Someone is having a laugh,look at this
Could Colonel Gadafy be the saviour of an unfashionable football club from south London?
Saturday July 17, 2004
After Russian oligarchs, Egyptian tycoons and, potentially, Thai prime ministers, a Libyan dictator could be the next exotic addition to the roll of Premiership club owners.
The Guardian has learned that Colonel Muammar Gadafy hopes to speed his state's thaw in relations with Britain by typically unconventional means; he wants to buy a Premiership football club, and his initial sights are set upon newly promoted Crystal Palace.
No official approach has as yet been made by the government-owned Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico), the body Col Gadafy used to purchase a 5.31% stake in the Italian club Juventus two years ago, but the south London club has been made aware of the Libyans' startling interest.
Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan is treating any potential offer with an understandable dose of caution, but he admits he would consider selling up if the deal appeared beneficial to the club in the long-term.
"I've been told that Gadafy and his son [Al-Saadi] are interested in acquiring Palace," he said. No formal approach had yet been made, he added, but, "if they did, I'd consider it".
Mr Jordan accepted that Col Gadafy, once vilified as the "mad dog of Tripoli" came "with a degree of stigma".
But he said that "if there were clear undertakings that the ongoing viability of the processes we've put into practice here would continue to be maintained, any individual attached to the club is neither here nor there."
Mr Jordan believes there would be no regulatory hurdles to Col Gadafy pitching his tent at the club's Selhurst Park ground.
"At the end of the day, many people might see Roman Abramovich's involvement at Chelsea as less than palatable, but he is moving the club forward. If Gadafy's money was able to progress Palace and allow them to compete at the top of the tree and be a successful football club, then one would have to take that under consideration."
Col Gadafy's interest in Crystal Palace places puts him among an elite group of foreign magnates with British footballing interests.
The owner of Harrods, Mohammed Al Fayed, bought Fulham in 1997 and his money propelled them from the old Third Division to the Premiership. Last summer Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, and the Russian oil oligarch's money propelled them to second in England's top flight. This summer, the Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase Liverpool.
After years when Col Gadafy's name was associated most readily with statesponsored terrorism, he hardly appears a natural Premiership chairman in waiting. But, as a short-cut to international acceptance, the PR
opportunities provided by football are appealing, particularly as Libya emerges from years of isolation from the west. The 62-year-old leader welcomed Tony Blair to Tripoli in March, the first British prime minister to visit the Libyan capital since Winston Churchill.
Col Gadafy is a huge fan of the Brazilian striker Ronaldo, and when Al-Saadi met the World Cup winner in Milan, he requested the player's autograph for his father.
Lafico's success in investing more than Ł14m in Juventus did Col Gadafy's image no harm, while Al-Saadi, unsurprisingly Libya's most famous footballer, sat on the Turin club's board. As the public face of Lafico, which has offices in Tripoli and Malta, Al-Saadi even arranged for the 2002 Italian Super Cup - a Charity Shield-like curtain-raiser to the Serie A season - to be played at Libya's national stadium. A sell-out crowd saw Juventus beat Parma 2-1, and Gadafy's son sat next to the Fifa president Sepp Blatter in a VIP box.
Al-Saadi was transferred from the Tripoli-based side Al Ittihad to the Italian club Perugia a year ago, with his father subsequently pursuing interests in the Greek club PAOK Salonika and the Italian lower league side L'Aquila.
Whether Palace supporters would welcome Col Gadafy's involvement, even as a chairman in absentia, is open to question. In August the club will make its first appearance in the Premier League since 1998. Palace could certainly do with Col Gadafy's oil millions - the transfer budget for next season is no more than Ł5m. The 26,000 or so fans that cram the ramshackle Selhurst Park are unlikely to generate the sort of revenue required to break into the top echelon of football.
"If it's beneficial to the club it will be considered," added Mr Jordan. "If it's not, it'll be dropped."