Billionaire Daniel Kretinsky downplays West Ham takeover as he focuses on £3.5bn purchase of Royal Mail, earning him the title of ‘Czech Sphinx’

Billionaire Daniel Kretinsky downplays West Ham takeover as he focuses on £3.5bn purchase of Royal Mail, earning him the title of ‘Czech Sphinx’

First, the Royal Mail. Next, West Ham? Sources in Daniel Kretinsky’s sphere yesterday spoke of a reluctance to expand his English empire by purchasing one of the Premier League’s most iconic clubs, though tellingly, every answer was accompanied by an asterisk.

The caveat was he is not nicknamed the ‘Czech Sphinx’ for nothing. Kretinsky earned that moniker because of his enigmatic nature; an inscrutability which helped turn this former lawyer into the 48-year-old billionaire he is today. Never say never, in other words.

Yet while closing in on his remarkable £3.5billion acquisition of the Royal Mail, associates yesterday insisted a Kretinsky-led takeover of West Ham is low down his list of priorities, one even joking we will sooner find ourselves licking the back of a Mark Noble stamp.

That is bound to disappoint those hoping he can be the tycoon with pockets deep enough to elevate them to the next level. The Roman Abramovich to their Chelsea, if that is not too gross a comparison for a businessman whose investment in the Eustream pipeline led to one Daily Telegraph headline recently which read: ‘How Russian gas is fuelling a bid for Royal Mail.’

Kretinsky spent around £160million in November 2021 to secure 27 per cent of West Ham, installing him as the club’s second-largest shareholder after David Sullivan’s 38.8 per cent.

Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, whose investment firm is intent on gobbling up Royal Mail’s parent firm for £3.5billion

Kretinsky is West Ham's the club’s second-largest shareholder after David Sullivan’s (pictured) 38.8 per cent

Kretinsky is West Ham’s the club’s second-largest shareholder after David Sullivan’s (pictured) 38.8 per cent

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Since then, Kretinsky has not tried to increase his stake. Not even in October 2023 when David Gold’s daughter Vanessa informed her fellow investors that she was putting a portion of her shares up for sale – an opportunity which provided him a potential pathway towards majority ownership.

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Sources yesterday added that Sullivan is not ready to part with even a fraction of his percentage, with the 75-year-old expecting no change to the current ownership split any time soon.

Kretinsky is not involved in footballing decisions at West Ham as that would contravene UEFA rules, owing to his involvement with boyhood club Sparta Prague. Jiri Svarc and Pavel Horkey – his right-hand men within the Premier League club – report back to him instead. When the decision was taken to move on from David Moyes, sources stress that Kretinsky had no say whatsoever.

We know he likes to listen to Pink Floyd and U2. We know he will read anything written by Milan Kundera or Josef Skvoerecky. What is not known, however, is precisely how many matches he has attended in his downtime this season. 

One West Ham director yesterday estimated he has seen him on six occasions at the London Stadium, the bulk of his time being spent criss-crossing Europe via private jet in pursuit of the next deal.

WEST HAM SHAREHOLDERS’ SPLIT: 

David Sullivan 38.8%

Gold family 25.1%

WHU LLC / J Albert Smith 8.0%

Other investors 1.1%

1890s holdings a.s / Daniel Kretinsky 27.0%

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Kretinsky cleared his relentless schedule for the party in Prague in June 2023. He was never going to miss taking in their Europa Conference League triumph over Fiorentina at the home of Slavia Prague, the fierce rivals of his beloved Sparta. 

It was particularly pleasing for him that the team involved two Czechs in Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal, having developed an affinity for West Ham as early as 1990 when Ludek Miklosko – the man from near Moscow, as the fan-favourite chant goes – became the first to arrive in English football.

Sparta are described as Kretinsky’s ‘first love’ and sources say that affinity is a significant reason why a total takeover of West Ham is unlikely to happen. Kretinsky believes an owner should have a concrete connection to his club, the word ‘guilty’ being used when explaining how he would feel to take over the English giants while he still considers himself something of an outsider.

That belief may fly in the face of him being on the brink of owning an entity so quintessentially British that its red boxes adorn our street corners, but Kretinsky sees football as different to his other business dealings because of the emotions involved.

Kretinsky is not involved in footballing decisions at West Ham as that would contravene UEFA rules, owing to his involvement with boyhood club Sparta Prague

Kretinsky is not involved in footballing decisions at West Ham as that would contravene UEFA rules, owing to his involvement with boyhood club Sparta Prague

 You have to earn the right to elevate yourself to majority ownership, he insists, even if the Premier League is swimming in overseas owners elsewhere.

Minority ownership is where he feels most comfortable at West Ham. For now, at least, because when it comes to the ‘Czech Sphinx’, you can never know.

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