After Belgian league match is halted, questions arise about US owner Textor's multi-club strategy

Mon, Jan 22, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

After Belgian league match is halted, questions arise about US owner Textor's multi-club strategy

MOLENBEEK, Belgium (AP) - It started with fans chanting for the team's coach to resign, as Belgian soccer club RWD Molenbeek trailed 1-0 against a relegation rival after another lackluster display.

Then they threw flares and firecrackers onto the pitch, leading to the league game being halted in the 85th minute.

And as the players waited in the dressing room for word about whether the game would restart - it was eventually called off - the supporters in the stands started taking aim at the club's owner, chanting a number of expletives about American businessman John Textor.

Fans of RWDM - or Racing White Daring Molenbeek - are not alone in their frustrations with Textor, who has ownership stakes in several soccer clubs. But their displeasure highlight how the former skateboarder turned tech entrepreneur has so far struggled to make his multi-club model a success.

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Alongside RWDM, Textor's Eagle Football company also has stakes in Premier League club Crystal Palace, Brazilian team Botafogo and seven-time French champion Lyon.

Back in the Belgian top division this season after a long absence, RWDM is the third biggest team in Brussels after Anderlecht and Union Saint-Gilloise. The storied club based in the working-class neighborhood of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean was added to Textor's portfolio in December 2021.

After gaining promotion last season, RWDM has been largely inconsistent back in the topflight. Before taking on fellow struggler Eupen on Sunday night in the game that was called off, the club was on three-game losing run in all competitions. That included a demoralizing 6-1 home loss against Club Brugge before the Christmas break.

Before venturing into soccer, the entrepreneur made his fortune in the digital media industry after an injury put an end to his career as a freestyle skateboarder. He was chairman and principal owner of Sims Snowboards, a leading brand, and chairman of Digital Domain Media Group.

He resigned from that position 2012 after the Oscar-winning digital production company defaulted on loans totaling $35 million.

Textor bounced back by launching virtual entertainment company Facebank and started investing in soccer in 2021 at Crystal Palace. He then took control of RWDM by acquiring an 80% stake in the club, became a 90% shareholder of Botafogo and took over at Lyon.

The millions of dollars invested have not led to massive success.

In Brazil, Botafogo squandered a 13-point lead in the league in one of the worst collapses in a title race. In France, Lyon parted ways with coach Laurent Blanc in September following a terrible start to the season. His successor Fabio Grosso was then also fired after less than three months in charge, having failed to put the team back on track.

Things don't look much better at Crystal Palace.

The London club was thrashed 5-0 by Arsenal on Saturday and now sits just five points above the relegation zone. Speculation about 76-year-old manager Roy Hodgson's future has picked up following the big defeat and fans expressed their displeasure with the team's ownership during the loss at Emirates Stadium.

"Wasted potential on and off the pitch," read a banner unfurled by Palace fans in the away end. "Weak decisions taking us backwards."

Palace brought back Hodgson, the oldest manager in Premier League history, on a short-term deal while the team was slipping down the standings midway through last season. But the decision to hand him a new contract for this season has been criticized as a short-term solution that lacks ambition.

At Molenbeek, the future of coach Claudio Cacapa also seems decided, less than a year after Textor got rid of the club's previous coach Vincent Euvrard and his assistants only days ahead of the start of the new season.

Textor hasn't been afraid to shake things up at his clubs.

The decision to fire Euvrard came after Textor removed RWDM's popular former chairman Thierry Dailly from his role, accusing him of misappropriating club funds. At Lyon, Textor was involved a in a feud with with Lyon's iconic Jean-Michel Aulas that culminated with the latter stepping down as president.

Meanwhile, his transfer strategy of moving players between his own clubs has yet to pay off, either.

After RWDM signed Ernest Nuamah from Denmark's FC Nordsjaelland for a record fee of 30 million euros, the 19-year-old player was immediately loaned to Lyon, where he has managed just one goal in 14 league matches so far this season.

At RWDM, six former Lyon players are part of the team's roster, including highly-rated defender Mamadou Sarr, who arrived last week on loan until the end of the season. Despite his great technique, Sarr could not prevent Eupen's Renaud Emond from opening the scoring Sunday before the game was stopped.

That game against Eupen is set to resume on Wednesday to play out the remaining few minutes without fans in the stands, and Molenbeek was fined 50,000 euros ($54,000) for the incident.

"The main feeling is one of disappointment, and a little shame, that it ended like that," RWDM captain Theo Defourny said.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.

SAMUEL PETREQUIN Petrequin is covering European news and sports. twitter mailto "
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