic meltdown, primarily with the collapse of Icelandic bank Landsbanki, in which he had a 41 per cent stake. "We decided to take over the club mainly to protect our interests and do the best thing for the club," Andersen said. "The former owners of West Ham were going out of moratorium today, which meant it was most likely they would go into bankruptcy, and under league rules the club would either be penalised with a points reduction or relegation. The value of the asset would have decreased enormously. As a bank, we would have preferred the owners to keep the club and had success with the whole thing, but that is not the case. We had to do something."
The Icelandic government is in temporary control of Straumur after it became one of the country's last major banks to collapse after running out of liquidity. Andersen added: "We don't believe it is advisable to sell the club in the current markets," he said. "So we decided to hold on and support them for the next two years at least and maybe longer depending how things develop." Andrew Bernhardt, a senior director with Straumur and majority shareholder in CB Holding, will become a non- executive chairman of the club.
"I can assure fans we will sanction investment in new players, but all within the parameters of sensible budgeting," said Bernhardt, who assured fans that manager Gianfranco Zola and chief executive Scott Duxbury will be going nowhere.
However, Peace yesterday said: "After two weeks of speculation, I have finally received a call from the Celtic chief executive, Peter Lawwell, requesting permission to speak to Tony. "I made it absolutely clear that Celtic's approach was not welcome because we have an ongoing project at Albion in which Tony is an integral part." Mowbray has a compensation clause in his contract which is believed to be in the region of £2million (Dh11.8m).
Meanwhile, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley confirmed he has put the club up for sale for £100m. More than a week after it emerged that Ashley was looking to get out for the second time since he took control, the club, relegated from the Premier League in May, issued an official statement setting a price as Keith Harris, chairman of investment bankers Seymour Pierce, continued his search for buyers.
The announcement came as no surprise, with Ashley's desperation to offload the club he bought for £134.4m in May 2007 growing by the day. However, the uncertainty is proving disruptive to the club's preparation for the new season and the challenge of returning to the Premier League at the first attempt. The future of interim manager Alan Shearer, who has indicated a willingness to take on the role permanently, is unlikely to be confirmed amid such uncertainty.
* PA Sport