Serepisos irked by takeover tactics

By BusinessDesk

Football Federation Australia having requested assurances from Serepisos that he has $2 million in the bank to finance the Phoenix. Photo / File
Football Federation Australia having requested assurances from Serepisos that he has $2 million in the bank to finance the Phoenix. Photo / File

Embattled property developer Terry Serepisos says he decided to relinquish control of the Wellington Phoenix A-league soccer team, though the handover could have been handled differently.

Serepisos, who is currently embroiled in court proceedings to orchestrate the orderly sell-down of a $232.5 million property portfolio, told a media conference in Wellington the Welnix Ltd consortium which has taken over the Phoenix licence "possibly should have approached me."

The new owners, originally dubbed the Phoenix Five, actually number seven. They are headed by Kiwibank chairman Rob Morrison and also include Gareth Morgan, Lloyd Morrison, Campbell Gower, James Brown, Henry Tait and Lib Petagna.

He had no talks with them about the deal. He stressed that he wasn't forced out of the Phoenix, rather it was a good time for him to hand over control and give him time to focus on his personal life.

"I think the consortium could have handled it a little bit different, but as I said we're here now and this is done," Serepisos said.

"We have to do the right thing for the right reason."

The Welnix consortium announced its successful application earlier in the day, and plans to get the club self-sustaining and running profitably.

Running the Phoenix was a money-making venture for Serepisos, and he said he had put in between $8 million and $10 million over his four-year tenure as owner.

"I feel very proud to have created this football club from scratch and I have poured all of my heart and energy into it but I have come to the conclusion that it is time to hand the licence back to FFA," Serepisos said in a statement.

"This is not an easy decision but I feel it is the right decision in the best interests of the club, New Zealand football and especially the Phoenix fans.

"I wish the new owners all of the best in the future and I will always be extremely proud of everything the Wellington Phoenix club has achieved."

The legitimacy of the claim Serepisos relinquished control rather than had his licence revoked is questionable.

He battled desperately to retain control of the club and this week was confident he could prove to the Football Federation Australia he had the resources to fund the team for the upcoming season.

The FFA demanded Serepisos prove he had $2m in the bank by this week and it will pain him tremendously to lose control.

Serepisos has been battling crippling debts of more than $200 million but was determined to cling onto control of the Phoenix as he set about selling off property assets recently valued at $232m.

Serepisos said he expects to have his court proceedings settled next week, though he declined to elaborate on any details.

Today's news finally provides some clarity for the football club, players and fans. The Phoenix are due to kick off the new A-League season on October 9 and the club still have only 17 players _ FFA regulations require a minimum of 20 players by the time the season kicks off.

The new owners had signalled their interest in taking over the club if Serepisos couldn't continue some time ago and have been in detailed talks with the FFA. They come with substantial capital and the added bonus of being a consortium rather than single owner. Fans will hope they provide an instant cash injection.

Rob Morrison has represented the group and is backed up by brother and Infratil boss Lloyd, his business partner Lib Petagna, economist Gareth Morgan, Phil & Teds owner Campbell Gower, Todd Group board member Henry Tait, James Brown and Lib Petanya.

Serepisos had sought a US$100m loan from a Bahrain-based company Western Gulf Advisory and, although many warned him it was an elaborate scam, he remained steadfastly confident the money would materialise. Last week it was reported he had been in talks with Asian lenders in the hope of securing fresh capital.

It is a sad end for Serepisos, who saved professional football in New Zealand when he took over the A-League licence previously held by the Auckland-based New Zealand Knights in 2007.

Since that time, the Phoenix have hosted David Beckham's LA Galaxy, been to the A-League finals and provided a pathway for young Kiwi footballers. They also played a significant hand in helping the All Whites qualify for last year's World Cup in South Africa by providing a professional environment for coach Ricki Herbert and a handful of players to work in.

Herbert is reportedly $100,000 out of pocket in lost wages and players and staff have regularly been paid late as Serepisos attempted to keep his head above water.

They are understood to have become frustrated with the situation as it dragged on and drew closer to the new season and it's likely they will welcome new ownership.

Morgan said they would establish a new board and management structure and Serepisos would be offered a position as the founding patron. He also made assurances both the backroom and playing staff were likely to keep their jobs and that they would soon seek to round out the playing roster.

"We will have discussions with the current staff and we are optimistic that all staff at all levels will be retained," Morgan said.

The new owners will also look to establish feeder teams and structures to support the A-League side.

A-League boss Lyall Gorman said it was an exciting time for the future of the club considering the financial resources and business acumen of the new owners.

"The future is in remarkably solid hands," he said.

- APNZ

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