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Standard Liege troubles shine light on Everton's would-be buyers

By AFP

May 17, 2024 07:21 PM


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The Miami-based investment firm that has been trying to buy English Premier League outfit Everton is already mired in difficulties at some of the existing clubs in its portfolio, with recent events at Standard Liege in Belgium shining a particularly unfavourable light on 777 Partners.

The group bought 10-time Belgian champions Standard, from the southern, French-speaking portion of the country, in 2022.

They have not been able to revive Standard's fortunes and last week the club's home match against Westerlo was postponed after protesting supporters prevented the team bus from entering the stadium.

Banners carried clear messages for the owners, such as "777 go home".

Two days earlier, Standard announced that the Belgian federation had imposed a transfer ban on them, due to their "inability to provide requested proof of payments".

That raised concerns about their financial position, although Standard's CEO, Pierre Locht, has insisted the club "is not on the brink of bankruptcy".

Nevertheless, Locht and another board member subsequently resigned, insisting they "are not accomplices of 777", according to newspaper Le Soir. They blamed 777's lack of answers to questions about the club's financial situation and its plans for future development.

Events at Standard cannot be taken in isolation when it comes to 777 Partners, which also has major stakes in Hertha Berlin, Genoa in Serie A, famous Brazilian outfit Vasco da Gama, and historic French side Red Star.

It also retains minority stakes in Spanish club Sevilla and Australia's Melbourne Victory.

In England, it agreed last September to buy Farhad Moshiri's 94 percent stake in Everton but 777 have so far failed to satisfy the Premier League's owners and directors' test, reportedly due to doubts about their ability to fund a deal for the heavily indebted club.

Last week, Everton's Fan Advisory Board called for the Premier League to dismiss 777's takeover bid and "allow discussions with more suitable owners" to take place.

There are other problems facing 777 Partners and their co-owners Josh Wander and Steve Pasko beyond football.

  Lawsuits 

 They are the subject of a lawsuit recently filed in a New York court by London-based investment firm Leadenhall Capital Partners.

It claims Wander and 777 pledged $350m in assets as collateral for a credit facility agreement but knew they "did not exist".

"Wander and Pasko are operating a giant shell game at best, and an outright Ponzi scheme at worst," the complaint said.

Another lawsuit has been filed against them in New York by Obra Capital, an American investment firm which claims it has not been paid back all of a loan given to 777 in 2020.

The firm invests in other activities beyond football -- it also backed Bonza, the Australian budget airline which recently went into administration only 15 months after launching.

Back in its football portfolio, not all clubs linked to 777 have reported problems.

A spokesman for Red Star, who play just outside Paris and have just won promotion to the French second division, told AFP that "everyone had been paid and all obligations had been met" when asked about their financial situation.

  Control of Vasco lost 

 In Brazil, in contrast, a court this week took control of Rio de Janeiro side Vasco away from 777 and handed it back to the club's board.

The board had cited "concerns about the financial capacity" of 777 and were worried the firm might sell shares to other "external" investors.

The firm bought a 70 percent stake in Vasco in 2022. Last year the club were hit with a transfer ban by FIFA for failing to meet payments due to other teams.

While Everton await a final decision on 777's bid, there is pessimism back in Belgium.

Jean-Michel De Waele, a sports sociologist at the Free University of Brussels, pointed out that there is "very little regulation" in Belgian football.

He said that needed to change in order to prevent the situation at Standard -- which has lost tens of millions of euros in recent years -- being repeated elsewhere.

De Waele did nevertheless admit that Standard's problems predated 777's arrival, saying it was not unusual to "find skeletons in the closet" when buying a club in Belgium.

"But it is curious that such a firm, which invests in everything, from airlines to insurance companies, wants to be involved in football without having the necessary competence."


AFP


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