By Jason McKeown
Following our news earlier that Gianni Paladini’s attempted takeover of Bradford City was in doubt, WOAP can reveal that the deal has officially fallen through due to the Italian’s failure to secure the funding required.
Paladini will not be Bradford City’s new owner. Rather than going Italian, the club continue to be owned by two Yorkshiremen. What promised to be a revolution will instead be business as usual under Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn.
The end of the chapter, but perhaps not the final curtain. WOAP understands that other buyers are now ready to step up their interest, and that a consortium of investors could potentially be brought together. Nothing will be resolved quickly on this front, we must stress. The waiting game carries on.
In the meantime, the planning for next season must continue, with Lawn, Rhodes and – hopefully – Phil Parkinson at the forefront.
The Gianni vision
It has been an interesting few weeks for all concerned.
I first heard of Paladini’s interest in the club the tea time before the Bantams prepared to welcome Bristol City, back in April. A call around usually reliable sources quickly confirmed that this story had legs. As City went down 6-0 that night, people were coming up to me in the Kop asking if I’d heard about a takeover rumour. I headed home early, deflated by the dismal scoreline. My match report of the heavy defeat included a mention that a would-be buyer was waiting in the wings.
WOAP was the first news outlet to run with this story. Twitter beat us to announcing it, although curiously Telegraph & Argus journalist Simon Parker was quick to dismiss the takeover story via a Tweet. As news formally broke later that week, the T&A claimed they had known about Paladini’s interest for weeks. If this was the case, it is interesting as to why the paper held back from reporting it, and even took steps to rubbish this breaking news story.
As the takeover talk went public, whispers were aired over the apparent financial strength of Paladini and his range of backers. The Italian would buy Valley Parade from the Gibb Pension Fund. Phil Parkinson would be given a transfer budget of £10 million to deliver promotion next season. Some of the world’s richest men were lined up to back Paladini – whose reasoning for wanting to buy Bradford City was that he was bored.
There is now retrospective criticism from some, aimed at Rhodes and Lawn, that they should have checked whether Paladini really did have the capital that he was claiming to have lined up. At the time, sources close to WOAP spoke to club directors themselves, who disclosed that Paladini’s backers had provided the board with proof of their wealth and financial capability. At this point in the process, it would appear there was a genuine commitment to buy and put serious money into the club.
And this was an intoxicating prospect to anyone. “I hear we’re going to be the next Man City” one supporter said to me. That was an exaggeration of course, but in relative terms the supposed level of investment clearly seemed life-changing for a club which has endured plenty of financial difficulties over the past 13 years.
Never mind the Football League Financial Fair Play rules that mean City could only spend 60% of their turnover on player wages – making a £10 million transfer budget unworkable – this was a time to dream of big signings and promotion to the Championship. And after that, maybe even a return to the top flight. Exciting times.
It would be wrong to say that we supporters got swept away with the apparent promises of Paladini; the opposite was true in many respects. After the superb progress since the summer of 2012, there was a feeling that things were going in the right direction and that success was sustainable. That the recent achievements felt more special for the hard work behind it. And that by accepting Paladini’s cash the club risked selling its soul.
Paladini’s association with QPR only added to these fears. The Four Year Plan documentary was not a good advert for Paladini and his backers. It looked like chaos, with managers hired and sacked in the blink of an eye. This sort of approach didn’t sit right in these parts, especially with the most popular City manager in a long time at the helm.
For many people, the mantra towards Paladini was “thanks, but no thanks”. These people will be happy tonight.
The limitations of the two chairmen
As Lawn and Rhodes spoke in public about the takeover talks at the end of April, there was an interesting confession. Lawn admitted that he and Rhodes were prepared to step aside because they could not afford to fund City in the Championship themselves. “We wouldn’t be able to put the money in. When you look at the wage bills – £20million at Leeds United, £35million at Reading and they’re not even competing at play-off level,” he told Sky Sports.
“Millwall – I’ve been talking to their chairman and he’s been putting in £8million for the last five years, every year, just to keep them in that league.
“I haven’t got that sort of money and I’ve got to be honest about it.”
Such bluntness has so often been the hallmark of Lawn’s tenure at Valley Parade; but reading these comments at the time I feared that he was showing too much of his hand. That if the takeover wasn’t to go through, he might have needlessly exposed his limitations and subsequently faced a credibility problem.
Which isn’t to criticise Lawn and Rhodes – they have committed a substantial part of their wealth into the club, and have commendably continued to ensure City lives within its means. But they risk the mood around Valley Parade dampening now because of that confession. That when Parkinson is talking to summer transfer targets, the ambition for the club that he would be trying to sell to players and agents might be undermined. “A two/three year contract to play for Bradford City? But I hear you can’t afford to compete in the Championship.”
Even without the takeover, City have an increased budget to operate on next season – one that can support a promotion push. Perhaps the club can’t compete financially in the Championship under the current set up, but that is for another day. Let’s get there first.
When in 2006 Peter Etherington attempted to buy half the club, only for it to fall through on the eve of the season, the difficulties caused by a summer of financial limbo ultimately resulted in relegation to League Two. There is no reason to fear history repeating itself here. City are in a good position without the takeover going through.
Lawn probably showed too much of his hand last April. But nevertheless, that hand is still a strong one.
One major benefit to the takeover failing is that Parkinson’s Valley Parade future should be more assured – or at the very least, it makes it much harder for him to walk away. Although the Sheffield Star claim Parkinson would be given much bigger resources by leaving City for Sheffield United, the pressure to deliver instant success heavily echoes his doomed move from Colchester to Hull City, almost a decade ago.
Yet still, Lawn and Rhodes need to do everything they can to make sure Parkinson feels wanted. A few months ago Lawn stated he wanted to extend Parkinson’s contract, but talks were subsequently put on hold due to the Paladini situation. Those negotiations now need to recommence, and Lawn and Rhodes need to be driving them.
In four years at the club, Parkinson has delivered superb results and handsomely rewarded the faith shown in him. He needs to be rewarded for that. Even if Sheffield United don’t lure him to South Yorkshire, it makes little sense to allow Parkinson’s contract to run down over the next few months.
After weeks of heavy fog clouding the future of Bradford City, some clarity has emerged and the need to push forwards is obvious. The takeover saga hasn’t derailed the plans for next season, and there is no need to feel downbeat by the end of Paladini’s interest.
Get Parkinson’s future sorted, get Stead’s contract nailed, get new players into the building, and let’s get ready for another exciting adventure next season.