Days after Charlton Athletic confirmed they are seeking financial advice from a leading City firm over their future, it appears the Championship club may be set for a change of ownership within the next few weeks.
Two foreign consortia are understood to be bidding for control with one in advanced negotiations over a £50m deal. The group has already inspected The Valley and is also believed to have had access to the club's books and carried out the process of due diligence.
Interestingly the consortium, which involves a number of investors, is believed to be headed by an influential Nigerian businessman. If the businessman, who is being represented by Chris Nathaniel of the London-based NVA management group, gains control it will be the first time an English club has been owned by an African.
According to sources close to Charlton, however, there are thought to be a number of sticking points. The consortium is facing competition from a group believed to involve a Russian who has also held talks with representatives from Charlton.
Despite last season's relegation and the attendant loss of revenue, both bidders regard Charlton as a good investment, partly because of their London location but also because of the potential to develop the club, which is run on a sound business footing, and its fan-base. Charlton also own the freehold to The Valley and to the training ground in south-east London making it a sound property as well as football investment. If £50m appears a high price, there is a premium on taking control of clubs in London and it could prove to be an inexpensive deal if promotion is quickly secured.
Charlton, who face Stoke City today, would become the latest English club to fall into foreign hands. Manager Alan Pardew has worked hard this summer to deal with the blow of relegation and remodel his squad. The pain of going down was compounded by the fact that last year the then manager Iain Dowie spent £11m in the transfer market, the most the club has ever spent. They have balanced the books by selling Darren Bent for £16.5m, Luke Young for £2.5m and Souleymane Diawara for £2.7m while releasing high-earners such as Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. At the same time Pardew has brought in 10 new players at a cost of just over £5.5m.
Amid increasing speculation over the club's future, the board confirmed on Thursday it had hired the financial advisers Seymour Pierce "to consider a range of strategic options". A statement added: "These include further investment from existing shareholders and/or new investors, and the strategic review may or may not lead to an offer for the company."
Seymour Pierce, headed by Keith Harris, the former chairman of the Football League, have been heavily involved in a number of high-profile takeovers, from Roman Abramovich's acquisition of Chelsea to Randy Lerner's purchase of Aston Villa and, more recently, Thaksin Shinawatra's involvement with Manchester City.
The company has confirmed its involvement with Charlton and is examining a number of options including the possibility of the club being sold or a share issue to raise more funds as it tries to compete. Seymour Pierce has been contacting other prospective investors in the last few weeks.