ibnlive » Business

Dec 22, 2007 at 11:50am IST

Steel tycoon falls for soccer, buys English club

London: Lakshmi N Mittal, the richest man in Britain, has bought a 20 per cent stakeholding in a lowly ranked London football club to make it - in theory - the world's richest club.

Fans of Queen's Park Rangers, based in the West London neighbourhood of Shepherd's Bush, were celebrating after the Indian-born steel magnate bought the stakeholdings from the club's owners, Formula One racing tycoons Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.

Ecclestone is worth £2.5bn, Renault chief Briatore £60mn and Mittal - the world's fifth richest man - a whopping £26 bn, their combined eye-popping wealth making the club even richer than Spain's Real Madrid, soccer experts said.

MIDAS' TOUCH: Mittal's stake will make lowly-ranked London football club the world's richest club.

Mittal, the first Indian to buy into an English football club, will be represented on the QPR board by his son-in-law Amit Bhatia.

"The family is excited about becoming involved with QPR. As a family, we love sport and particularly enjoy English football," said Bhatia.

"Alongside Bernie and Flavio, we hope we can improve the club's performance, with the ultimate ambition of a Premier League place."

The three wealthy directors have pledged to turn Rangers into the game's next big force, and are expected to hand QPR manager Luigi de Canio a blank cheque to strengthen his squad during next month's player transfers. Rangers were on the brink of bankruptcy when Ecclestone and Briatore bought it for £14m in September.

Currently bottom of the Championship League, the club could now potentially join West London neighbours and FA Cup third round opponents Chelsea in the transfer market, should Mittal wish to spend his cash, experts said.

English football writers have been quick to recognise the potential of Mittal's move.

The Daily Telegraph noted that Chelsea, under Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho and propelled by Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich's money, added a second and third title 40 years after claiming their first.

"The mind boggles at the potential inherent in the bank balances of Messrs Mittal, Ecclestone and Briatore," it said.

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"January offers the first opportunity to measure intent. This improbable triumvirate could blow the transfer window off its Roman-plated hinges. The teams immediately above QPR in the Championship table are all a whiter shade of pale this morning."

Formed in 1882, the club is commonly referred to as QPR or Rangers by fans. Other nicknames include the 'Hoops' or the 'Superhoops' - after the team's kit of blue and white hooped shirts - or the 'Rs'.

The club's fans traditionally consider Chelsea, Fulham and Brentford as rivals owing to their nearby locations but have recently also developed a rivalry with Luton Town. QPR are not to be confused with the Scottish clubs, Rangers or Queen's Park.

At the top of English soccer is the Premier League, containing 20 clubs. Below the Premier League is the Football League, which is divided into three divisions of 24 clubs each - the Championship, League One and League Two.

A delighted Paul Finney, of the Independent R's fan group, said: "Santa must be wearing blue and white hoops. It's been a crazy season and now it looks set to be even more surreal."

"This investment is a great stepping stone towards the future development of the club," said a club statement. "It supports the ambition of the current shareholders to reach the Premier League in the near future."

"Mittal is a mate of mine as you know," Ecclestone said. "I told him he should come on board; he took my advice. We want this to work. This is a great old club - they haven't always been where they are today. They were challenging Liverpool for the league title back in the seventies. That is where we want to see them again, in the top flight.

"We'll tidy the whole place up now and see what we can come up with. There will be investment in the club to make it the best it can be. There is a proper board in place and they will decide what the spend will be."

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