Hopes that the Canaries were about to join the ranks of football's billionaires club were abruptly ended this morning as all takeover talks with Britain's 40th richest man, Peter Cullum, were “terminated with immediate effect”.
In a short statement – issued jointly by the Carrow Road club and Peter Cullum himself – any prospect of City boss Glenn Roeder finding himself with ?20 million sat in his transfer kitty on the eve of the new season disappeared over the horizon.
As did the man with nigh-on a page to himself in the Sunday Times Rich List on the back of compiling that extraordinary ?1.7 billion fortune over the last ten years.
“Despite the very best efforts of both sides and following a number of amicable discussions,” the statement read. “Peter Cullum and the directors of Norwich City Football Club plc have been unable to agree a mutually acceptable basis upon which they can meet the stated objectives of Peter Cullum whilst still ensuring compliance with the current legal and contractual obligations of the club to its stakeholders and delivering a solution that the directors of Norwich City Football Club consider to be in the best interests of the club and its stakeholders.
“Accordingly all negotiations have been terminated with immediate effect.”
That last sentenece is likely to linger long in the air this morning as the two parties go their separate ways – Cullum, the City's 'King Of Deals' left to return to amassing an ever-greater fortune on the back of his aggressive expansion plans for his Towergate Insurance empire; the Canaries to concentrate on strengthening Roeder's hand squad-wise. Only now without the clout of that ?1.7 billion reported fortune.
It would appear that the sticking point remained Cullum's insistence on enjoying a controlling interest in the Championship football club – the 'stated objectives of Peter Cullum' as mentioned in the statement above – without, in effect, having to pay for it.
Even up to yesterday's final round of discussions – brokered by City director Andrew Turner – Cullum was reported to have stuck firmly to his ?20 million guns; that the offer was there to boost Roeder's transfer funds to that degree, but only if it came with that 61.2% of Delia Smith's majority stakeholding attached.
To do that 'while still ensuring compliance with the current legal and contractual obligatons of the club', Cullum would have had to made an offer for the whole of the Plc under the City Code Rule Nine. That he never did.
Even then his obligations would not have been over – the use of the word 'stakeholders' covers everyone from shareholders to supporters to the Royal Bank of Scotland and AXA, who together are owed the better part of ?16 million in outstanding loans. Repayable on a change of ownership.
Despite the widespread conviction that said loans would simply be renegotiable with Britain's 40th richest individual, one suggestion was that in these credit crunched times both insitutions would have insisted on getting their cash back and getting themselves out of football. Had the Smiths agreed to sell their shares for a penny apiece, Towergate would have been in for ?16 million in debt repayment – leaving just ?4 million for Roeder to play with.
If Cullum refused to move from that ?20 million figure he first proposed when the Canaries were five points adrift at the foot of the Championship table last autumn, his offer would have lined the banks' pockets, not the manager's.
City chief executive Neil Doncaster this morning recognised the wave of bitter disappointment that would sweep across Canary circles as their hopes of having a bigger and better Marcus Evans on board – and someone who had once played for the club at school-boy level, to boot – ended in such abrupt fashion.
“Certainly – and understandably – there's going to be disappointment among the fans after seeing those headlines suggesting that someone wanted to put in ?20 million,” said Doncaster.
“But, in reality it was always going to be a great deal more complicated than that. If it was just a case of someone simply putting ?20 million into the manager's transfer budget it would have happened.”
Doncaster insisted that Delia and her husband Michael Wynn Jones remained as committed as ever to finding fresh investment for the football club – “as they have been for the last ten years”, he said.
One rare silver lining to the whole, messy episode was the hope that the rest of the football world would now get back to the negotiating table and deal on the basis of the Canaries being as was – and not as the headlines suggested.
“Certainly any speculation that the club is richer than it actually is inevitably leads to inflationary pressure on the prices that the club is being quoted – be it by clubs, players or their agents,” said Doncaster. Had this already hit City's dealings in the transfer market of late? “Yes,” he said smply.
“So we at least welcome the certainty that this statement brings – that, hopefully, we can now find ourselves going back into this summer's transfer market with everyone else having a more realistic assessment of our actual financial muscle.”
Whatever the precise reasons for the deal that never happened, the fall-out is likely to be long and painful – particularly if the Canaries' forth-coming campaign falters early.
That, as ever, remains the reality. Roeder delivers genuine play-off contenders and Cullum's missing millions will slowly start to fade from the memory; a paper-thin squad minus the required quality down the central spine of the team flirts with the bottom third of the table – or worse – and the accusations and recriminations will follow the club around like a bad smell.
It will, likewise, ask questions now of the Turners, Andrew and Sharon, as to just what level of further investment that they are prepared to make following their ?2 million “loan” from last summer. It was enough to get the Central Trust couple on the board – now the couple, ranked a mere 300-odd in that Sunday Times Rich List – will find even more pressure on them to fill the gaping hole that Cullum's non-appearance has created.
As for the 'King Of Deals', the last fortnight may have only whetted his appetite further – that once he liquifies yet more of his ever-growing Towergate empire, he will be back with an even bigger war chest at the manager's disposal – or else scared him off for life. That mixing such money with such expectations among supporters is a frightening – and all-too easily combustible – combination.
At the end of the day, for a man with ?1.7 billion to his name, he could simply have written a cheque for ?20 million, handed it to Roeder and found himself a nice comfy seat in the directors' box.
That he could still do tomorrow.
Demanding control as the price for that cheque merely opened up a whole furious can of worms that even for someone of Cullum's vast business experience, took him by surprise.
He got to peek over the edge of the financial abyss that is owning a football club. And he stepped back from the brink in a hurry. The cut-throat world of insurance was a kiddie's playground compared to the level of expectation he would unleash at Carrow Road.
It would cost him an arm and a leg for the forseeable future and be a complete pain in the neck – as the last two, fraught weeks have merely proved.
Painting it as a lucky escape for all concerned won't, however, work this morning. Until the Canaries start to mount a realistic challenge for promotion to the Premiership, this will remain the summer of some bitter 'What might have beens…'