City officials were this afternoon busily insisting that “every possible scenario” was explored in their quest to bring Towergate Insurance chief Peter Cullum and his now missing millions on board.
In the end, however, the 57-year-old 'King Of Deals' was not for budging. His ?20 million offer remained of the take it or leave it variety – exactly as it was when he made his initial approach last autumn when the Canaries were staring League One football in the face last October.
If the club decided to take his offer, they would surrender complete control of the club to the UK's Entrepreneur of the Year; the man with the reported ?1.7 billion at his command.
Leave that offer – as both parties agreed to do last night – and Cullum would walk away, leaving the Carrow Road board to face the wrath and indignation of the City faithful as their hopes of joining football's billionaires club were cruelly ripped from their grasp.
For the club's principal shareholders – Delia Smith and her husband, Michael Wynn Jones – the perception that they have sent Britain's 40th richest man away with a flea in his ear is a particularly hard one to challenge.
For in this era of swift messageboard judgement and mass media 'spin', it seems wholly illogical that such a man should fail to find a place at the Carrow Road top table.
That, say Canary officials, was just one of the options that was there for the taking; so too a Carson Yeung-like, three-way carve up of the shares that ex-director Barry Skipper started to suggest with Cullum and his Towergate empire enjoying a 29.9% stake in the Championship club – just as the Hong Kong millionaire does in Birmingham City after his own failed takeover bid at St Andrew's last season.
But despite the best efforts of City chief executive Neil Doncaster and Central Trust founder and Canary director Andrew Turner to seek a resolution that found everyone still in the tent, Cullum did not move an inch from his original position of '?20 million and I get control…'
Round and round the same block they would all go – that the full control that Cullum demanded only came via a buy-out of Delia's 61.2% majority shareholding. Do that and an offer has to be made for the remaining 38.8% shareholding.
The fact that, according to those same well-placed City sources, the club's two principal lenders – AXA and the Royal Bank of Scotland – were keen to get the Culllum cash in themselves as the credit crunched ever deeper into their own thinking merely muddied the waters yet further.
Renegotiating that ?16 million-worth of outstanding debt, and the ?4 million owed to directors in danger of being ousted by any outright Towergate purchase, was likely to prove trickier than most presumed – hard to believe when you had a man worth ?1.7 billion on the other end of the phone.
Either way, it was the whole issue of control that spelled the end of what could have been a beautiful friendship for the Norfolk club; Cullum today insisted that all the discussions had been perfectly amicable – that everyone parted the best of friends.
?The discussions were very amicable from my perspective but sadly nothing could happen,” were his parting words to tonight's Evening News as he disappeared back down the A11 to Towergate HQ in Kent.
“We just keep our fingers crossed that we have a good season,? he added, all-too well aware that should the Canaries now underwhelm either in terms of their performances on the pitch or their transfer dealings off it, the deal-that-never-happened will continue to haunt the board's every move.
“The key thing to understand is the distinction between simply putting money into the club's transfer budget and taking control of the football club,” said City chief Doncaster this afternoon, as he toured the media channels in a bid to inform and illuminate.
How much the punters were in a mood to hear why it didn't happen as opposed to popping open the bubbly when it did is another moot point. There is, you sense, a lot of raw wounds out there; the thickest hide probably belongs to the 'King Of Deals' as he returns to the corporate takeover jungle and continues to get his 'fix' deal-wise by applying the same ruthless acquisition logic to the world of regional Independent Financial Advisors as he has, so successfully, to the regional insurance broker market.
He'll be back on the end of his hoover as we speak – knowing full well that the next time private equity comes a-calling for a slice of that Towergate pie he could return to Norfolk with a vengence. Or else in the light of events of the last fortnight, deem the whole exercise far too much trouble than it was ever likely to be worth.
If he'd just left a ?20 million cheque in his wake, that would have been nice as City boss Roeder looks to get back down to transfer business with the world and his wife now, ideally, aware that the Canaries won't be batting in QPR's league following the arrival of the Formula One crew and a certain global steel magnate at the helm of Loftus Road.
“If anyone wishes to put money into the transfer budget they can,” said Doncaster. “They just need to write a cheque – and we can give that straight to the manager.
“The issue comes when it's a case of a change of control,” he added. At which point all manner of hurdles have – by law – to be jumped. And that's before you get down and dirty with the banks for whom any change of ownership is a perfect time to get their millions out of football.
As anyone who has tried to get a mortgage of late will attest, things ain't what they used to be lending-wise.
“[A change of ownership] triggers ?20 million worth of debt repayment – immediately,” said Doncaster. Which, of course, would then account for the ?20 million that Cullum had ear-marked for Glenn Roeder's transfer budget. And winning control of the football club.
The search for further new investment – and, indeed, investors – would continue. Just as it has done for the last 12 years.
“Anyone who wants to put money into the club are very welcome to have discussions [with the board] and we would be very keen to see how that could be made to happen,” said the Canary chief, due now to return to the transfer fray minus the ?20 million everyone presumed he had tucked away.
“It's certainly never helpful when you're in the transfer market dealing with players, clubs and agents to have them assume that you have more financial muscle than you really do,” he added.
Everything, he stressed, had been tried to try and make the Cullum deal happen. Every avenue, he claimed, was explored; every option discussed.
But the sticking points remained the same. Control. And value.
And the value that one person placed on taking complete control of Norwich City Football Club and handing Glenn Roeder ?20 million for his transfer kitty.
The numbers simply didn't stack – irrespective of whether or not the personalities ever matched.
Leave a Reply