Very interesting article:-
There’s a Thai proverb that says ‘Living within your means is better than going into debt to project an image of wealth’ but, over the past five years, fans of Sheffield Wednesday have seen little evidence of their club’s Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri listening to such ancient wisdom. According to the lat set of filed accounts, the Owls have a wage bill of nearly £40 million a year, their record £10 million signing rarely makes it out of the dugout, and it’s assumed recently sacked manager Tony Pulis and his coaching staff are owed significant money on contracts that were terminated after just 10 games. Even Chansiri’s controversial sale of the club’s Hillsborough stadium to a company owned by himself racked up unnecessary costs. Sheffield 4 Limited (one of four similarly named companies listed in Chansiri’s name at Companies House around the time of the stadium transfer) was set up in June 2019 then liquidated six months later at a cost of £18,000 – despite recording no income or expenditure in that time.
The club currently sits just above the Championship relegation zone, hampered by a six-point deduction for failing to stick to Financial Fair Play regulations that require second-tier clubs to lose no more than £39 million over three seasons. In the 2018 accounts (the 2019 accounts are currently marked as ‘overdue’ by Companies House), the club’s annual income is around £25 million, but with a wage bill of £37,445,000 – an increase of nearly £12 million on the previous year – as well as countless other expenses, the club is losing money at an alarming rate. It did post a profit of £2.6 million in 2017-2018, but this was only because Chansiri sold Hillsborough stadium to Sheffield 3 Limited (a company in which he holds 100 per cent of the shares) for £60 million. Without this, the club would have posted a loss of £35.5 million, following on from the previous year’s £20.7 million deficit.
But Dejphon Chansiri is a successful businessman, right? He’s ‘tuna man’ as Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp recently referred to him in a widely shared Whatsapp message – someone who’s made their fortune in canned fish and now brings his business acumen to S6. Certainly, back in 2015 when Chansiri completed his £30 million takeover of Sheffield Wednesday, supporters were led to believe the club was going to be controlled by multinational company the Thai Union Frozen Group (TUF) – a business with an annual revenue of around US$8 billion a year. Initially, photographs of the new chairman were taken against a screen emblazoned with the Owls’ crest and the TUF company logo. But all mentions of TUF – owned and run by Chansiri’s father Kraison and his elder brother Thiraphong – were quietly dropped as it became clear Dejphon was the only investor in the club.
So who is Dejphon Chansiri and where does he get his money from? In the media briefing he gave on 31 December last year, he referred to his ‘own business’, but nobody seems clear on what this business actually is. He isn’t one of the directors of TUF (now rebranded as the Thai Union Group) and he doesn’t feature on its list of top 10 shareholders, which means that, if he does hold shares in the group, he owns less than 1.68 per cent – though, of course, even 1.67 per cent of US$8 billion is enough to fund a new striker or two. In the company’s last few annual reports, his name crops up as rarely as a Jordan Rhodes goal – and always in relation to companies that exist to serve the Thai Union Group. According to these reports, he owns 25.4 per cent of shares in Chansiri Real Estate Co Ltd (a holding company for the Thai Union Group’s Bangkok office), 15 per cent of shares in Thai Union Hi-Tech Pearl Cultivation Co Ltd (which purchases ‘product’ from the main company in order to create pearls for the international jewellery market) and 6 per cent of shares in property-development firm Thai Union Properties. In addition to these, he’s also been listed as holding 92 per cent of the shares in Gemenai & Associate and 80 per cent of Gemenai Water Craft Co (both of which were closely tied to the Thai Union Group) – though these companies no longer seem to be active.
Then there are his British businesses. As well as Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, Chansiri owns Chansiri Limited, the company whose logo can be seen on the team’s home shirt but which had assets of just £966 in 2019. He also owns ‘taxi operation’ D Performance Limited, which managed to lose £110,539 in 2019-20 despite not actually being contactable by anyone who wants a cab from town back to Hunters’ Bar, and the equally invisible Elev8 Energy Drink (losses of £466,792 in 2018-19). Elev8 Clothing does at least have a website from which you can buy actual, tangible products but, despite being the current manufacturer of the Sheffield Wednesday kit, it too posted losses of £362,127 in 2018-19. These losses probably won’t matter to Chansiri, but they do add to a damning portrait of the chairman’s business acumen. Other than the three Thai companies in which he plays a peripheral role – and which are reliant on the continued success of his father and older brother’s firm – Chansiri appears to have had little business success of his own.
This doesn’t mean he isn’t incredibly wealthy. As anyone who’s ever watched Made in Chelsea can attest, simply being part of a family that owns a hugely successful business can mean you have a large trust fund and ready access to millions. Chansiri’s brother Disaphol, who also seems to play no active role in the Thai Union Group, is an art collector and owns the DC Collection museum in Chiang Mai. These are very rich men with expensive hobbies, and there’s no reason to assume they lack funds. So why, in mid-December, did Sheffield Wednesday players have to turn to the Professional Footballers’ Association after they weren’t paid their wages in full?
In his recent briefing, Chansiri put the problems down to Covid – ‘We have a problem with cashflow. That’s normal. The payments will be paid, just a little bit late’. But though he’s right to say ‘We are not the only club [with this problem]. All businesses all over the world have collapsed. They stop and slow’, it’s a little scary that the Owls are the only Championship club this season who’ve been unable to honour the terms set out in their players’ contracts. Remember that only last season League Two club Macclesfield Town were docked points, relegated and have since been dissolved because they too were unable to pay their players.
There are four other possible reasons for this. The first is that Chansiri has run out of money. But, considering that he’s continued to finance the club through the Covid pandemic and has personally paid the additional 20 per cent on the salaries of club employees who’ve been furloughed, this seems unlikely. The second is that he’s punishing the players for a full calendar year of poor performance. But, again, this seems far-fetched. Unpaid players are hardly going to take the field desperate to get a win for their boss and it’s not their fault that quality players such as Steven Fletcher, Sam Hutchinson and Morgan Fox haven’t been sufficiently replaced.
This leaves two possibilities. One is that Chansiri has had enough. After five years and millions of pounds of expenditure on the club, Sheffield Wednesday is further down the Championship than when he bought it. He regularly complains about the criticism he gets on social media, hasn’t attended a game for a long time and, due to the pandemic, is now based permanently in Thailand. Could it be a case that Sheffield Wednesday are now so far down his list of priorities that he simply didn’t transfer the money in time for it to reach players’ accounts? The other possibility is that Chansiri is the real-life equivalent of one of those The Apprentice candidates that wears a Savile Row suit and boasts loudly about how they’re going to be the next Richard Branson, but gets fired in week one because they don’t understand the concept of a decimal point. Could it be that, hampered by the Financial Fair Play regulations that prevent him from ploughing as much as he wants into Sheffield Wednesday, he has absolutely no idea how to build a sustainable business that makes more each year than it spends? Chansiri says the 2018-19 accounts ‘will be released soon’, and they’re sure to make for interesting reading. Will the chairman have heeded that ancient Thai proverb and will his club finally start to live within its means? Without another stadium to sell to cover the shortfall, it seems unlikely.
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