West Ham United have confirmed that Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky has become the club’s second-largest shareholder in a move that could see a partnership between the club and Sparta Prague.
Kretinsky, who co-owns Sparta, has bought a 27 per cent stake in West Ham worth between £180million and £200m and he and his colleague, Pavel Horsky, have been appointed to the board.
Sources have played down the notion that the deal will automatically lead to Kretinsky buying out joint-chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold, but it is possible he could eventually take full control.
An agreement which earns a percentage of any sale price of West Ham for the taxpayer, as part of the terms under which the club lease the publicly-owned London Stadium, expires in March 2023.
Kretinsky will propose a partnership between the club and Sparta Prague, which he has co-owned for 17 years, as a potential player development line for the Premier League side.
Should he take full control of West Ham, Kretinsky would have to relinquish his stake in Sparta Prague were both clubs to compete in the same Uefa competitions. Sparta have been a regular in the Europa League in recent years.
West Ham qualified for the same competition last season and are currently progressing well in the group stages. Uefa only permit individuals to control one club in their competitions in any given season.
West Ham have already acquired three Czech internationals in the last two seasons, although none of Tomas Soucek, Vlad Coufal or loanee Alex Kral have come from Sparta.
Kretinsky appointed the former Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky as Sparta’s sporting director in 2018 and the 103-cap Czech international is understood to be a key advisor to the billionaire investor who spends a lot of time in London.
As the chairman of Sparta he attends games in person when he is in Prague as well as board meetings. Kretinsky, 45, owns 40 per cent of the club with the remaining 60 per cent owned by the central European investment group J&T Finance Group which is controlled by his business associate Patrik Tkac.
Kretinsky’s 27 per cent stake in West Ham has reduced Sullivan’s shareholding from 51.5 per cent to 38.8 per cent, Gold’s by 10 per cent to 25.1 per cent and Tripp Smith’s by 2 per cent to 8 per cent, with the number of shares in the hands of other investors falling from 3.4 per cent to 1.1 per cent.
“I am delighted this detailed process has now been successfully concluded,” said Kretinsky. “I am passionate about football. I greatly appreciate and respect the exceptional history and tradition of West Ham United as well as its loyal and passionate supporter base and also the highly inspiring role it plays in many social programmes and initiatives.”
Vice-chair Karren Brady said: “We are always looking to continue to progress and Daniel’s involvement brings investment which strengthens the club’s position and in turn will assist in the development of the club’s key areas of focus.
“David Sullivan and David Gold have always been very open about finding the right investors to join them on the journey as custodians of West Ham United and Daniel’s strong business acumen and football experience will be of huge benefit to the club. We very much look forward to working with him and Pavel.”
Passion for the ‘Beautiful Game’ leads to billionaire’s only irrational investments
By Oliver Gill, Chief Business Correspondent
The ‘Beautiful Game’ is Daniel Kretinsky’s only vice, according to those who know him. “He is the definition of rationality and lack of emotion. He is very analytical and does a lot of the financial analysis himself,” according to Josef Kotrba, who leads accountancy giant Deloitte in the Czech Republic.
“The exception to this non-emotional and analytical way is the money he has put into football. He is such a passionate football fan. It is the one investment that makes no sense.”
With a fortune of nearly £3 billion, Kretinsky is known as the “Czech sphinx” because of his reputation of being hard to read. Kretinsky, 45, is one of the newer breed of Eastern European industrialists to have emerged in the past decade. A former investment banker, he bought Sparta Prague in 2004 for €22 million (£18.6 million).
“He looks like a [friendly] student, which is very deceptive – he can be very aggressive and tenacious,” says Kotrba. In 2009, Kretinsky set up energy firm EPH alongside Petr Kellner, the Czech Republic’s richest man before his death during a heli-skiing trip in Alaska in March. EPH set about buying unwanted coal and gas-fired power plants. “He has bet against a wave of environmental optimism. And so far it has paid off,” Czech journalist Petr Horky said. During the past three years, he has bought magazine titles from family-controlled media group Lagardere, which includes the French edition of Elle. And he has a stake in France’s Le Monde newspaper.
Kretinsky has also started buying large numbers of shares in US department store Macy’s and retailer Foot Locker. But his interest in two iconic British companies thrust him into the UK limelight.
Kretinsky has made hundreds of millions investing in Royal Mail. He owns a 19 per cent stake valued at almost £800 million.
He also owns 9.99 per cent of Sainsbury’s, making him the second-biggest investor in Britain’s second-biggest supermarket. The shares are worth £700 million.
Last year, it appeared that he was pushing to split Royal Mail in two, separating the company’s more profitable overseas operations.
As for Sainsbury’s, he could launch a takeover, but would need to convince the state of Qatar and the Sainsbury’s family to be successful.