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'Roman’s eyes widened in disbelief' - Inside the World of a Super Agent

Check out this extract from the recently released book ‘The Deal’.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from recently released book, The Deal: Inside the World of a Super-Agent.

An ownership group in Odessa had approached Italian agent Roberto De Fanti – who had until January of that year been Director of Football at Sunderland – to express an interest in buying Sheffield Wednesday.

Roberto had become a respected acquaintance of ours through previous dealings and we had strong links to Wednesday’s then owner Milan Mandaric through my friend and associate Peter Storrie.

Milan and Peter worked together at Portsmouth. The financial implosion of that club and a separate court case, in which both stood trial on two counts of tax evasion, meant their futures in the game were uncertain until their acquittals in 2012.

I had taken Peter on as a consultant because I respected his experience, contacts and numerical ability. He remained close with Milan, who had bought Wednesday in 2010 but was keen to sell four years later because he felt the club had reached a natural point in its evolution where a new, younger owner would be better suited.

My personal interest in making this deal happen deepened due to a longstanding friendship with Lord Sebastian Coe, who grew up in Sheffield and has an affinity with Wednesday despite his widely known allegiance to Chelsea.

He often joked to me that if I ever helped sell the club, he would perhaps consider becoming chairman.

the deal

Roberto told me this investment group had owned teams in Ukraine but were keen to buy an English club. The concern was that they actually wanted to get some of their cash — wherever it had come from — out of Ukraine and thought a football club in the UK would be a good, safe home for it. As they had experience in owning clubs, they wanted to find a team with a potential real-estate play and they saw Sheffield Wednesday as having that capacity.

Calls were going backwards and forwards and I had to decide whether it was worth the risk to travel. They would not come to the United Kingdom; we had to go to them.

I had spoken to Richard Creitzman, who was working on Roman Abramovich’s team when they bought Chelsea. Richard had been one of the passengers on the notorious helicopter flight over London in 2003, in which — so the story goes — the Abramovich team was about to complete the purchase of Chelsea, when they flew past Fulham’s Craven Cottage.

The ground was being redeveloped at the time with Fulham playing at Loftus Road. The grass had grown out to a foot high in places and, in tandem with the beginnings of stadium renovation work, Fulham’s charming home looked unusually ramshackle. Richard pointed towards the shabby sight before them. ‘That’s Chelsea down there,’ he said. Roman’s eyes widened in disbelief.

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‘Only joking – that’s really Fulham,’ Richard said. ‘Don’t joke,’ Roman said in that steely manner of his.

The Deal: Inside the World of a Super-Agent by Jon Smith is published by Little Brown. More info here.

Initially posted on The42.ie

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