If you wanted to sum up the madness of supporting Reading FC over the past 18 months, nothing could do it better than the moment the fanbase found a bloke they’d like to run the club even less than Dai Yongge.
The Royals’ owner may be in the midst of a completely self-inflicted villainy, but he is at least a man of substance (albeit with the most generous use of the word possible). Ultimately, we still don’t know whether he’s a) run out of money, b) run out of interest, or c) has both but can’t get it out of China due to politics. It could very reasonably be all three.
Yet it doesn’t matter because his time is up; he’s fundamentally incapable and that is that. He at least seems to agree, and the club is up for sale. This week, news of Dai ‘agreeing terms’ over a £50m sale to William Storey broke and was swiftly denied by the club. Onlookers may think Reading fans were jumping for joy, but Storey’s well-documented issues stem far deeper than the fact he owns an energy drinks brand that makes Carabao look like a household name.
The Haas-Rich Energy saga, the failed bids to buy Sunderland and Coventry City, the general haphazardness (to put it mildly) of his businesses and the questionable nature of his backing are just some of the problems - and Storey, as shown in his talkSPORT interview on Friday, isn’t very good at explaining them away.
For fans though, it really is the latter issue that is most pressing as any new owner will have to prove how they got their money, who is giving them the money and how much there is to fall back on to satisfy the EFL owners’ test. Or we hope.
Former Royal Martin Keown asks for Storey to give fans some reassurance about his bid. Asks why he's bidding, asks if it's about ego and if he has the money.— The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd) October 13, 2023
He says he wants to call the stadium "The Rich Energy Arena" and have that company as the shirt sponsor.
That makes it most likely that either an excessively wealthy individual or hedge fund will swoop in and finally win the day. The direction English football is heading in these days suggests it will be a hedge fund, most likely with some sort of base in the United States, to step forward, and indeed multiple reports say as much.
Step forward then, Genevra Associates. The Luxembourg-American fund has publicly confirmed they are keen after seeing a bid worth a reported £40m rejected. I’ve been told their valuation remains on the table and that Genevra want to speak to Dai to thrash out a deal, suggesting that he’s been hard to contact and that a deal is very much there to be negotiated.
Yet, failed ex-Wigan Athletic owner Talal Al Hammad is reportedly a key investor at Genevra. Hedge funds therefore must also prove specifically which of their backers is behind their bid and, uniquely, who will actually be installed to run the club day to day.
Reading fans cannot be blamed for struggling to see who the ‘good guys’ in all this are. Avoiding ambulance chasers is essential, even if Dai has the potential to inflict further points deductions and winding-up orders in the meantime.
What supporters need is for more potential investors to stick their heads above the parapet and say “here we are and this is what we’re about”. It is possible, as last year’s auction for Chelsea showed. Fans won’t get to choose the new owner, and picking the most PR-savvy is not necessarily the best outcome, but public pressure on Dai and subsequently the EFL to do the right thing is important here. As is gaining fans’ trust that a takeover won’t be a Pyrrhic victory.
I personally am actually pretty confident Reading will get sold this season. Finding an individual or organisation willing to satisfy Dai’s demands is possible and, as the Financial Times wrote earlier this year, there are considerably more hedge funds in the world than Burger Kings. Someone, somewhere will be the knight in shining armour. Let’s just make sure we get to take off the helmet and have a good look inside before we hand them the keys to the castle.