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Sven's mystery bosses

Simon Austin | 12:00 UK time, Friday, 24 July 2009

Even though Sven-Goran Eriksson has thrust Notts County into the global spotlight this week, the club's secretive backers are determined to stay in the shadows.

Their front man, club chairman Peter Trembling, admits he has relished the attention generated by Eriksson's appointment as director of football.

"It's about time Notts County got more than local press," he told the BBC on Thursday, "and (Eriksson's unveiling on Wednesday) went live in 118 countries".

Everton's former commercial director hasn't enjoyed being pressed about the identity of the men funding the Notts County revolution though.

Sven-Goran Eriksson at Meadow Lane"I don't even know who all the individuals are," he bristled.

This helped to explain why I had struggled with my brief of getting the lowdown on County's powerbrokers.

The new owners are Munto Finance, a "special acquisition vehicle" that bought the club on 14 July, and this in turn is financed by the Qadbak Investment Fund, which is administered in Switzerland and funded mainly from Qatar.

County's board comprises just two members - Trembling, who left his post at Everton in the spring, and Peter Willett, who has been involved in major developments such as the refurbishment of Lords and the creation of Milton Keynes.

But the identity of the men who have funded the takeover and lured Eriksson to League Two are something of a mystery.

Former board members have been sworn to silence and the club's coaching team have been told not to discuss the matter, with even the usually open and affable Tord Grip not answering my calls.

Willett is vice president of Al Thani Investment, which has led to speculation that Abdullah bin Saeed al Thani - who heads the group and is the first cousin of a former president of the United Arab Emirates - was County's main backer. But he moved to quash these rumours on Wednesday.

However, I understand that members of the Qatari royal family, who also have the name Al Thani, are part of the consortium.

Glenn Rolley, chairman of County's Supporters Trust and a former club board member, refused to comment on this but said the backers are desperate to retain their anonymity.

"They are very, very private people and want to keep a very low profile," he told me. "They wanted to remain totally anonymous and didn't even want it to be known that they were from the Middle East."

The Football League will need to find out the identity of the backers though. Anyone who has "direct or indirect control over the affairs" of a Football League club is subject to the fit and proper person test.County manager Ian McParland, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Peter Trembling

The investigation into this is ongoing, although Trembling insists Munto Finance has lodged all the relevant paperwork with the League.

County's supporters don't seem too concerned about their mysterious new owners however, which is understandable when the club had six-figure debts before they arrived on the scene.

Rolley explains: "They gave us a bank guarantee for a substantial amount of money and even if they walked away tomorrow, we would enjoy that money."

Unsurprisingly, 93% of the members of the Supporters Trust, which owned 60% of the club's shares, voted in favour of the takeover.

"The new owners have already exceeded my expectations tenfold," Rolley said. "When I first spoke to Peter Trembling, four weeks ago, I asked about the possibility of us being bigger than Forest.

"He smiled and said 'of course we will be bigger than Forest'. Clearly his ambitions were much bigger than that."

The new owners were attracted to County mainly because of its status as the oldest league club in the world. "Notts County is one of the few uniques in the world," Trembling said last week.

"There is a lot of romance attached to that and it is something we want to build on."

They were also impressed by the 20,000 all-seater Meadow Lane stadium and the fact that 800,000 people live within a 25-mile radius of the ground.

There was inevitably suspicion and cynicism when news emerged that former England manager Eriksson would be stepping down to League Two.

But when I spoke to his right-hand man Tord Grip in April, he said he and Eriksson wanted "to go to a good club where we can stay for a few years and work on a long-term project", although County were surely not the club he had in mind.

Eriksson says his first jobs at the club are to improve the club's training facilities and academy.

Although the first team is currently training at Nottingham University, work is underway on a new centre in Beeston. And the club's centre of excellence, which was reinstated 12 months ago after being scrapped a year earlier, is the focus of a major revamp.

It is certainly a world away from managing Lazio or England, but the Swede says he is relishing "the biggest challenge" of his career.

Meanwhile, fans like Rolley are excited about journey the new owners are taking them on, even if there is intrigue about who exactly is at the helm.

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