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UEFA’s Decision to Investigate Links Between Multiple Clubs Owned by the Same Shareholder

This Wednesday evening, during the traditional pre-match dinner between management, those of the Union and Toulouse will probably have discussed UEFA’s decision to investigate their links with their “friendly” clubs, AC Milan for the French (RedBird group), and Brighton&Hove, for the Brussels residents. Since 2009, the English club has been in the hands of its local star, Tony Bloom. This former poker player, who made his fortune primarily with the data analytics-based gambling consultancy firm StarLizard, was the main financial backer of Union Saint-Gilloise since the club’s transition under the British flag, in 2018. Alex Muzio is the president but the majority shareholder was Tony Bloom.

But now, for the first time this season, the billionaire’s two clubs were qualified for Europe, which is why the UEFA club financial control body (CFCB) plunged its nose into the accounts and managerial structures of the two companies, wondering if the links they maintained via Tony Bloom did not conflict with article 5 of the regulation, focused on “multiple ownership” and “integrity of competition”.

Tony Bloom, in 2018, when he became the strong man of the Union Saint-Gilloise. ©vincent duterne / photonews

The message from the Unionist management had been rather reassuring until then and the decision taken on July 7 effectively confirmed the authorization for the two clubs to compete in the Europa League. In the same way as Toulouse and AC Milan, moreover, as well as the third thorny case, Aston Villa and Vitoria (group V Sports). A ban would have been a surprise as UEFA has never excluded a team from one of its competitions for this reason but the green light was given by the body “following significant changes on the part of clubs and their investors,” she explained.

Muzio takes the hand

“These changes significantly restricted investor influence and decision-making power over more than one club, ensuring compliance with the multi-ownership regulations,” detailed UEFA, without specifying who exactly was affected by which changes. But the press release published by the Union immediately made it possible to understand that it was in reality a small revolution which had taken place behind the scenes, in the preceding weeks, since the club had changed hands. Alex Muzio, friend of Tony Bloom and also very popular in Saint-Gilles since his arrival as president, became on June 15 the main shareholder of the English company which owns the Union, Langford Holdings Limited, of which he now holds more than 75% of the shares, whereas it was less than 25% previously. “I am now the majority shareholder of the Union and I am increasing my investment in the club while Tony’s stake in the club drops to a minority stake,” explained Alex Muzio in the club press release, that same July 7 .

The 39-year-old Englishman, Alex Muzio, is now almost the sole master on board. ©BELGA PHOTO TOM GOYVAERTS

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UEFA felt there was a problem.

Contacted by us, the 39-year-old Englishman said more, for the first time, about how he experienced this change of role and the impact that it will have on the future of number 10. “He does not there was no connection between Brighton and the Union; except Tony who had a connection with both clubs. The advice we took told us that there would be no problem if both clubs qualified for Europe, based on the fact that although I had a minority of the shares, I had a majority of the shares. voting rights in Langford (Editor’s note: by a system of weighting of votes) and, therefore, in the Union. But the UEFA regulations are up to UEFA to interpret and they felt there was a problem, and that is their right.”

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Even if Tony is no longer there, an increase in capital remains possible if necessary.

“While it is clear that my wealth is significantly less than Tony’s, I believe this change will have minimal impact on the future of the Union, for two reasons,” continued Alex Muzio. Firstly because our expenses are currently covered by our income; particularly with the way we have structured our incoming transfer income. For example, revenues linked to Boniface will be, on average, €6.5 million for the next two years. Secondly, because if at any time the club needed another capital injection for operational reasons, it would still be possible.”

But, a priori, not from Tony Bloom. Even if, according to our information, the UEFA judgment does not prohibit the Brighton billionaire from reintegrating the capital of the Union to a greater extent if one of the two clubs was no longer European in the future, this would not be the idea, according to Alex Muzio: “Tony has retained a minority interest in the Union via Langford but there are no plans to see him return as a majority shareholder.”

2022-23: revenues that have doubled and a bonus

The first point underlined by the new strongman of the Union obviously makes Tony Bloom’s diminishing influence less stressful. After conceding losses for years, to the point that the cumulative loss reached 36 million euros a little over a year ago, RUSG achieved a positive financial year for the first time, in 2022-23, can we read in the annual accounts published at the beginning of November. Thanks, above all, to the bonuses paid by UEFA for his journey to the quarter-final of the Europa League – around €12 million gross – and to record outgoing transfers, with the sales of Casper Nielsen, Dante Vanzeir and Deniz Undav . If the payroll logically increased by six million, reaching €21.7 million, revenues exploded, doubling in volume to reach €41.3 million. The new requirements of the Pro League in terms of payroll/revenue ratio and equity are also well met.

Financial statement of the Union ©IPM Graphics

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The accounts for the current season will also be positive.

“We are satisfied with the 2022-23 season,” continues the president. The way our accounts are organized, with profits on transfers being recognized immediately and transfer expenses spread over the length of the players’ contracts, will allow us to have a new profit in the 2023-24 accounts.

The profitable departures of Boniface, Teuma, El Azzouzi, Lynen, Nieuwkoop, Kandouss and Van Der Heyden will not be unrelated. Transferring well remains key for the Union. Because we must not forget that Langford had to inject €26 million in capital increases between 2020 and 2022-23 to keep the boat afloat, like many other Pro League clubs. But the Marien ship is sailing alone and quite well now.

A regulation that is disturbing and could be reduced

If the Union had to modify its shareholding, it is because of the multi-ownership rules included in the UEFA regulations. These were voted to avoid any suspicion of arrangements between “friendly” clubs, as in the case of Union and Brighton, or even belonging to the same entity, as for Toulouse and AC Milan (RedBird). Another well-known example here: the 777 Partners group, which is a majority shareholder in Standard, but also in Genoa, Hertha Berlin and Red Star and a minority shareholder in Seville. But groups owning several clubs are more and more numerous and the European body is hampered by rules which nevertheless make sense: not seeing two entities in the hands of the same influential shareholder meet in the European Cup.

The wish expressed by Ineos, already owner of Nice, to buy large shares of Manchester United, also raises questions in England, since the French club currently occupies a place in Ligue 1 qualifying for the Champions League. Already, in March, in an interview with the former legend of the Red Devils, Gary Neville, Aleksander Ceferin, the president of UEFA, believed that his organization needed to rethink these rules. Since then, lobbying has continued since, according to English media, the UEFA executive committee scheduled for December could discuss this regulation and a change could be voted on in early 2024. A necessity made even stronger by the overhaul of the Champions League which will welcome more teams from 2024-25, estimates UEFA. It remains to be seen whether morality will emerge as the winner.

2023-11-29 17:16:00
#Bloom #divested #Union #making #profit #time #bonus

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