FRANK LOWY is ready to hand over the reins at Sydney FC, with Australia's second-richest man likely to announce today he has sold his controlling interest in the club.
Russian banker David Traktovenko - who lives in St Petersburg but keeps a house on the waterfront at Mosman - and Sydney-based media and healthcare owner Paul Ramsay are the new majority owners.
The deal had been expected to go through last week, but negotiations dragged on over the selling price until agreement was reached in the past 24 hours.
Lowy had accrued more than 70 per cent of Sydney FC's shares through his family trust, but, while the club remains dear to his heart, he has decided the time is right to sell. While the Football Federation Australia chairman has never accepted criticism of a possible conflict of interest, the sell-off does eliminate that perception and allow Lowy to concentrate fully on his task of bringing the 2018 World Cup to Australia. Lowy will, however, keep a small parcel of shares to safeguard the long-term financial viability of the club.
Traktovenko has held a 22 per cent stake in Sydney FC since buying out the former stakeholder, property developer Peter Turnbull, midway through last year, and has made little secret of his desire to have a bigger say in the running of the club. The former owner and chairman of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg will get his wish in partnership with Ramsay, who holds a controlling stake in Prime Television and is Australia's largest private health care operator. Ramsay's personal wealth is estimated at more than $400m.
The changing of the guard is not expected to have an immediate effect on the team, with coach John Kosmina safe in his job until the end of the season, but the position of chairman Andrew Kemeny - a close Lowy confidante - is likely to come under scrutiny. Minor shareholder and Hollywood actor Anthony La Paglia has already confirmed his departure from the club.
The eagerness of Traktovenko, who sold out of Zenit St Petersburg two years ago, is a sign of the A-League's increasing appeal among international investors, not least because of the networking opportunities offered by competing in the Asian Champions League. Last weekend, English property magnate Kevin McCabe announced he was buying a stake in Central Coast Mariners, who will play in the ACL next year. McCabe, who also owns clubs in England and China, said: "The [Asian] Champions League is getting bigger and better, and it does excite me."
It is also believed a major Chinese property group with football interests is ready to invest heavily in South Coast FC, who are hoping to join the competition in 2010.
Meanwhile, McCabe, who owns English Championship side Sheffield United, believes Socceroos winger David Carney still has a future at Bramall Lane. The former Sydney FC player, who was sold to the Blades 18 months ago, has effectively been frozen out of the first team this season by manager Kevin Blackwell, but while he has been linked to a move during next month's transfer window, McCabe suggests Carney might yet get to figure in the chase for promotion to the Premier League.
Speaking in Sydney last weekend before returning to England, McCabe said: "I think he's an excellent player, and a lovely lad. But, of course, it's the manager's call. At the moment he's on the sideline, and the chairman can't interfere. It seems he [Blackwell] thinks for us to get out of the Championship he needs a different type of player."
Pressed on whether Carney was up for sale, McCabe replied: "I think he's a terrific player, and I think you might see him back in the first-team squad sooner rather than later."
Socceroos star Harry Kewell has continued his recent scoring form in the Turkish league, scoring his 10th goal in all competitions as Galatasaray thumped Ankaragucu 3-0 on Sunday.
Socceroos teammate Bruce Djite was also among the goals in Turkey, netting for Genclerbirligi in a 3-0 derby win over Hacettepe SK.