Saturday 20 April 2019

Desmond views Rovers project as chance to invest in Irish game


Dermot Desmond. Photo:
Dermot Desmond. Photo:
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Dermot Desmond has visited the Shamrock Rovers training facilities in Roadstone and met with management staff at the club as part of talks with a view to investing a significant amount of money into the League of Ireland side.

The prospect of Desmond taking a substantial stake - but not a controlling one - has been the subject of talks which originally started last year. A figure of up to €3m has been floated as the size of an initial contribution, but that is believed to be subject to further discussions.

There is also an anticipation that Desmond's involvement will see him bring new faces onto the club's board from his own network of contacts.

Rovers are set to inform the club's members that there is no meeting imminent to discuss a change to the current ownership structure. That's because further negotiations have to take place in the coming weeks and it's possible that nothing will be formally brought to the table until the summer.

The club is owned equally by its supporters and Australian-based Rovers fan Ray Wilson - he provided a €1.5m interest-free loan to the club in order to facilitate the development of their training centre and academy in Roadstone. That money is due to be repaid. The academy's operating company has been separated from the club's own trading entity.

It's understood that a buy-in from Desmond could halve Wilson's stake. Desmond (68) is Celtic's largest single shareholder but he would be getting involved in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the Scottish champions.

That said, improved relations between the two clubs have led to Desmond gaining awareness of Rovers' work.

Celtic have visited Tallaght for friendly games in 2017 and 2018, and promising Rovers academy product Gavin Bazunu did travel to Scotland as he considered his next career move.

But he ended up signing for Manchester City in a deal worth close to €500,000. Rovers have retained good relations with City too; the Premier League champions will be sending some of their younger teams to play their Rovers counterparts later this month.

Celtic officials visited Roadstone last summer to see the work the club are doing there, and Desmond has made his own personal trip as part of his interest in investing in an Irish football project.

The Scottish club also looked to Rovers in their search for a new reserve team coach, with Damien Duff now on the first team staff as a result of a rapid promotion arising from Brendan Rodgers' exit.

UEFA rules would place scrutiny on Celtic buying a stake in Rovers, but that option has never been under serious consideration. Instead, there is a feeling that Desmond is keen to put some money into the Irish game - but it would naturally open the door to strong relations between the respective clubs.

A sum of €3m could have a transformative effect on Rovers. It would allow them to finish the remaining work at Roadstone, and also strengthen the hand of first team boss Stephen Bradley.

Rovers were the first Irish club to qualify for the Europa League group stages in 2011, but Dundalk have become the dominant club on the pitch and their performances after making the Europa League in 2016 attracted an American consortium led by investment firm Peak 6 to take control of the Louth club.

The fan-owned model steered Rovers out of extremely choppy waters ahead of their move to Tallaght, but there is an increased recognition that outside investment is required in an attempt to compete for honours and the all-important European riches. Desmond is prepared to take a central role in that.

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