Monday, December 28, 2009


Tony Fernandes increases West Ham takeover speculation with trip to Upton Park

Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes attended West Ham United's Premier League victory over Portsmouth and later met manager Gianfranco Zola, which may fuel fresh hope that he could eventually get involved in the club.

Fernandes said last week that he did not want to bid for West Ham United at this stage, particularly because he had his "hands full setting up a Formula One team", although he also questioned how the club had been managed as a business. The 45 year-old is team principal for Lotus's return to Formula One in 2010.

Telegraph Sport revealed last month that Fernandes had held detailed discussions with West Ham chairman Andrew Bernhardt, but that the negotiations had not come to fruition.

Fernandes has now distanced himself from any takeover talk. This has been a source of great regret at West Ham as the innovative businessman, best-known for setting up budget airline Air Asia, is regarded by many as an exciting potential investor.

Fernandes, 45, said last week that he might be tempted to make a move at some point. However he did not indicate that it would be any time soon and his attendance at the Portsmouth game is not thought to be connected with any fresh talks. He is a committed West Ham supporter.

CB Holding, the company set up by the creditors of West Ham's former owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, appointed Rothschild bank to deal with potential investors and talks have taken place with a number of parties, including former Birmingham City co-owner David Sullivan, although his bid of around £46 million falls short of their valuation.

CB Holding insists it is under no pressure to sell and has a three-year plan to retain ownership of West Ham if it does not find the right investor. However it is also aware that new funding would help create greater stability.

Fernandes, who employs 7,000 people, is a colourful character and a highly-successful businessman. He met with Zola, assistant Steve Clarke and technical director Gianluca Nani after the Portsmouth match and afterwards spoke of how excited he was and how pleased he was with the result.

He rose to prominence by turning Air Asia, a failing government-linked commercial carrier, into a successful budget airline which is a publicly-listed company and performing strongly. He founded the company just after September 11, 2001.

"There's a fine line between brilliance and stupidity," he said in an interview last month, and has described himself as "kindred spirit" to Sir Richard Branson. Indeed, the pair are very similar characters with an entrepreneurial, innovative spirit as well as a sharp business brain.

Fernandes, who was educated in England, is also renowned for his sharp marketing ideas and original thinking – it is not unknown for baggage handlers with his airline to rise to become pilots.

He ascribes his business acumen to his mother who could "sell ice to the Eskimos", while describing his father as a "communist doctor". West Ham will hope he may, some time in the future, be sold on them as a business idea.