Af­ter a year of tur­moil, Old­ham are keen to in­flict some pain else­where

Trip to Ful­ham a wel­come re­prieve for trou­bled club and its Moroc­can owner, re­ports Tom Mor­gan

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - 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 to­day 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 £2.4 mil­lion, 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.”

Di­vi­sive: Old­ham owner Ab­dal­lah Lem­sagam

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