Everton takeover may have been rejected sooner if regulator was in place, admits Richard Masters

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters
Richard Masters has said that takeovers of Premier League football clubs are growing increasingly complex - PA/Steven Paston

Takeovers that drag on like that of Everton by 777 Partners “are not good” and may be dealt with more quickly by an independent regulator than the Premier League, Richard Masters has admitted.

Masters conceded the kind of eight-month saga that has left the Merseyside club and their fans in limbo could soon be a thing of the past during an appearance before parliament’s Football Governance Bill committee.

Speaking to MPs tasked with scrutinising the landmark legislation imposing statutory regulation on the national game, the Premier League chief executive also revealed Everton owner Farhad Moshiri remained in talks with crisis-hit 777 amid fears the £500 million sale was on the brink of collapse.

But Masters indicated the US investment firm had still not met conditions imposed on the deal by the world’s richest league, which include it immediately settling some of the club’s debts that run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

Grilled by Damian Collins MP, the former chair of the Culture, Media & Sport select committee, about why the Premier League had not simply rejected the takeover and whether an independent regulator would have done so, Masters admitted there were “benefits” to a “regulatory ownership test” that included “access to more information”.

“We’re not a statutory body,” he added. “So, we can only get the information we’re provided with, and we have strong investigatory powers.

“I do accept that takeovers that carry on for a very long time are not good, for fan certainty. And that’s why we have a very big team of people who do nothing else than this.

“All I would say is that, over time, particularly in the Premier League, takeovers are becoming increasingly complex, and it is not a small undertaking on the part of the regulator to take this particular burden on. That’s why we want to remain involved with it as well. This is very complicated and we need to make sure that all those decisions are correct, even if that means taking a little bit more time.”

Pressed on whether a regulator would have blocked the Everton takeover sooner, he replied: “It may be that they come to conclusions quicker. I’d imagine that’s possibly correct, Damian, in that circumstance.

“I can imagine what the situation would be like if we had a regulator in its current example that you’re raising. And, obviously I know a little bit more about it in terms of the background to it all. I can’t say too much about it but I do think there are some benefits to the regulator working in tandem with the league on this particular topic. That is true.”

He also said: “To be clear what the Premier League’s role in this is, as regulator, is to perform the test. It’s not just to decide who the current owner wants to sell his club to. That is his decision. At the moment, he wants to continue to have discussions with 777 about it. The Premier League has made very clear the conditions that have to be met by 777 if it wishes to become the owner of Everton. And, at the moment, obviously, because the takeover hasn’t been confirmed, I’ll leave it to the committee to make its own conclusions for where we are with that.”

The US firm is facing mounting lawsuits and claims of unpaid bills in different territories, including over their ownership of Belgian club Standard Liege, resulting in co-founder Josh Wander coming under pressure to quit the board of the European Club Association.

It also emerged last week that 777 had hired restructuring experts to overcome “various operational challenges”.

Two millionaire Evertonian businessmen and US firm MSP Sports Capital will be targeted as potential buyers were Moshiri to axe his deal with 777.

Dealmakers believe Liverpudlian investors Andy Bell and George Downing, who already have money tied up in the club, would be seriously interested in at least part-ownership.

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