The club have been tight-lipped on the subject, but Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal still seems to be taking steps towards selling the club.
Toulon took to Twitter on Monday afternoon to officially deny a report in Midi Olympique that they were courting Glasgow lock Jonny Gray. That was soon followed by a Tweet from the club’s fly-half, Matt Giteau, dismissing a suggestion in the same newspaper that he plans to retire at the end of the season.
In contrast, the club has been conspicuous by its silence this month in response to the story that Mourad Boudjellal is in the throes of selling Toulon. Rumours that he was thinking of getting out of the game first emerged last month. Since then, the story has gathered pace with little word from the Toulon president but plenty of comment from the other parties involved.
This Monday’s Midi Olympique quoted one of the lawyers involved in negotiations saying the sale should be agreed within “eight to ten days”. The paper alleged that Boudjellal will sell his 51 per cent stake in Toulon as well as his Red & Black business, which owns the club’s four boutiques and two brasseries, for around €10m.
Are new signings a sign?
Is Boudjellal just playing games? Many sceptics in France believe so, and say he will never relinquish the stake he acquired a decade ago. What about all the players he is chasing for next season, they say? Chris Ashton has allegedly already agreed terms; Israel Dagg is poised to do the same; Ma’a Nonu has been discussing an extension with his club president, as has Bryan Habana. Hardly the behaviour of a man about to bail.
But, according to Midi Olympique, Boudjellal will recruit heavily in the coming months so that his legacy is a world-class squad. That will mean reflected glory for him if they win titles in the seasons to come, while also putting pressure on his successor to meet the stars’ salaries.
That’s why he’s playing hardball with Gerard Barba and Lucien Simon, the two men tipped to become the next owners of Toulon. According to reports, the three men and their legal teams have met three times in recent weeks and a fourth discussion is scheduled for this Thursday.
Cash is the key
The sale “could be finalised before the end of the month”, according to the paper. Boudjellal won’t sell until he has “ultimate bank guarantees” that money-man Barba has the financial means to continue what was started in 2006. Since then Boudjellal, who has invested an estimated €7m of his own money, quadrupled the club’s budget to €25.5m and increased annual turnover from €7m to €30m.
The club’s wage bill has also increased to a little over €10m during the same period, which is why Boudjellal wants to be sure Barba has the money to match his ambition. As Simon recently acknowledged: “Mourad has created a winning model and, with my associate, we are aware of the task which awaits us if we are chosen.”
Barba doesn’t appear to be short of a few bob. The 51-year-old Frenchman is described as discreet, publicity-shy and in possession of a sharp business brain. His fortune has been made with an investment fund in France and a production company in the USA, which produces four or five films a year for the Video On Demand and DVD markets. According to Midi, Barba recently sold a property in Key Biscayne, Florida, for $10.5m.
Mayor and council have a say
If Barba and Boudjellal agree on the terms of a sale, the next step for Boudjellal is to present details of the deal to the club’s remaining four stakeholders and the administrative council – SASP (Societe Anonyme Sportive Professionnelle). Under French law, when a sporting organisation generates revenues in excess of €1.2m an administrative council must be formed.
Boudjellal and SASP meet on 8 November and monitoring proceedings with interest will be Toulon Mayor Hubert Falco, whose city council owns the Stade Mayol and the club’s training facilities. Though he has no influence in the actual sale, he did use an interview in L’Equipe to issue a warning: “As I am in the habit of saying, Toulon rugby club belongs to the people of Toulon. Anyone who would like to take it over will have to come and knock on the door of the town hall. I have the keys to the Mayol. If the buyer doesn’t come and knock on the door he can buy the club…but he will play elsewhere and it will no longer be Toulon rugby club.”