The Coventry owner, Sisu Capital, has agreed to sell a majority stake to local businessman Doug King in a deal which will leave the club debt free.
The Sky Blues were placed under a transfer embargo at the end of October while they repay money owed to HM Revenue & Customs but King taking an 85% share will clear all current debts.
As a result Coventry are also to make an equity bid to acquire the CBS Arena, after the owners Wasps Rugby Club went into administration this month and were soon followed by the stadium’s operating companies applying to enter administration.
A successful stadium bid will ensure Coventry remain able to play home games in the city.
“It is no secret that Coventry City FC has faced challenges in recent years,” said King, the chief executive of the Stratford-upon-Avon-based Yelo Enterprises which recently invested more than £70m in the region through the construction of a state-of-the-art oilseed processing facility to generate renewable energy.
“Working together we want to deliver a new start, beginning with securing our home in Coventry. We know fans, and others across the region, want long-term security and the guarantee of playing football in our city. This is critical to our ambition.
“We have made it a priority – and one of our first acts as majority owners – to submit a bid to acquire the CBS Arena. We are keen to meet with Coventry City Council representatives and others as soon as possible to set out our vision, which includes the regeneration of the area.”
The deal is subject to English Football League approval but Joy Seppala, chief executive at Sisu Capital, is confident it is in the best interests of the club. “This is a fantastic moment for Coventry City FC and the city. I know that Doug has long been an admirer of the Sky Blues and will be a powerful steward of the club moving forward,” he said.
“I am looking forward to a bright new future working with Doug, and all our partners across the city.
“The sale of the CBS Arena does provide short-term uncertainty and with Doug on board we intend to set out a robust bid for the stadium which, if successful, will provide a platform for long-term success.”
Seny Dieng is a good man to call in a crisis: he has scored two last-minute goals and replaced the world’s best goalkeeper at late notice to help his country win their first Africa Cup of Nations.
Now he is preparing to go to the World Cup with Senegal after helping QPR to start the season impressively under Michael Beale, who turned down the Wolves job last month. The club sit sixth in the Championship going into their final match before the World Cup break, at Coventry on Saturday.
“Ever since I was young I’ve wanted to play for Senegal,” says Dieng, born in Switzerland to a Senegalese father and Swiss mother. “I watched Senegal going through to the quarters at the World Cup in 2002 and I knew I wanted to be at that level. The first thing is to come out of the group at the World Cup and then I think there is no limit to where we can get.”
Being QPR’s No 1 caught the eye of Senegal, who called up Dieng last year and on Friday confirmed that he – and the injured Sadio Mané – would be going to Qatar. After one cap, Dieng was part of the squad for Afcon 2022, where he understudied Chelsea’s Édouard Mendy, who had recently been named as the world’s leading goalkeeper in Fifa’s Best awards.
Mendy caught Covid, resulting in Dieng starting, alongside Kalidou Koulibaly and Mané, and keeping clean sheets in the opening two group games against Zimbabwe and Guinea. Dieng enjoyed the triumph in Cameroon. After beating Egypt on penalties, the goalkeeper took the trophy to bed. “To be the first team to bring home Afcon for Senegal is great. We wrote history. It gives us a great boost.”
Dieng’s route to Qatar has been a circuitous one. He spent time in Switzerland with Red Star and Grasshoppers before a short spell in Germany. Once his contract with Duisburg came to an end, Dieng knew where he wanted to try his luck, and went on trials in England thanks to the former Bolton goalkeeper coach Fred Barber.
There was time spent with Rochdale and Barnsley in the summer of 2016. They offered Dieng contracts but he felt he could do better and eventually QPR came calling to sign up the then 21-year-old. Although QPR could see the potential in Dieng, he had limited first-team experience, and none in England, so they sent him on loan to learn his trade.
Dieng got to learn about the realities of non-league football. First he joined Whitehawk in the National League South and later Hampton & Richmond. “I always wanted to play in England,” Dieng says. “It was an eye-opening experience in non-league with the conditions down there. I did not like to do it but you have to go through that phase at these clubs and play with this level of teams. It was definitely anexperience.”
It took more than four years – and five loans – after joining QPR for Dieng to make his league debut for the club in September 2020. Since then, he has become their undisputed first-choice goalkeeper. Dieng is a laid-back character, unflustered by pressure. His 6ft 4in frame make him a fine shot stopper and good under the high ball, not to mention dangerous in the opponent’s box.
He earned a dramatic point late on early this season when he pounced at Sunderland in injury-time but still had to make a crucial double save to make sure his deeds at the other end were not wasted. His other goal was for Whitehawk at Chippenham in 2017. “I played out of net until I was 14; I still have a little bit of the instincts,” jokes Dieng, who has 18 months on his contract.
Dieng admits he did not think he would become QPR’s No 1. “To be honest, no,” he says. “I never doubted that I could get to where I am but after my Doncaster loan I didn’t expect to be playing for QPR. I thought I would be leaving the club but it turned out differently and I am very glad about that.”
He is happy too that Beale stayed loyal to QPR. “He is a very good manager, he’s had a great impact, put us in the right direction and the position where we are now,” Dieng says. “The important thing is we carry on with the way that they have brought in and it can be a very good season. There is much more to do. I’ve made no secret that I want to play in the Premier League. Maybe it is with QPR – we will find out.”
If football clubs were awarded points for connecting with their local communities and contributing to charitable causes Sunderland would quite possibly be top of the Premier League right now.
In reality Tony Mowbray’s improving team are merely holding their own in the Championship but the club’s official charity, the Foundation of Light, ranks among the biggest in English football and has just launched a campaign to tackle growing poverty across the north-east.
Sir Bob Murray, Sunderland’s former owner and the foundation’s founder in 2001, spends most of his time in Jersey these days but last week the 76-year-old businessman turned philanthropist was back on Wearside to promote “Small Change, Big Difference”.
The much-needed initiative – involving better-off Sunderland fans helping to combat the fallout from the intensifying cost-of-living crisis by donating small sums of money to the foundation each month – aims to raise money to support those communities across the region increasingly feeling the impact of inflation and escalating energy prices.
Murray, who owned Sunderland from 1986 to 2006, is softly spoken but the message he delivers from his seat at a boardroom-style table in a first-floor meeting room at the city’s six-storey community hub, the Beacon of Light, is immensely powerful.
“I think this country’s fallen into haves and have-nots,” he says. “We’ve lost our way a bit. We’ve lost our common thread. It’s a real issue. Levelling up matters.”
In building the Beacon, Murray has shown politicians of assorted stripes the way forward. A wonderfully imposing £20m, cubed-shaped building, situated a goalkick away from the Stadium of Light, it is extremely big on light and space and a vital offshoot of the foundation.
“We get 7,000 people a week coming through the doors here every week,” he says. “Keeping it going involves a vast outlay but it turns people’s lives around and you can’t put a price on that. Sadly, this place is badly needed.”
The Beacon is crowned by a luminous roof which glows at night, perhaps reflecting its role in lighting up countless lives since its opening in 2018.
The first community project of its kind in England, it provides opportunities for often disadvantaged young people, and some older adults, in assorted spheres including sport, education, health and employability.
A testament to the power of human connectivity, it works closely with local councils, charities and businesses and contains a special free school catering for vulnerable children, international-class sports facilities, a world of work zone and a floor dedicated to health and wellbeing.
Murray proudly stresses that almost a full team of recent England women’s football internationals, including Lucy Bronze, Jill Scott and Steph Houghton, first kicked footballs under the inspirational guidance of Foundation of Light coaches.
“Jill Scott started with us and now she’s in the Jungle,” he jokes, referring to the newly retired Lioness’s current role in ITV’s reality show I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!
Scott’s challenge pales into insignificance next to that facing Lesley Spuhler, the Foundation of Light’s inspiring chief executive, this winter. She is uncomfortably aware that almost 40% of Sunderland’s population live in relative poverty, one of the highest rates in Europe.
Ominously, local food bank usage has risen by 80% in recent weeks. “We’re just at the start of this,” says Murray, now a foundation trustee. “By April it will be much worse.”
Downstairs in main reception, plastic containers are filling up with nutritious parcels ready for food bank distribution and a supply of specially donated warm winter coats await collection by new owners but Spuhler emphasises that the Beacon is much more than a conventional charity.
“We’re providing frontline support for some of the UK’s most deprived areas,” she says. “We’re seeing more and more families needing help with food and keeping warm. But people don’t want handouts they want hand-ups.
“We help them become more resilient. We teach them how to cook meals for a pound. People can come in here in the evenings, have a free cup of coffee and a bowl of soup, use the wifi or read a newspaper. But they can also sign up for one of our world of work courses and build new job skills. We’ve got an extremely active over-55s group.
“We’re the club’s community arm and we use the badge to encourage people with things like learning disabilities to read.” Typically some children’s football courses demand that participants catch up with English and maths before taking to the pitch.
Spuhler is delighted to see visitors with mental health problems, men particularly, seeking discreet help from the Beacon’s medical staff. “The Sunderland AFC badge brings people who might not want to see their GP in,” she says. “The strength and power of the football club gets them through the door; we’re proud we’ve pulled people back from the brink.”
Not every Sunderland manager, or owner, has bought into the Foundation’s philosophy but Mowbray and the current owner, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, are enthusiasts. Mowbray, quite apart from encouraging his players to make regular appearances at the Beacon, recently staged a fundraising open training session and hosted a breakfast talk-in with supportive local business leaders. “Tony’s fully signed up,” says Murray. “It was a little bit more difficult with Paolo Di Canio.”
Hull City have confirmed the appointment ofLiam Rosenior as their head coach. The former Derby manager has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract at the club where he played from 2010 to 2015.
Rosenior joins with Hull 21st in the Championship after Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat by Middlesbrough, which he watched from the stands. The 38-year-old was removed as Derby manager in late September. He had been in interim charge for 12 games after Wayne Rooney left, having assisted the former England captain and been a coach under Phillip Cocu there.
Rosenior’s first match is at Millwall on Saturday and he has two more – at Cardiff and at home to Reading – before the Championship season breaks for the World Cup. He succeeds Shota Arveladze, who was sacked after eight months.
Rosenior was part of the Hull team that won promotion to the Premier League in 2013 and reached the 2014 FA Cup final. He coached at Brighton before joining Derby.
Andy Dawson, who has been in interim charge of Hull, will remain on the staff.
Rhys Norrington-Davies is set to miss the World Cup owing to a hamstring injury sustained playing for Sheffield United but Wales are hopeful Joe Allen will be fit for the tournament in Qatar.
Norrington-Davies has been one of the most consistent performers for Paul Heckingbottom’s high-flying Blades side and was in line to be in Wales’s 26-man squad for their first World Cup in 64 years. The 23-year-old has 13 caps but the versatile wing-back, who has also played at centre-back, sustained the injury at Coventry last Wednesday.
Allen is regarded as touch and go because of a hamstring complaint, with the Swansea head coach, Russell Martin, admitting the midfielder was angry and upset after being forced off against Hull City last month.
Gareth Bale is in line to captain Wales at the World Cup as Los Angeles FC continue to carefully manage his workload. The 33-year-old missed LAFC’s recent Western Conference playoff victory against LA Galaxy after being omitted from the squad as a precaution because of a leg injury.
For Fahd Saleh, a conversation at the Job Centre sticks in the memory. A couple of years after arriving in Mansfield as a Syrian refugee hoping to land trials at Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea and continue his football career, he was on the receiving end of a cold and quizzical look when asked which vocation he ideally planned to pursue. “I mentioned that I was a goalkeeper and that I’d like to work for a team,” Saleh says. “The lady, and I can still picture the conversation now, she said to me: ‘You are dreaming.’ Now I would really like to see her to tell her that I’m working for a professional team called Mansfield Town and I’m very proud of where I am.”
Saleh combines his role as an academy goalkeeper coach at Mansfield with working as a PE teacher at Crescent Primary School in the town. After spotting a local advertisement, he is grateful to have been given a chance by the academy manager, Richard Cooper, and the League Two club’s manager, Nigel Clough, who allowed Saleh to work alongside his coaching staff for a couple of months last season.
Mansfield are paying for Saleh to complete his Uefa B licence, a course that has seen him deliver a session in front of the England goalkeeper coach, Martyn Margetson. “I went to St George’s Park,” Saleh says. “‘Wow, here is where the England team train.’ It was a dream come true.”
It is a long way from Homs, where he played for Al-Karamah, winning domestic titles and competing in the Asian Champions League. He left the city after being caught in the crossfire of the Syrian civil war, when his wife, Tahrir, was expecting their first child, Nour.
“One night, armies assembled just behind my home, on the street, to check people’s IDs, and they brought tanks to send bombs and missiles. I could hear everything. During the night they started to attack each other. We were in the middle. I had an apartment in this building that had three floors, and the top floor got bombed. My flat was on the first floor. From that point in the morning, I said: ‘In the morning we will escape. No more.’”
Saleh joined a club in the United Arab Emirates for four months but, anxious about leaving his loved ones behind, he took his family to Jordan. He spent three and a half years there before applying to claim asylum via the the UN Refugee Agency. He was told he would be resettled in the United States, before they changed his destination. “They said: ‘Are you still willing to come?’ I was like: ‘Come on, yes, Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, yes I want to come!’”
On arrival in Mansfield in 2015 he could not speak a word of English and although he always takes his hefty English-Arabic dictionary to classes and courses, he carries out this interview with a perfect grasp of the language. He candidly discusses everything from idolising Gianluigi Buffon, Googling Clough, meeting Gary Lineker, his growing love for fish and chips and jacket potato, and getting to grips with the football lexicon. “I heard ‘drive, drive’ … oh ‘drive with the football, go forward’. OK, thank you,” Saleh says, smiling. “And then: ‘whip it, whip it.’ What do you mean ‘whip it’? Oh, cross it. OK, thank you. I have to be able to use these kind of words in my sessions.”
Saleh enrolled on a college leadership course and spent a year working at a secondary school to support three Syrian children before volunteering at AFC Mansfield and the school he now works at twice a week. “I learnt from this country that if you don’t ask for something, then you’ll never get it.
“I’ve been there more than two years now. I didn’t come to the UK to get benefits from the government and sit on the sofa. I came to the UK to learn, develop myself, get a proper job, support my family, support my community and be a good example in front of my children. I say to them: ‘If you wake up early, you will do your job while they [others] are sleeping.’”
Saleh’s family moved to Mansfield with three other Syrian families and realised it was a blessing in disguise that they live in separate parts of town. “I mentioned it with Gary Lineker,” Saleh says, recalling how the former England striker told him he tried to avoid spending too much time with expats when he played for Barcelona. Lineker interviewed Saleh for part of a book to support refugees.
“He asked me: ‘How did you learn the language?’ I told him how I was trying to not be involved too much with the other families because I knew it would affect my English. So we had the same mindset … Now when Match of the Day is on my kids say: ‘Daddy, it’s Gary Lineker, your friend.’ I say: ‘Well, I’d like him to be my friend!’”
Since arriving in England he has seen his mother only on video calls and was ineligible to attend his father’s funeral in 2017. He stays in touch with friends in Syria but only recently has he been able to stomach news of events back home – “for the first two or three years I didn’t watch it at all because it is heartbreaking” – and the landscape there is much changed.
“In the past the life was great: playing for a team, you walk around the city, most of the people know you and want to take photos, and suddenly everything is gone. It is awful. Before I escaped I decided to go home to bring some of my stuff. When I went there, my home was burnt down. All of my trophies, photos had gone. Sorry, I get emotional,” he says, as tears pool in his eyes. “It is not an easy one.”
Saleh’s aim is to work in the Premier League within five years. How does the 37-year-old reflect on his journey to this point? “I’m going to say it’s a big achievement. To rebuild the life that you had in the past is extremely hard, with a new language, new culture, new atmosphere, new food, new everything.
“The main thing is to believe in yourself, to believe in what you have and in where you want to go. I just needed an opportunity. I didn’t want money, I just wanted a chance.”
Lifting the Saturday 3pm blackout is one option the English Football League will consider in the sale of its next television and media rights.
The league confirmed on Wednesday it had issued a request for proposal (RFP), inviting interested broadcasters and media companies to come forward and suggest new ways of presenting the league on television and streaming platforms from the 2024-25 season, when its deal with Sky Sports expires.
Lifting the ban on screening any matches live between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday is an option being considered but nothing is off the table as the EFL seeks to find solutions which cater for changing viewer habits.
“Whilst the appetite for EFL football remains stronger than ever, we want to grow this audience further,” the EFL’s chief commercial officer, Ben Wright, said. “We are inviting proposals from organisations that can enhance and develop the league’s offering, taking a new and innovative approach to how people consume EFL content.
“Alongside the EFL’s rich tradition and distinguished history there is a desire to evolve, grow and innovate in order to grow our audience further and we’re looking for a partner or partners who share that vision.”
Almost 10% of Premier League and EFL players surveyed last season by the Professional Footballers’ Association said they had experienced bullying during their careers, and almost 5% had suicidal thoughts.
Wellbeing data released by the PFA on World Mental Health Day highlights the social and mental health challenges current and former professionals face, and the work the union is doing to help its members.
Seventy-nine out of 843 male players in the EFL and Premier League surveyed across last season said they had been bullied at some point in their professional life, and 40 said they had experienced thoughts about taking their own life in the three months before completing the survey.
Dr Michael Bennett, director of player wellbeing at the PFA, said of the bullying statistics: “These are stark figures that illustrate how serious these issues are in the game. Based on this feedback, we have adapted the sessions this season to learn more about the type of bullying players face.
“It could be peer-on-peer bullying, for example, from teammates in the dressing room or training ground. It could be by club staff or management. We are particularly concerned around transfer windows. We know that players can be isolated from their squads when a club is trying to force a move. We are often dealing with cases like this. Ultimately, whether it is the training ground or the stadium on a match day, it’s a player’s workplace. They have a right to feel protected and safe at work.”
Twelve per cent of players (98) said they had felt pressured into getting vaccinated against Covid-19 or felt emotional distress about it. The data was gathered at wellbeing workshops held at clubs over the course of the 2021-22 campaign.
It found 189 of the 843 players – more than one-fifth – had experienced severe anxiety, to the point of feeling afraid or that something awful might happen.
Dr Bennett said: “Players are often at the mercy of a short-term focus and factors outside their control, such as injury, transfer policies and team selection. Any of which can have a dramatic impact on their long-term career. We host wellbeing workshops at clubs with players of all ages, ranging from the academy to first team. These sessions are vital in creating a secure place to discuss mental health.”
The PFA said that 520 members accessed counselling or support services via Sporting Chance last season. Forty-seven per cent were current players, 48% were former players and 5% were family members of players that the union agreed to support. Nine per cent of the 520 were female players, 86% of whom were current players.