Nottingham Forest have been bought by Greek shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis after his takeover was passed by the English Football League (EFL).
The businessman and Olympiakos owner is facing accusations of match-fixing in Greece but has passed the EFL’s owners’ and directors’ test.
Marinakis’ buyout brings to an end Fawaz Al Hasawi’s five-year reign in charge of the Championship club.
A previous takeover by a United States consortium fell through in January.
In an exclusive interview with BBC Sport, Marinakis said that allegations he is involved in a “criminal organisation” were invented by “jealous” opponents to “destroy” his success with the Greek champions.
He was previously accused of being involved in the bombing of a referee’s bakery but faced no action.
Marinakis, who is heading a consortium with Greek businessman Socrates Kominakis, denies all the claims and has not faced any charges. He is waiting to find out whether a remaining case against him will proceed, but says: “I have nothing to be afraid of and to worry about as I have done nothing wrong.”
The EFL has approved the deal after reviewing the business plan and applying the owners’ and directors’ test. It saw no reason to disqualify the prospective owners under the test. The EFL also asked Uefa for its views on Marinakis’ ownership of Olympiakos and received a positive response.
Two-time European Cup winners Forest only escaped relegation to England’s third tier on goal difference with a win on the final day of the season.
Marinakis has also “guaranteed” manager Mark Warburton, who was appointed in March, will be with the club “for a number of years”.
The Marinakis manifesto
In an interview with BBC correspondent Richard Conway, Marinakis spelt out his vision for Nottingham Forest. He says he will:
- Return “stability” to a club with “huge potential” which “belongs to the elite of the Premier League”
- Not make rash pledges, saying: “I never give promises – I deliver”
- Back Mark Warburton and says he will work within EFL financial rules to support him in the transfer market
- Formulate a ‘fans advisory body’ and ‘youth council’ with a representative attending board meetings
- Reduce ticket prices to reward fan loyalty
What is Marinakis’ history?
Under Marinakis’ ownership since 2010, Olympiakos have won seven domestic championships in a row. They are among the top-25 ranked teams in Europe.
He told BBC Sport that claims of criminality against him are as a result of this record.
“All these years, a lot has been said but nothing came out in reality. All of it has been dismissed and we have been clear from all of this,” he said.
“Now there is a last case remaining – there are about 80 persons involved. I can tell you again that I have nothing to do with it because I know very well what I have done and how I have achieved victories.
“Of course I cannot stop our opponents talking or bad-mouthing.”
He added the EFL and other football authorities, such as European governing body Uefa, have cleared him after “two months” of “numerous questions”.
On Forest’s history
Marinakis attended high school in Watford from the age of 15 and went on to university in the UK.
He told the BBC he chose to invest in Forest based on “what I remember from the past and the potential the club has”.
He added: “I think that it doesn’t take long to decide, even if you have a choice, which team to go for. When you see all this tradition and all these achievements, of course this club has the potential to grow and achieve victories that the whole region deserves.”
On his approach
“I’m not going to promise you things or I’m not a rich guy who came from abroad to spend my money and gain glory by acquiring a team in the UK.
“I had glories from my times with Olympiakos who have won everything, who have broken every record both within our country and in Europe, in the Champions League for our level.
“We know a lot of players, managers, clubs, officials in various parts of the world in international football, agents – all this can help us to put all our connections together and try to do our very best for Nottingham.”
On the club’s potential
Forest, league champions in 1977-78 and European Cup winners in the following two seasons, last played in the Premier League in 1998-99. They have since spent 14 seasons in the second tier and three seasons in League One, from 2005-06 to 2007-08.
Despite narrowly escaping a return to the third tier this season, Marinakis believes Forest should be in the Premier League.
“We have a long-term plan and within this long-term plan we want to bring Nottingham to where it belongs. And of course Nottingham belongs in the Premier League. And Nottingham belongs to the elite of the Premier League,” he says.
“Furthermore the supporters of Nottingham have been tired all these years, they didn’t have such good times. But they remained loyal and for us that’s very important.
“The potential is huge. The potential of this team is that when it will be very well organised, when it will achieve victories again, when it will have a better position in the Championship, when it will have a better position and we can look seriously at the Premier League, then we will be there to stay.”
What does the manager think?
Warburton has previously described the new ownership as “proven football people”, referencing Marinakis’ achievements at Olympiakos.
“They have done a magnificent job at getting into the Champions League year in, year out and have really developed an outstanding club,” he added.
What is the owners’ and directors’ test?
Also referred to as the ‘fit and proper persons test’, it is designed to prevent someone being involved in running a football club if they have any of the disqualifying conditions listed here.
That includes criminal matters such as dishonest acts and unspent convictions and company disqualification matters such as bankruptcy.
What do the fans think?
Natalie Jackson, BBC East Midlands Today sports editor, on the feeling among some Forest supporters.
Supporters seem to be optimistic about the new ownership because five years under Fawaz promised so much but delivered so little. His well-meaning love of the club and his vast wealth was never in doubt but there were eight different managers and a fragile infrastructure behind the scenes, with people in key positions coming and going at regular intervals.
Increasing anger led to fans’ protests, while Forest finished lower in the league year on year – culminating in this season’s final-day escape from relegation.
Bridges need to be built and reputations restored. Mark Warburton’s arrival shows signs of a more sensible, long-term approach on the football side.
There is a sense of relief among fans, but also caution because tremendous wealth does not automatically mean a well-run, stable and successful club. Marinakis is aggressively ambitious but has taken on a club in need of major rebuilding.
- The purchase is a consortium led by Marinakis and Socrates Kominakis, a Greek businessman and investor, for 100% of Hasawi’s shares. The sum is undisclosed.
- The owners have formed a new company NF Football Investments Ltd, registered in the UK.
- Nicholas Randall QC, a leading sports lawyer, has been appointed as chairman.
- Ioannis Vrentzos – CEO of Olympiakos – will move to become Forest CEO.
- Frank McParland has had his contract extended as director of football.
Sat in his modern London office, adorned with a mix of modern art and oil paintings of the port of Piraeus in Greece, Evangelos Marinakis spoke confidently of his long-term plan for Nottingham Forest.
His key phrase is “hard work”. He repeatedly said those words during our interview, and prides himself on building teams both within his shipping empire and at the football clubs he owns. His immediate focus appears to be order, appointing professionals and creating a stable base from which the club can rebuild.
But Marinakis does come with baggage. He has faced – and has been cleared – of very serious charges in Greece. He insists his remaining legal difficulties in Greece don’t worry him and that he’s done nothing wrong.
Significantly, the deal is also being fronted by fellow businessman Socrates Kominakis. His presence will ensure that should anything happen in the future concerning Marinakis’ ability to own the club (a prospect he says is not based in reality), there will be continuity in the boardroom.