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Everton’s Moshiri years: from ‘whatever I have’ to relegation fights 

Farhad Moshiri arrived at Everton in 2016 looking like the wealthy benefactor that many modern football fans crave. He had cash — and an even richer business partner in Uzbek-born oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

The British-Iranian billionaire seemed to be the deep-pocketed patron that Bill Kenwright, the Everton chair and West End theatre producer, had promised fans for years. Moshiri was the “perfect partner”, Kenwright said. Moshiri in turn promised fans: “I give them whatever I have.”

Yet Moshiri on Friday agreed to sell his 94 per cent stake for an undisclosed sum, leaving a club with mounting troubles on and off the pitch. He is selling to 777 Partners, a Miami-based company with a wide range of investments in football.

The sale also marks a final distancing of the club from Usmanov, whose connection to Everton turned from an asset to a liability after he was placed under international sanctions.

If approved by the Premier League, the Football Association and the Financial Conduct Authority, the takeover will be a significant new chapter in one of football’s longest histories. Everton were founding members of the Football League in 1888, have never been relegated from the top flight, and have been crowned champions of England nine times.

Christina Philippou, an academic at the University of Portsmouth specialising in football finance, noted, however, that the club’s present state was far less glorious than its history. Everton sit 18th in the 20-club Premier League table, having taken just one point from the opening four games.

“They’re not in a good financial state,” Philippou said. “They’re unstable and they can’t just keep doing what they’re doing.”

The 2022-23 season was the second in succession when Everton came close to relegation to the second-tier, less-lucrative Championship. The club warned in their most recent annual report that such a fate would threaten their status as a going concern. Three of Everton’s four board members resigned in June, days after the club won their latest fight to stay up.

“The recent brushes with relegation are an issue because it’s a big drop to the Championship and you can’t guarantee a bounce back to the Premier League,” Philippou said.

Moshiri’s sale of his stake follows months of negotiations with different potential investors. The club’s finances are under intense pressure. That reflects partly the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic but largely the costs of building a still unfinished new stadium at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock.

Farhad Moshiri waves as he arrives at a match
Farhad Moshiri wrote to the club’s fans: ‘The last few years have not been easy for Evertonians — and I am one of you’ © Phil Noble/Reuters

Costs for the new stadium, to replace Everton’s historic home at Goodison Park, have risen to at least £760mn, from an initial £500mn. The club in May turned to two wealthy fans — stockbroking tycoon Andy Bell and property developer George Downing — for a bridging loan for the project.

The club are also the subject of a Premier League investigation into claims they breached financial regulations. Everton have said they are confident they remain compliant with the rules.

“The priority will be to stabilise the club both on the pitch and off the pitch,” Philippou said of the new owners.

The change of ownership, however, is not only significant because of Moshiri, who invested about £750mn in Everton. It will also put greater distance between the club and Usmanov, who has been the subject of US, UK and EU sanctions since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

Moshiri and Usmanov, a metals and technology tycoon, had worked together since the 1990s. They were co-investors in another football club — Arsenal — before US billionaire Stan Kroenke took control of the London club.

Everton were forced to sever sponsorships with a series of Usmanov-connected companies, including USM, Megafon and Yota, due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The contracts, worth tens of millions of pounds, hit Everton hard; sponsorship, advertising and merchandising revenue dropped from £63mn in 2019-20 to roughly £35mn in 2021-22.

Everton’s Goodison Park Stadium is seen in Liverpool, England,
Everton’s Goodison Park Stadium is seen in Liverpool, England © Jon Super/AP

In 2020, USM, a company co-owned by Usmanov that already sponsored the club’s training ground, paid £30mn for an option on the naming rights to the Bramley-Moore Dock stadium.

Explaining the naming deal at the time, Usmanov said: “Everton is the club of my friend, my brother.”

Usmanov’s influence went beyond the sponsorships. Rafael Benitez, a former manager of Everton’s arch-rivals Liverpool, was appointed Everton’s manager after a meeting on Usmanov’s yacht in 2021. His predecessor Carlo Ancelotti was appointed after a meeting brokered by Usmanov, the Financial Times previously reported. In June this year, Everton settled a contract dispute with the Italian, who left for Real Madrid in 2021.

In July 2021, Everton appointed 26-year-old Sarvar Ismailov, Usmanov’s nephew, to the board. Ismailov had been hired as a global commercial consultant at the club two years earlier. He stepped down months later citing “personal reasons”. The BBC later reported that Ismailov had appeared in court after being charged with grievous bodily harm, although the case was dismissed in December that year because of a “lack of evidence”.

In a September 2021 letter seen by the FT, the Home Office told Usmanov he should be excluded from the UK, on the basis that his presence in the country was not deemed “conducive to the public good”. The Home Office declined to comment on the letter.

Moshiri’s own liquidity seems to have suffered since the invasion of Ukraine. He sold half of his USM holdings for roughly $400mn before Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine and stepped down as a member of USM’s board days after the invasion.

Although the Sunday Times “rich list” put his fortune at £1.63bn this year, he still owns a 5 per cent stake in USM that he cannot touch. He is also unable to draw dividends that could have helped him fund the club. In July, Usmanov and his partners moved to exclude offshore minority shareholders from USM.

There has been a marked shift in recent years from the heavy spending on players of the early years under Moshiri. Sales such as Anthony Gordon’s £45mn move to Newcastle in January have been used to patch up the club’s finances.

Yet Moshiri sounded optimistic on Friday that his departure might mark a turning point. The days of clubs being run by a rich benefactor were now “seemingly out of reach” following “rapid changes” to the way the football business operated, he wrote in an open letter to the team’s supporters.

“The last few years have not been easy for Evertonians — and I am one of you,” he wrote.

Clubs now needed the backing of specialist investors, private equity, or sovereign wealth funds, he added.

“It has been tough to watch our struggles on the pitch,” he concluded. “Yet the foundations for a brighter future have been laid.”

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