Hearn Out! – 8/7/14


The news broke yesterday that after weeks of negotiating Barry Hearn had finally completed his sale of Leyton Orient to Francesco Becchetti.

The Italian business magnate is head of renewable energy and waste management firm the Becchetti Energy Group and had previously been linked with takeovers at Reading and Italian outfit Bari.

The sale ended Hearn’s reign of nineteen years at the club and he has resigned from the board of directors along with his son Eddie, Steve Dawson, David Dodd and Chief Executive, Matthew Porter.

Hearn is bullish about the club’s future stating: “I have been very consistent in saying that I would step aside if the right offer came in from someone who could take the club forward.

“I think he has the ambition and the resources to do something spectacular here. If the man delivers what I think he can then this is a very exciting time for Orient.”

Becchetti was originally interested in buying Championship club Reading, but was concerned by the size of the club’s debt. Orient, though, are debt-free and he will be able to put all his money into team building.

He had also spoken to the owners of Birmingham City, but he has moved his family to London and feels Orient are a more attractive proposition as a result.

Becchetti is one of the wealthiest men in Italy having made his fortune through the Becchetti Energy Group and has promised manager Russell Slade that he will be given money to improve his squad this summer.

So what does this mean for an Orient team that lost heartbreakingly in the League One play-off final to Rotherham last month?

It now appears that the club will remain at Brisbane Road for the foreseeable future, although there is scope for them to play big games at the new home of the Hammers when its conversion to a football stadium is completed next year.

Orient supporters might well be wishing ruefully that the takeover had been completed in January rather than now, as at a time when main promotion rivals Brentford strengthened significantly with the signings of Alan Judge and James Tarkowski, Orient were restricted to a few low key loanees of whom only goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic and Chris Dagnall made a significant impact.

Ironically though it was the hapless Dagnall’s penalty miss that eventually sealed their Wembley shootout defeat.

Orient’s march towards automatic promotion slowly ebbed away and they were forced to settle for the Playoffs.

That being said, given the playing resources and budget made available to Russell Slade this was an incredible achievement but maybe less than the supporters were hoping for giving their magnificent rocket propelled start to the season.

Since the season ended much of the optimism seems to have faded and their fans have seen two key players leave the club in winger Moses Odubajo to the Bees and injury prone keeper Jamie Jones moving to Preston.

Despite the reputed fee of around one million pounds, losing their star player to a club who their supporters feel is no bigger than themselves was a chastening blow to Orient supporters and rumours abound that the talent drain has not been completed with their inspiration and dynamo, Dean Cox possibly following Moses out of the Brisbane Road door.

Hopefully the takeover will restore confidence and optimism and the club will rebuild and regenerate and maybe even make another promotion push.

The key question is whether the new owner will support or replace Russell Slade, as given the example of the last Italian owner to take over an English club, the mercurial Massimo Cellino at Leeds United, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the manager might find himself on thin ice.

Despite last season’s spat after the season defining Battle of Brisbane Road when his sour faced post match comments showed that the pressure was finally getting to him, Slade remains a calm and positive influence who deserves the backing of an owner who will fund another attempt to get out of the First Division.

Foreign ownership remains the exception rather than the rule in the lower divisions of the Football League with Leyton Orient and Sheffield United the main examples.

The big bucks come in the Premier League where eleven clubs are under foreign control and the Championship, which currently boasts thirteen foreign owners all chasing the Premiership dream.

As for Brentford, the takeover by Matthew Benham has ensured investment, ambition, vision and stability on a grand scale and although our rivalry with Leyton Orient which stems from that bruising encounter back in 1991 and the notorious Kenny Achampong episode, remains a keen one I hope that the takeover goes well for them and that next season is a successful one for the O’s.