Forget the football. For €10 million, a new mega-development is in the offing

Who is mega-businessman Yahya Kirdi, and why has a man who attempted a Liverpool acquisition bid, now settled for lowly Naxxar Lions?

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Matthew Vella
5 September 2017, 7:29am
Another proud supporter of Naxxar Lions, the Syrian 'billionaire' Yahya Kirdi (left) by the side of hotelier Michael Zammit Tabona
Another proud supporter of Naxxar Lions, the Syrian 'billionaire' Yahya Kirdi (left) by the side of hotelier Michael Zammit Tabona
Hotelier Michael Zammit Tabona has always had friends in high places.

With his Fortina Hotel in Sliema a regular hosting venue for British celebrities, the Syrian ‘billionaire’ - as he was touted by TVM - Yahya Kirdi is perhaps his greatest coup so far. For the man who was once touted for a possible take-over of Liverpool, finds himself at a seat in the boardroom of Naxxar Lions FC, a team that has never won a Premier Division league championship or an FA Trophy.

“We found him because [former Manchester United player] David McCreery called me up and told me that Kirdi was looking for a club to invest in. And three weeks later, here we are,” Zammit Tabona laughs, evidently pleased with this illustrious addition to the Naxxar board.

According to Zammit Tabona, who is now stepping into the vice-president’s shoes, Kirdi is interested in a €10 million commercialisation project that would include a new Naxxar Lions ground, reportedly in Gharghur right behind the McDonalds drive-in establishment.

It’s not just a football ground.

It includes a hotel and a restaurant. No millionaire pours money into an unsuccesful football club without eyeing a return on his investment. And as far as investments go, this is, as usual, one that deals with land and development.

Consider that Kirdi, a Syrian businessmen who once played soccer for his country, and is now a Canadian resident, once claimed to have a consortium from Canada and the Middle East to raise enough funds for a takeover of Liverpool FC.

English Premier League soccer clubs remain an attractive investment prospect. If they do not bring the best returns, they can deliver intangible benefits like excitement, prestige, contacts and a high profile.

At the time, in 2010 Kirdi’s public relations company said he had  reached agreement on a price with the American owners of Liverpool, to provide the investment required to build the new Anfield in Stanley Park.

But Kirdi was dismissed as a serious bidder by the club, and his renewed interest prompted Chinese businessman Kenneth Huang to go public with a bid. Soon enough, by October 2010 Kirdi ruled out the takeover of Liverpool, then struggling with some €300 million in debts. Kirdi was reported saying the asking price was too high. “Right now is not the time for me and my group to enter into any negotiations,” Kirdi told Bloomberg. “Once everyone is united and there’s logic in the price and the overall deal, me and my group will be prepared to return to the table.”

“I’m a serious man. I’m not playing but my group said they didn’t want to go public because we haven’t done the deal,” added Kirdi.

Fast-forward to 2017, and in April Kirdi was reportedly fronting a bid to acquire small, fourth-tier football club Carlisle United. 

Kirdi did not, in the end, take over the Blues. But regional paper News And Star mapped out the bones of the Carlisle story: Kirdi was represented in talks with the Blues by Nick McCreery, a north east-based agent and son of the former Carlisle boss David McCreery - Zammit Tabona’s mate - who is believed to have been at the Newcastle meeting in February when Kirdi made his formal offer to Carlisle’s owners.

McCreery’s company has been running since 2013, established as Catalyst4Limited, though it was only in February this year that Catalyst4Soccer was incorporated as a private limited company.

Catalyst’s links with Kirdi were reinforced by tweets from David McCreery of an article about talks in Dubai and Sharjah between “prominent Montreal/Gulf based businessman Yahya Kirdi”, his Royal Highness Sheikh Saeed al Qasimi, and Ken Beattie, owner of Cramlington-based firm Techflow Marine, which specialises in products for the offshore oil and gas and marine industries.

Little information is available as to whether Kirdi is actually a billionaire. His company AK Obec Petroleum Ltd, set up in 2015, does not seem to have its own website. According to the Government of Canada’s innovation, science and economic development website, AK Obec’s annual filing for 2016 is overdue.

Kirdi’s Wikipedia account, translated from Arabic, claims that he was a “Lebanese star” and even appointed by the United Nations as its Ambassador to the World and Ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Canada, although this is not sufficiently corroborated by any statement from official UN sources.

The same entry also claims Kirdi was an advisor to the Canadian government in 2011 to resolve the tension between the UAE and Canada. Politically, he is said to support the Syrian revolution and opposes the Syrian regime. Kirdi hails from the Syrian Kurdish minority.

It is certainly a colourful account, the kind that makes football supporters eager to see the  money flowing in for the acquisition of star footballers who will score the goals and win the points. Like similar revolutions in small clubs like Balzan thanks to a millionaire financier, Naxxar is ready to start winning. The question is: what does Kirdi want? ‘Goals’. Investment goals.

 

Additional reporting by Denise Grech

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.