Eccentric US billionaire who flew spitfire in ‘Dunkirk’ closes in on Everton takeover

AS Roma president Dan Friedkin is seen during his arrival at Ciampino Airport on August 29, 2023 in Rome
Dan Friedkin is a keen aviator and occasional stuntman - Getty Images/Luciano Rossi

Roma owner Dan Friedkin has signed an exclusivity agreement with Farhad Moshiri to buy Everton in a major step towards finally lifting the cloud above the club.

Terms, subject to various tests, were signed in the last 48 hours as the Friedkin Group began a due diligence process, Telegraph Sport understands.

There is optimism from all sides of the deal that the American businessman, who is worth £4.8 billion, can pass Premier League directors’ and owners’ tests.

Friedkin, who sits on the board of the European Club Association, is understood to be prepared for the prospect of “skeletons in the cupboard” and a sale is still not guaranteed.

However, sources say he is “100 per cent committed” to buying the club, stabilising the team’s finances and, eventually, getting them back into Europe.

Telegraph Sport reported last Friday how the American businessman, who is worth £4.8 billion, had emerged as Moshiri’s favoured choice. The British-Iranian has been attempting to sell the club for more than a year. A deal he struck last September with 777 Partners collapsed last month, however, after the Miami investment group was plunged into legal turmoil.

Dan Friedkin with the Europa Conference League trophy
Roma have won the Europa Conference League under the ownership of Friedkin - Getty Images/Fabio Rossi

Dealmakers are tight-lipped over the initial price agreed between Friedkin and Moshiri, but other offers are known to have been in the ballpark of £400 million for the debt-ridden club.

Andy Bell and George Downing, who have lent the club £158 million, were early front-runners after the collapse of the 777 agreement, but Friedkin formally tabled an offer last week which turned Moshiri’s head.

Friedkin, who shares ownership duties with his son, has stabilised Roma’s finances since buying the club and is optimistic Everton have major potential. Tackling debts will be his first priority on Merseyside, with Everton spending up to £40million this week, which accounts for player and staff wages and Bramley Moore Dock stadium payments, including a significant chunk to construction firm Laing O’Rourke.

Friedkin acquired control of Serie A side Roma in 2020 for around £500 million. The club were losing £2 million a year at the time. Since then finances have been stabilised and the club won the Europa Conference League in 2022 under Jose Mourinho. Uefa multi-club ownership rules would present future complications if Everton qualified for Europe but sources maintain Friedkin will have a plan in mind.

The length of the exclusivity agreement signed this week with Moshiri is being kept secret but has been described as “flexible”. Friedkin, 59, also owns Gulf States Toyota and various film studios. He is an aviation enthusiast and notably flew Spitfires and other vintage aircraft in the Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk.

Film-maker, stuntman, aviator – Everton’s potential new owner Dan Friedkin has shades of Howard Hughes

The colourful career of prospective Everton owner Dan Friedkin puts one in mind of fellow Texan billionaire Howard Hughes.

Film producer and director, aviator, stuntman, philanthropist and multi-sports franchise owner, Friedkin has found himself cast among a group of wealthy American eccentrics with cash to burn to indulge their passions, following in his own family’s tradition.

Check out the epic final scene of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk as the spitfire “flown” throughout the movie by Tom Hardy lands on the beach. The pilot was actually Friedkin, who offered his vintage aircraft for the production and was considered most equipped to navigate it.

Those well-versed in Everton history may wryly observe that assuming control of the Merseyside club from majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri is his most daring adventure yet.

Friedkin’s fortune was built on the foundations laid by his grandfather, Kenny, a Second World War combat pilot who turned his enthusiasm for planes into immense wealth. He is credited with being a pioneer of air travel when he formed Pacific Southwest Airlines in the late 1940s – what became recognised as the first low-cost air travel service.

Kenny’s son, Thomas, extended the engineering passion into the world of automobiles, both as race team owner and distributor on behalf of Japanese manufacturer Toyota.

Assuming control of an expanded family business and merging an entrepreneurial spirit with hobbies and plenty of risk has proved to be a winning formula through the generations of the Friedkin empire.

Daniele De Rossi with the owners Dan and Ryan Friedkin during his first day as AS Roma coach
Roma coach Daniele De Rossi with the owners Dan and Ryan Friedkin - Getty Images/Fabio Rossi

Dan has broadened the commercial interests via the leisure and media industry, especially through his love of cinema. His production company, Imperative Entertainment, is responsible for Hollywood blockbusters directed by the likes of Sir Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese, while the distribution and marketing wing of his movie businesses, Neon, has backed many of the most successful Oscar-winning movies of recent times, including Parasite.

As the Dunkirk stunt – an award winner in 2017 – demonstrated, Friedkin is not afraid to take a hands-on role. In 2019, he directed the well-received movie The Last Vermeer, starring Guy Pearce.

The author of the book upon which the film was based, Jonathan Lopez, speaks highly of the experience working with the director.

Lopez told Telegraph Sport: “I can truthfully tell you – based on what I have observed and experienced – that Mr Friedkin is generous with the people who work for him, and he is well liked by his staff at Imperative Films. The reason: he runs a tight ship but does not micromanage.”

Like the American investors who may become Friedkin’s Premier League peers, the fascination with football is rooted in that same understanding that business and pleasure can be happy bedfellows.

The Friedkin Group bought Italy’s sleeping giants Roma for 591 million euros in 2020, the new owners announcing from the outset they wished to be judged on deeds more than words.

Son Ryan expected to be hands-on at Everton

“The potential is incredible,” Friedkin said when completing the deal.

“This is already one of the biggest football clubs in the world – playing in possibly the most iconic city in the world. We have the fans, the passion, the history and the ambition – if we win on the pitch and act in the right way off it, we can showcase AS Roma to millions of people in Rome and all over the world.”

In keeping with the family tradition, the Roma purchase seemed to owe plenty to the enthusiasm of the latest Friedkin Jr, Ryan, who is more hands on at the Serie A club than his father – a role many anticipate to be replicated at Everton should the buy-out proceed.

“It is more appropriate to talk about ‘the Friedkins’,” says Luca d’Allessandro, the deputy director of the AS Roma-dedicated website Voice of the Red and Yellow.

“Dan and Ryan are well viewed by the supporters, especially after the Uefa Conference League win [in 2022].”

Evertonians researching the last four years at Roma are enthused by what they see and hear. The similarities are eerie, Roma purchased at a time where they were disconnected from a glorious past, hamstrung by financial limitations, supporters were feeling disillusioned and there was a pressing need to fund a new stadium.

Dan Friedkin and his wife, celebrating with their fans the victory in the Conference League, in Rome
Friedkin and his wife celebrate Roma's Conference League triumph - Shutterstock/Francesco Natarelli

D’Allessandro says: “They renovated the training ground, invested in the AS Roma Women’s stadium, brought in new sponsorships and started a new stadium project – a crucial point as that is one of the reasons James Pallotta [the previous owner] sold AS Roma because he failed in this. Overall, they have improved the financial situation of the club.”

Encouragingly, the Friedkin Group has been highly attentive to the needs of Roma fans.

“Friedkin pays particular attention to the history of a club and the fans’ traditions,” says D’Allessandro.

“He goes beyond limits. Before him, no one in Rome thought Jose Mourinho could sign. He was too expensive. But if there is a chance to improve the club, Friedkin will seize it, as shown when Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku signed. When players sign, he literally takes them on his self-piloted private jet. In Rome, we monitor his flights to check activity in the transfer market!”

The Roma fans’ main concern in light of the Everton interest is if the owners’ time and energies will be stretched too far.

“Obviously, Everton supporters hope to become the main soccer team of the Friedkin Group. We hope there will be synergy between AS Roma and Everton,” says D’Allessandro.

There is actually a third club in the Friedkin football portfolio – he bought France’s fourth-tier side, Cannes, in 2023, conveniently located for the annual family excursion to the resort’s glittery film festival.

Moshiri once said Everton needed a “Hollywood manager” to restore the club to former glories. Perhaps a Hollywood owner will get the job done.