A conflict of interest between Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur appears to have been averted, despite the fact a major Ibrox shareholder took effective control of the North London club yesterday.
ENIC, who have a 20 per cent stake at Ibrox, ran the risk of falling foul of strict UEFA and Office of Fair Trading guidelines governing the dual ownership of clubs when they acquired a 29.9 per cent stake in Tottenham from outgoing chairman Sir Alan Sugar.
Concerns had focused on the role of the managing director of ENIC, Daniel Levy, who though a non-executive director at White Hart Lane, is the new powerbroker at the Premiership club. Levy is also a non-executive director at Ibrox.
However, it seems ENIC - the English National Investment Company - have carefully gauged their investment at Spurs. It is understood Levy’s company consulted with both the Scottish and English football associations before agreeing terms with Sir Alan for their investment at White Hart Lane.
As their stake is less than 30 per cent, the company is not obliged to bid for the rest of Spurs’ shares, nor are they likely to face an OFT investigation. But as the major shareholder, there is little doubt they will pull the strings at White Hart Lane, while maintaining their sizeable interest in the Glasgow side.
Rangers Chairman David Murray refused to speculate on any likely changes as a result of ENIC’s new role at White Hart Lane, but added: "ENIC’s business is nothing to do with Rangers football club or Murray International. If they wish to change their position in Rangers, I’m sure we’ll receive a telephone call."
A possible conflict of interest could still emerge if the sides were drawn together in UEFA competition. At present regulations bar any club from participation in the same competition if they are involved in any capacity whatsoever in management, administration or the sporting performance of any other club. A UEFA spokesman said: " When we see who has qualified for European competition, we will take a close look at the ownership of clubs to see if they meet our regulations. It could create a problem."
Levy’s carefully constructed takeover of Spurs has some history behind it. His company’s first investment in football came with the 25 per cent stage they bought in Rangers in January 1998. Since then, they have acquired controlling interests in AEK Athens, Slavia Prague, FC Basel and Vicenza.
When two of their sides, AEK and Slavia were drawn against each other in the UEFA Cup, European football’s governing body ruled that the two could not play each other.
ENIC spent 1.3 million taking the case to the International Court of Arbitration. Though the two sides were allowed to compete, ultimately the court upheld UEFA’s decision. Subsequently, ENIC reduced their stake in AEK to 47 per cent.
Rangers too are familiar with UEFA’s policy on these matters. Eighteen months ago, Murray’s interest in a takeover of Manchester City was apparently ended by concerns over a possible conflict of interest.
At the time it was said the relationship between Murray and Levy had cooled after ENIC’s initial investment at Ibrox and it was noted the company’s resources were not used in the package that would have given Murray control at Maine Road.
Yesterday Sugar, who has been vilified by a section of the Spurs support for many months, sold a 26.9 per cent stake for 21.9 million, or 80 pence per share. The purchase price values the club at about 80 million.
Whether Spurs fans can expect any loosening of the purse strings now Levy is on board is a moot point. He has made a reputation as a hard-nosed businessman at Ibrox, while AEK’s chairman, Cornelius Sierhuis, revealed his belief that "the investment of ENIC in Tottenham does not bode well for their supporters".