Oil baron closing in on deal to take over at Owls

Owls chairman Milan Mandaric
Owls chairman Milan Mandaric
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SORTING out the pretenders from the firm contenders who have expressed interest in taking over at Sheffield Wednesday in recent years has represented an onerous exercise.

At times, the passing of the seasons has been best denoted by another round of intense takeover speculation at Hillsborough.

Hafiz Mammadov, the owner of Lens.

Hafiz Mammadov, the owner of Lens.

This time around, however, there appears to be genuine substance to reports of the club changing hands.

The latest name in the frame is Azerbaijan-born RC Lens and FC Baku owner and multi-millionaire Hafiz Mammadov, the founder and chairman of the Baghlan Group, who is believed to be closing in on a takeover of the Owls.

According to reports in widely-respected French newspaper L’Equipe, an agreement over the deal – worth approximately 50million euros – was finalised in Monaco last weekend, with the oligarch now targeting promotion with the Owls next season. Mammadov and his representatives have been speaking to Owls owner Milan Mandaric for the past few months.

When contacted by The Yorkshire Post yesterday, Mandaric would neither confirm nor deny the latest stories regarding the link with Mammadov, whose company has extensive interests in sectors from oil to transport.

A successful conclusion would bring a protracted end to owner Mandaric’s bid to sell the club, with the 75-year-old having admitted as far back as late 2011 that he would sell if the ‘right’ people made a suitable offer.

Last August, the former Portsmouth and Leicester chairman openly revealed he was ready to sell in order to spend more time with his family and focus on his other business interests, and takeover talk has never been far away since.

The one name which has consistently been linked with the Owls for the past year is former Birmingham City director Sammy Yu, the frontman for a Chinese consortium who visited games at Hillsborough on several occasions last season.

Yu rekindled his interest in the club in the Spring after talks last summer failed to broker a deal but it appears that discussions with the Mammadov camp have taken place separately, with a deal now close.

Given the excessive amount of takeover speculation which has engulfed the club over the past few years without anything coming to fruition, Wednesday are understandably loathe to make any official announcement over a potential deal involving Mammadov – or any other possible buyers – until things are signed, sealed and delivered.

But with everything pointing towards Mammadov succeeding where others have failed, Owls fans could finally see a conclusion to what has become the most protracted of takeover sagas.

Mammadov has been widely described as someone who is in love with the game, with the oligarch’s footballing portfolio a growing one.

Mammadov, who has sat on the Azerbaijan Football Federation for several years, helped negotiate a shirt sponsorship deal with Atletico Madrid in December, 2012.

As part of that agreement, young Azeri players have been trained by Atletico coaches and coaching clinics held in the capital of Baku, with Mammadov also possessing shares in FC Porto.

He was introduced to representatives from Lens in Cannes in August, 2012, when the club’s former president, Gervais Martel, convinced Mammadov to invest in the club.

Mammadov was further impressed by meetings with Lens club legend Jean-Pierre Papin and tales of a vibrant youth academy that has produced the likes of Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane in recent seasons.

Lens, boosted by Mammadov’s financial input, achieved promotion back to the French top flight earlier this year and his sights are now seemingly set on taking the Owls back to the Premier League promised land.