Fran Gavin: Athlone investment shows lure of league

FAI Director of Competitions Fran Gavin claims the investment in Athlone Town is indicative of overseas owners seeking the scale of success in Europe enjoyed by Dundalk.

Fran Gavin: Athlone investment shows lure of league

Mystery surrounds the identity of the Portuguese backers of Athlone but Gavin has provided an assurance their credentials have been vetted through the licencing process.

While foreign interest is welcome, it is less than 10 years since London-based Arkaga pulled out of Cork City leaving debts of almost €1m and entering examinership.

That salutary tale was to the fore in Gavin providing a cautious endorsement to Athlone’s latest model.

The desire of their investors to remain anonymous, coupled with the confusion caused by Portuguese native Ricardo Monsanto replacing Colin Fortune as boss last week, has added intrigue to the latest developments at a club which was unable to field a side for a fixture last season due to unpaid wages.

Athlone won their opening two games of the campaign before losing heavily to Longford last weekend. A restructure of the league means only this season’s champions will gain promotion.

“I have met the new investors in Athlone and they are quite ambitious,” said Gavin.

“We’ve never experienced that type of investment in a club where they’re bringing players in from all over Europe. You wonder about their motivation, so that’s something we’ve to look at very carefully.

“Athlone have a nice stadium and good facilities. We would like to see the project being a success but we need to wait and see. It is important to make sure the club is going in the right direction.”

Dundalk’s feat of reaching the Europa League stages last season was the catalyst for the backers to add an Irish club to their portfolio of investments.

Gavin believes like-minded companies will target other clubs due to the accessibility of European qualification and with it the potentially lucrative prize money.

“Dundalk’s success has showcased the league to investors in Europe,” reasoned Gavin.

“It has opened up a market to us which hasn’t been there for a long time. Athlone’s investors saw what Dundalk did and the club were approached. They would want to go with the lowest input for the maximum gain.

“Investors can see that the pathway to Europe is very good because there’s four qualification places available to 20 clubs — which is 20%.

"Athlone are building a unique project and look like they’ll be competitive this season. I don’t go with the notion that Waterford will run away with the First Division title.

“If you’re an investor looking to get in and showcase players, the League of Ireland is attractive. Once it’s done right, success can come fairly quickly. The problem in the past is people thought it was easier than it actually is.

“And the question is whether investors stay for another year if that success doesn’t come straight away.”

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