The following article is based on the in-depth research of others. They have kindly allowed me to use it.
By Jason McKeown
In 1996, the German striker Fredi Bobic was part of the national team squad that won the European Championship in England. Bobic had been a peripheral part of the squad, only starting Germany’s opening game of Euro ’96. But it was still a great achievement for the Yugoslavian-born forward – and one that would have be watched from afar by one particular former team-mate, with a mixture of pride and envy.
Bobic had played alongside Edin Rahic. The future Bradford City co-owner emerged in the early 90s as a left winger of promise, turning out alongside Bobic for Stuttgart Kickers, who were then playing in Germany’s second tier. But whilst Bobic’s performances over this period earned him a move to top tier side VfB Stuttgart, Rahic’s time as a professional footballer would be over before it began.
He had ended up at VfL Sindelfingen in the third tier as a 19-year-old. Then, however, injury struck as the first of two ruptured Achilles initially stalled, and then finished, a budding career. He was 21. What might have been? It’s a question that eats away at thousands of people whose teenage dreams of making it as professional footballer were quashed by their early 20s. And it can leave a big hole in their life.
Rahic would reveal to the Yorkshire Post in April 2017, “Being forced to stop playing is probably the reason I bought Bradford City.”
As Bobic’s career was flourishing, Rahic went back to school. He successfully gained a commercial qualification in Financial Accounting – Controlling at Mövenpick Deutschland GmbH, in Stuttgart. From there he achieved a Master’s degree in business economics (Dipl.-Betriebswirt FH) in Accounting – Finance Controlling (between 2000 and 2004) and in 2002 began working for RexRoth – a hydraulics company owned by Bosch.
Over a seven-year period with RexRoth, he was a Finance Manager and assistant to the Chief Finance Officer. At one stage he headed RexRoth’s Financial and Controlling Department, based in the Netherlands.
But as promisingly as his career in business was shaping up, a passion for football still burned inside. Over the 2003/04 season, Rahic joined the board at Stuttgart Kickers, helping to finance the club during a period of financial struggle. Perhaps even more significantly between 2005 and 2006 he completed an Executive MBA in General Management at HSG – University of St. Gallen. His time studying in Switzerland saw him meet and build up relationships with Urs Linsi, the former FIFA Secretary, and Martin Kallen of UEFA. It helped to stir his dream of owning a football club. He stated, “I’ve always wanted to know what’s going on behind the club, not on the pitch, there must be reasons why players are being pitched and others are not, why players are being bought.”
In the 2000s, Rahic’s football club ownership ambitions seemed more whimsical than serious, but a volatile few years for his accountancy career would focus his mind on football. First, in 2009, he joined HAWE Hydraulic as board member responsible for Finance and HR. Soon after, he became MD of the company. The man at the top. It didn’t end well. Under Rahic’s tenure, company profits fell by 77.4%. There may be very good reasons beyond Rahic for this downturn, but he departed the company in 2012, and his successor oversaw a quick recovery that has been subsequently maintained. You can draw your own conclusions.
Between 2012 and 2016, Rahic worked as a consultant for a firm he seemingly set up called Talenconcept. The nature and volume of his work is unclear.
It would appear that Rahic switched his attentions towards buying a football club. He spent some time working as a scout for Ralf Rangnick at VfB Stuttgart. Rangnick is the highly respected, heavily experienced German football manager, who in 2016 was approached by the FA about the England job, and interviewed for the position. Rahic might have hoped to do something with Rangnick, but Ralf joined the Red Bull organisation. He is currently sporting director at RB Leipzig and global sporting director of New York Red Bulls.
Instead, Rahic attempted to buy into Swiss side Grasshopper Zurich but found the cost too high. “I wanted to join Grasshoppers Zurich with their great talent factory. The idea was to play relatively fast with young kickers in European cup competitions. But they wanted an exorbitant amount of money.”
Rahic’s next attempted club purchase was British, although North of the border to West Yorkshire. In 2012, Glasgow Rangers were reeling. Having fallen into administration, in June their bid to reach a CVA agreement failed and the club was liquidated, with the re-formed Rangers relegated all the way down to the fourth tier of Scotland. It needed a buyer.
Rahic teamed up with some investors to form a consortium based around former ‘Gers midfielder Jorg Albertz. The group of investors had been put together by Rahic in just five days, and they were one of the last three bidders for the basket case club, whose purchase price had dropped from 80 million Euros to 10 million in the space of three weeks. Rahic was pipped to the post by Sevco Scotland Ltd, fronted up by Charles Green.
Rahic later reflected, “With the Rangers I knew about the huge potential. Within five days I had a consortium together and we were one of the last three bidders before the club went under the table to an Englishman. But I’ve seen how you have to deal with such a thing. That you have to run a club with expertise, but otherwise like a business.” His attention remained on the UK. “In England, an incredible amount of money is flowing. The second division side, who wins the play-off final in Wembley and rises to the Premier League, has secured revenue of 250 million euros. I told some investors that could not believe it.”
And so in-between 2012 and 2016 – whilst working as a consultant – Rahic’s strategy to buy an English club was developed. He carefully analysed clubs up and down the country, but became fixated by what he described as the Northern belt – clubs stretching across the North from Hull to Liverpool. All closely connected, guaranteeing numerous local derby fixtures and several Premier League academies that could be a cheap source of promising talent.
Rahic stated to the Yorkshire Post, “First, we looked at a map and London did not seem that interesting. There are so many clubs in the city that when you are a west London club, it can be difficult to get talent from east London. So, we decided against London.
“Looking at the rest of the map, it was clear the most interesting clubs were in a belt from Blackpool and Liverpool through to Hull. Basically, the north. There were some very interesting clubs in the north. But Bradford City stood out, as the club had done everything right to get the city involved.
“It was also a working-class club. Stefan and I are working-class so that appealed as well. And then there was the atmosphere.”
Rahic first made contact with Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn in the spring of 2015, but discovered the Italian Gianni Paladini had got their first, and had just signed an exclusivity agreement with the City owners with a view to buying the club. Paladini hoped to be able to call upon the financial backing of his friends – some of the wealthiest people in the world – but ultimately he could not summon enough interest. The exclusivity agreement expired with no deal, allowing Rahic back in.
Bradford City’s 2015/16 season was played out with Rahic holding talks with Lawn and Rhodes, backed up by the financial resources of his new partner, Stefan Rupp. Rupp, whose crash proof helicopter seats company, Fischer Seats, earned him a fortune when he partially sold it in 2015, shared the same bank consultant as Rahic, who proposed that his two clients met up.
Rupp states in the Matter of Heart film, “Edin and I have the same bank consultant. And at some point, he called and said, ‘You know Edin Rahic? You know about his plans…He’s further along with his plans now, and he’s looking for a partner. I thought I’d call you, because I couldn’t think of anyone else crazy enough to invest their money in a project like that, other than you!’”
In November 2015, talks developed further and Rahic and Rupp attended Bradford City’s 0-0 draw with Coventry City on a cold Tuesday night. It was Rupp’s first-ever football match. But despite the lack of goals he enjoyed the match and the atmosphere. The negotiations continued to progress – the pair back in Bradford to see City’s March 2016 2-1 victory over Doncaster Rovers – and the deal was sealed in May 2016. City were purchased by the ER SportsGroup company, jointly owned by Rahic and Rupp.
Rahic has, of course, viewed the purchase of the club as a chance to instil his own philosophies and beliefs. He identified what he believes are flaws in the way English football clubs operate, and feels his model can exploit them and give City a competitive advantage. It hasn’t worked out that way, with his cost-cutting management approach sensible to his financial control background, but so far not proving conducive with bringing success to a club. Sooner or later, he must realise that his philosophies and core beliefs are not compatible with Bradford City.
Perhaps, with the appointment of David Hopkin, the penny belatedly dropped. After a week of rumours over Hopkin’s future, it is believed the head coach will go into January adequately backed and, crucially, with full control.
The tailing off of Rahic’s business career underlines just how deeply welded he is to making Bradford City work. It is rumoured Rahic earns a large salary for his endeavours, and he has of course moved the family to West Yorkshire. If Rahic was to leave Bradford City, there’s probably not many other options for him.
But the big underlying question is how long the club can afford to go on like this? The club’s revenues have clearly dropped. It was on track to record a loss of £700k last season – and that was before Stuart McCall was sacked, triggering a run of events that saw season ticket and sponsorship revenue dip. Hopkin is clearly desperate to strengthen in January, and it falls on Rupp to inject more capital into the club. In terms of raising money by selling players, Charlie Wyke was arguably the last saleable asset. Tyrell Robinson’s off the field problems have eroded his transfer value. Shay McCartan could raise a few quid, but hardly a significant amount.
Rumours the players haven’t been paid this month have been denied. The scrapping of the Development Squad was to save costs. The first team squad is said to be subsidised by a favourable tie-up with Huddersfield Town that has allowed City to recruit Terriers players cheaply.
Whilst Rupp might be okay underwriting the club’s losses in the short-term, this is unlikely to remain the case forever. His investment was to make a return, not because of an obvious love of football. And right now it is questionable if he will achieve a profit, at least anytime soon. Whilst City remain in League One, revenues are limited – a drop to League Two will further scale back income. Equally, Rupp would be unlikely to let the club financially plummet, as it would affect the value of the business. Rumours of administration seem misplaced, given it would mean Rupp might have to write off millions. He is much smarter than that.
Rahic’s summer press comments about wanting City to have the opportunity to become a feeder club for a Premier League side caused a stir locally and nationally – at its heart, it would seem Rahic wants the opportunity to bring in top Premier League youth prospects, without having to pay a loan fee. A cheap way to build a football team, for an accountant who seemingly operates with the instinct of saving money. It is rumoured that Dougie Freedman’s presence at Accrington was part of talks to set up a tie-in with Crystal Palace similar to the one with Huddersfield.
The amount of non-playing staff who have left, not to be replaced, will have boosted efficiency, but clearly leaves the club a weaker organisation. There are, however, still some very good staff left at the club who work very hard. And your heart goes out to them working under a seemingly growing cloud of uncertainty. Rahic’s two-week holiday has been extended it seems. And at this point rumours are growing he won’t be returning to West Yorkshire anytime soon. If he does come back, you hope the time away has allowed him to reflect on the need to significantly change.
In the short-term, Bradford City are in the midst of a relegation battle that the odds are against them winning, and the two-month wait for the January window to open might prove too long to limit the damage of current form. Meanwhile attendances are clearly dropping, and on the Kop at least there has been a notable decline in supporters willing to buy food and drink from the kiosks. No one – least of all Rahic and Rupp – wants to get relegated. But with the atmosphere so toxic, it’s difficult to see the strained relations between owners and supporters healing for everyone to come together.
Rupp is certainly not the bad guy in this story, and any attempts to paint him as the joint villain appear grossly unfair. He was sold a business idea and has injected his money and his enthusiasm, even though the sport is not really his passion. It’s not Rupp who has run the club dismally. Not Rupp who claims to know football. All that he has done is try to give the club the funding needed to be a success, only for others to miss-manage that investment. It will be hurting Rupp to see the club’s collapse, and you have to wonder if his faith in Rahic has been strained if not exhausted. But I don’t agree with tarring the pair with the same brush. On his own at least, Rupp and his considerable wealth can still offer a lot to Bradford City.
If Rahic and Rupp can’t salvage this collapse in their standing amongst fans, we’re ultimately left waiting for a change of ownership. For new leadership to emerge, that can not only halt the downturn but restore Bradford City to the progressive club it was between 2012 and 2017.
If Rahic and Rupp do still believe they turn it around, they must develop a better understanding of what Bradford City is all about, hire the right people to do the jobs, and slowly win back the trust of supporters who right now find it impossible to believe a word they say.
Things certainly can’t go on as they are. No one stands to gain. Not even Rahic, who has little else to fall back on.
If you support independent, profit-free writing about Bradford City…
…you might also want to consider buying a copy of the new Bradford City book, Who We Are, written by Jason McKeown and published by Bantams Past. Details of the book and where to buy can be found here.