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Old 21st September 2017, 14:24   #1
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Default EFL To Consider US Style Interventions At Troubled Clubs

EFL To Consider US Style Interventions At Troubled Clubs
Posted by: Aaron Gourley
FC Business
Thu 21st Sep 2017 | Clubs Ownership

Giving the EFL unprecedented American-style powers to take over the running of clubs in crisis will be on the agenda when clubs meet today to discuss how the situation which ravaged Leyton Orient can be prevented from happening again. Matt Dunn reports...

The O’s were 2-0 up at half-time in the 2013 League One play-off final. However, three subsequent seasons of turmoil under controversial owner Franceso Becchetti saw them drop into non-league football.

He appointed 11 different managers, stopped paying the wages in March this year and didn’t dare show his face at Brisbane Road for the final eight months before he finally sold up in July. After a string of ill-advised signings inevitably back-fired, Becchetti subjected the club to an embarrassing reality show and dodged attempts to extradite him to Albania to face fraud charges. He was banned for kicking his assistant manager Andy Hessenthaler then loaded the club with debt to a company he co-owned with his mother.

Every team has fans who gripe about how their clubs are run, but Becchetti’s mis-management took things to a new low and, all the while, the EFL could do little more than offer advice. As soon as Becchetti had taken the reins, by their own rules, the League board was powerless to intervene.

However, at a meeting on 21st September, proposals are to be considered by clubs to give the EFL powers to intervene when things are careering off the rails. Something similar to the system in American sports is set to be discussed, where in recent years, the National Hockey League (with the Buffalo Sabres), Major League Baseball (LA Dodgers) and the National Basketball Association (New Orleans Hornets) have all taken direct control of struggling clubs while new owners were sought. Following Orient’s fall from grace, there is a strong desire to create a similar safety net to protect clubs against maverick owners such as Becchetti.

EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey is as frustrated as anybody at the limitations and purpose of the Owner and Director Test that forms part of any takeover analysis. It is no more than an exercise designed to assess means, not capability. There is simply no way of measuring how new owners intend to operate the day-to-day running of an EFL club.

Consequently, the 72 members will be asked if there is a mood to investigate whether the EFL board should have the power to step in to save clubs should a similar situation to the one at Leyton Orient arise again in the future.

“It is the first time this has been discussed and the enormity of the Leyton Orient situation has put it onto clubs’ agendas,” Harvey said. “Nobody believes what happened there was right – the clubs will be 100 per cent agreed on that. What to do about it? That is where the debate will start.

“Undoubtedly, the reputation of the Football League has been damaged by some owners during their times in charge of clubs. So there is a general view within the EFL that we should look at what else we can do.

“At this point, the clubs will merely be asked to consider a direction of travel: the proposal we are working up ahead of the meeting is whether the clubs want us to have the ability to exert any influence during the period of an owner’s tenure at a club, rather than only when it is changing hands.

“We quite often see this in franchise sports. American organisations have the principle where, should the other owners determine that the damage is sufficient to the industry; the central organisers can take a hold. That concept does not exist in this country at this moment in time. But should we do more to try to protect these clubs for the benefit of the communities they serve?

“We can help clubs out, but there is a world of difference between guidance and control. Perhaps having something in place where we could takeover for a period of time might be a way forward, because we have people inside our organisation, or available to us, who have run clubs and understand what needs to happen.

“It is not easy and cannot be done quickly but I think there is an appetite for something like that. We have to get a sense of what the scope of that appetite is. We said we would have a look at doing it and that is what we do on September 21.”

It would represent a fundamental change in philosophy for the 129-year-old organisation and Harvey recognises there are many potential pitfalls that need to be considered.

“It is really difficult because it becomes subjective,” Harvey admitted. “What determines when things are going wrong? Just because people are doing something that other people don’t agree with, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing badly.

“I don’t think that anybody would disagree that some of the circumstances of what went on at Leyton Orient were bad. That, though, is the extreme case, which is easy to call. It is less certain where, on a sliding scale, you draw the line. Is the club defaulting on its payments to HMRC a trigger? Is it only a trigger if it is not resolvable? We certainly don’t want to interfere on the normal day-to-day operation of that business - it is a near-impossible call to make.

“But we are here to serve the interests of the collective of 72 clubs. If we have got to find a solution, that is what we must do. We have got a responsibility generally to ensure our clubs are here for the long term and are run in a way that the majority of people believe is the right way forward.”

Harvey feels much more certain on one issue, though: another Leyton Orient situation cannot be allowed to happen again.

“With Orient, the reality is that we could do nothing of significance,” he said. “All we could do is sit back, watch and take the criticism that we should be intervening. I am not a fan of regulators and feel private businesses should be allowed to run themselves in the manner they think as appropriate. But we are a quasi-regulator because we have a set of rules to which these private businesses have to adhere and the clubs are in charge of those rules. Once every so often, you do wish you could straighten out things that are obviously not right, though.”

The subject is far from straightforward and Harvey highlights one final wrinkle. Why should the well-run clubs below not be given an increased chance when one of the teams above them falls on hard times?

“At the end of the day, we are running a competition,” he said. “On any given Saturday, one team wins, but that means one team loses. Some days, nobody wins. If a club is weak, and is not being run efficiently, why should the other clubs suffer because somebody takes over and artificially improves their chances of success? Promotion and relegation – it is dog eats dog. That is a principle the Football League has been run effectively on for over 100 years.”
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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