Shamrock Rovers are on course to ask their members to approve a major investment by billionaire businessman Dermot Desmond in the club over the coming month. The deal is believed to be worth in the region of €3 million.
The Rovers board, which is made up of representatives of the supporters along with Ray Wilson, the Sydney-based Dubliner who provided substantial funds to allow it invest it its academy at the Roadstone site in Kingswood, is understood to have agreed to pursue the deal which is subject to final approval by Desmond.
The expectation seems to be that he will proceed at which point the club will have to seek the approval of its members. The deal would be widely seen as a major coup. The money involved –notwithstanding the Peak6 takeover of Dundalk – is far beyond what clubs here have generally been able to attract from outside investors and Desmond would undoubtedly bring more than just money to the table.
He would expect to wield very considerable influence, of course, in return for any funds provided but he will not, apparently, obtain a controlling interest.
It is certainly hard to imagine the deal being rejected although there are bound to be members with reservations.
Although the investment is understood to be by Desmond rather than Celtic, in which he is the largest single shareholder, it is still bound to raise concerns about the Dublin club's independence amongst those supporters old enough to remember the helplessness with which they had to watch former owners, the Kilcoynes, make key decisions about its future.
There may also be the fear that the current plan, for the academy to develop players who can be sold on at a profit to club abroad, might actually be compromised by the establishment of strong ties to just one club to which Rovers might come to be regarded as a feeder.
Desmond's central involvement does seem certain to mean closer links to the Scottish League leaders although the board, whose longest serving members are Wilson as well as supporter representatives chairman Jonathan Roche and Mark Lynch, appear to believe it can retain its independence.
As things stand, the club is owned equally by Wilson and the supporters with each side controlling the same number of shares. It is understood that Wilson’s share was due to be diluted as the €1.5 million he provided in the form of an interest-free loan a couple of years back was gradually repaid through players sales. It is not known how this arrangement might be affected by Desmond deal.
A significant portion of the funds he provided have been invested in the academy at the Roadstone Sports and Social centre which is operated by a separate company that is wholly owned by the club.
Rovers have aggressively sought to recruit the best young players from clubs around Dublin in order for the academy to compete with the more established elite schoolboy outfits.
Damien Duff was the club's most high-profile coach in the youth section. The former international left for the job of reserve team coach at Celtic before Christmas and was this week promoted to work with Neil Lennon as part of the first team coaching staff.
The most recent financial results for Rovers and the academy revealed the scale of the cost of bringing the youth development side of things up to the standard required with losses of €350,000 in the year to November 2017. But it was noted at the time that these were an expected part of the start up and the sale of teenage goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, for a widely reported fee of €400,000, to Manchester City last year, provided a sense of the plan’s potential.