Venky's of India completes Blackburn takeover
Poultry giant Venky's became the first Indian company to own an English Premier League club on Friday when it completed the takeover of former champion Blackburn.
A newly established British subsidiary called Venky's London Limited paid 23 million pounds ($36.8 million) for a 99.9 percent stake in the northwest England side and will make an unconditional offer for the remaining shares.
Blackburn would not comment on whether the new owners would pay off the club's debt that stood at 21 million pounds ($33.6 million), according to its last full-year results.
But the Indian company's managing director, B. Venkatesh Rao, previously valued the takeover at 46 million pounds ($73.5 million), which is close to the combined value of the shares and debt.
''We see real sustainable growth for the club moving forward, both within the UK and also internationally,'' Venky's director Balaji Rao said. ''We intend to exploit our in-depth knowledge of the Indian market in particular, and beyond that, the whole of Asia.
''The immediate future will be spent with the key figures at the club from the chairman and the management team right through to the players and club staff working with them to ensure that we move forward as a team.''
As one of seven assurances in its offer document, Venky's said it would provide regular funds to buy new players but did not say how much and how often.
Fans hoping to see their team competing for star players with foreign-owned Manchester City and Chelsea are likely to be disappointed.
Venky's previously said it will spend 5 million pounds ($7.98 million) in the January transfer window and concentrate on loan signings to help the club finish between 10th and 12th in the 20-team league.
Blackburn's record signing was the 8 million pounds it paid Manchester United for striker Andy Cole in December 2001. While City and Chelsea have each spent 30 million pounds on players, Blackburn has since spent more than 5 million pounds only twice.
But the takeover could give Blackburn some financial muscle. Venky's, which is short for Venkateshwara Hatcheries, employs more than 7,500 people and has an 85 percent share of the Indian poultry market.
''It would be very disappointing if it wasn't somebody that wanted to take over the club and try to improve it as quickly as possible,'' Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce said. ''The best way to improve a football club in the early stages is the first-team results.
''We all know we have been short of a bit of investment in the last few years.''
Blackburn is 14th in the standings ahead of Sunday's match against Aston Villa, which is expected to be attended by members of the Rao family.
VH chairperson Anuradha J. Desai said in October that the company was buying Blackburn, which has been mostly mediocre since winning the 1995 Premier League, to promote its image overseas.
The company has now given contractual commitments as part of the takeover that include promises not to change the name of the stadium stand bearing the name of former owner Jack Walker and to maintain the club's principal activity as a professional football club.
''We plan to focus on leveraging the global influence in establishing Blackburn Rovers as a truly global brand,'' Desai said Friday. ''We will absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organization to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remains one of the best run clubs within the Premier League.''
Lifelong fan and local businessman Walker funded Blackburn's return to England's topflight for the first time in 26 years and then its sole Premier League title three years later.
The club was relegated in 1999 and, aside from promotion in 2001 and a League Cup title in 2002, Blackburn has mostly occupied mid-table in the Premier League since.
Venky's has promised to maintain the statue of Walker outside Ewood Park stadium and to let President K.C. Lee and his three Vice Presidents keep their present roles until at least the end of the season.
''We have been impressed with their enthusiasm for the club and their plans and ideas for future investment to develop it further as well as their wish and commitment to preserve the legacy of Jack Walker,'' said Paul Egerton-Vernon, chairman of the Jack Walker Settlement Trustees who previously owned the club. ''Over the last 10 years, the global appeal of the Premier League has grown significantly and it is only natural that, as we have seen at other clubs, international ownership and investment should increase.''