Oldham woes

The Telegraph Sports Section published the following article before the Latics went to Craven Cottage and knocked Premier League Fulham out of the FA Cup:

Seven miles from Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, another club under Arabic stewardship feel as if they are on another planet. Fans of Oldham Athletic, one of the founding members of the Premier League, are recovering from their worst 12 months in living memory. While City face a potential Champions League ban over allegedly excessive expenditure, the Latics have been fighting simply for financial survival in recent years. The club’s trip to Fulham on Sunday in the FA Cup is a welcome reprieve after managerial upheavals, player protests and relegation to the fourth tier for the first time since 1971.

The Dubai-based Moroccan Abdallah Lemsagam, a former agent, completed a protracted takeover last January, and remains a divisive figure, despite back-to-back wins since sacking the club’s manager on Boxing Day. A year ago, Oldham had been late paying player salaries for three months consecutively. Lemsagam has since bailed the club out repeatedly as the they faced winding-up petitions brought by HM Revenue and Customs.

To pass fit and proper tests at the EFL, Lemsagam was required to stop working as an agent. Before taking full control of the club, he abandoned his work with the agency Sport2JLT whose clients included former Portsmouth and AC Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari and striker Afonso Alves, formerly of Middlesbrough. But his network of contacts may explain some surprise signings during his takeover at Boundary Park.

Midfielder Mohamed Maouche was reportedly handed a £4,000-a-week deal before playing 10 minutes of League One football. Queensy Menig, a Dutch Under-21 winger who joined on loan from French club Nantes, was said to have been paid around £11,650 a week, before departing after four starts and one goal. “I wanted to give the fans a present, to make them dream,” Lemsagam told The Daily Mail at the time.

Last year, Oldham’s wage budget is said to have spiralled from around £1.4 million to approaching £2.4m, yet the club still finished 17th in League One. As the new season dawned, Lemsagam bought supporters scarves and promised fortunes would improve. 

Delivering his version of events, he said in a statement: “When I first came in, a lot of creditors who had not been paid by the previous regime issued court proceedings and winding-up orders. After a long process, there are now no remaining winding-up procedures and we are working hard to clear the final old debts that the club is responsible for. In particular, there are no longer debts owing to HMRC.

“It became clear quickly that the club could not continue the way it had been running: borrowing money from one person to pay another and selling off future assets, leaving a black hole for the future.”

To comply with financial fair play rules, he has had to slash the club’s budget in League Two. Craig Davies, a striker who now plays for Mansfield, was among those to leave, launching a blistering attack on the owner. “With all the good at the club, I wish it well in an unclear future because I can honestly say in the 14 years I’ve been a professional footballer, I’ve never worked for someone that thinks it’s acceptable to treat his staff and players in such a bad way,” Davies told the Manchester Evening News.

Frankie Bunn, who scored six goals in one match and played for Oldham at Wembley, took charge over the summer but after Boxing Day’s 6-0 drubbing at Carlisle United, he was sacked. He reportedly received the news via email with the club sitting 12th in League Two.

Since then, caretaker manager Pete Wild, an academy coach, has steered the club to back-to-back league wins against Notts County and Port Vale.

But he has been told he is only guaranteed to stay in charge of the side at Craven Cottage. The current favourites for the job are Steven Pressley and John Askey.

“Whoever comes in can guarantee a very busy 2019,” said one supporter. “Lemsagam is Mr Busy – he would keep Sir Alex Ferguson on his toes.”