SHEFFIELD Wednesday chairman Milan Mandaric is set to reaffirm his commitment to the club after being found not guilty of tax evasion.
After a distracting and gruelling ordeal that threatened to sap his appetite for football, Hillsborough insiders expect the takeover talk that surfaced in the run-up to Mandaric facing the charges, along with Harry Redknapp, to melt away now that both men have been acquitted.
And it is thought it would take an offer of at least £50m to tempt the Owls owner into walking away from the club he rescued just over a year ago. Sources close to the former Portsmouth and Leicester chairman say they expect him to be “re-energised, re-enthused and re-focused” now that he has been cleared.
On leaving London’s Southwark Crown Court yesterday, Mandaric said: “I’ve got to go somewhere to try to pinch myself and wake me up from that horrible dream that I had in the past. As we said in the statements, I always believed in the truth, and always believed in the British justice system.”
Jurors accepted Redknapp and Mandaric’s evidence that the Monaco account in the name of Redknapp’s dog, Rosie, was nothing to do with footballing matters.
Had the verdict gone the other way, sources say there was a real danger of the 73-year-old self-made multi-millionaire becoming soured with English football, perhaps walking away from Hillsborough sooner rather than later.
Now those in Mandaric’s circle expect him to emerge recharged and even more determined to accelerate a revival of one of England’s most famous clubs.
First, he is to take a short break away from the glare of publicity that has followed the case. But he is expected to be back at Hillsborough for next Tuesday’s home game with Stevenage.
The timing of rumours that Mandaric might sell Wednesday so soon after stepping in to avert a collapse into administration are not considered to be entirely coincidental.
Just as Redknapp’s future as the favourite to become England’s next manager was on the line in court, so was Mandaric’s good name and reputation – as well as his appetite for the game.
With such a cloud of uncertainty hanging over him, the Owls chairman has applied caution in the transfer market during a time of quiet and low-key activity at Hillsborough.
But manager Gary Megson has still been able to strengthen the squad.
Now Mandaric is expected to channel the frustration he felt over a charge he felt “should never have been brought” into hastening Wednesday’s climb towards their former Premier League status.
He paid just £12m for the club, including the clearance of all debts, and estimates that his cash infusion has risen to £20m.
However, that is still regarded as modest for a club of Wednesday’s history and tradition.
The Owls have been flagged up as an attractive proposition for football investors, fuelling the rumours that have swept Hillsborough in recent months.
There is still no guarantee that Mandaric won’t strike a deal, having refused to put a timescale on his involvement from his first day at the helm.
But the price of buying him out will have risen considerably following the outcome of the courtroom drama.
In a statement made through the club, Mandaric said: “I never doubted the truth would prevail, nor the fact that the British justice system would come to the right conclusion.
“I came to Britain 12 years ago because of my love of football and have since saved three much-loved football clubs which were on the brink of extinction.
“As a result I have saved thousands of jobs and paid tens of millions of pounds into the public purse through tax.
“To suggest I would cheat the taxman is highly offensive to me, my family, my associates and friends. I am happy that my good name and reputation have been upheld.
“And I wish to express my gratitude to my many football fans, friends and family for all their support. They have been a great source of strength to me.”
The prosecution claimed that Mandaric and Redknapp sought to evade tax over two payments of £93,000 and £96,000 between 2002 and 2004
The court verdicts marked a disastrous end of an exhaustive inquiry into football corruption by the tax authorities and City of London Police.