Man City's offer came out of the blue

Melbourne Heart's directors were always open to the idea of selling the A-League franchise if they could attract investors who were prepared to put in sufficient cash to ''take the club to the next level''.

They just never imagined it would be investors with the financial clout of Manchester City, the world's richest soccer club, who are bankrolled by Sheikh Mansour, head of the Abu Dhabi United Group. ADUG is a specialist investment company that successfully acquired Manchester's then ''second team'' in September 2008.

In fact, Heart's directors were not even aware of the Premier League club's role in the deal until Wednesday afternoon - just hours before it had been concluded. They were told of its involvement while they were in their lawyers' offices concluding the final details.

Until then Heart thought it was dealing only with Bart Campbell, the New Zealand sports entrepreneur who controls the Melbourne Storm.

He had been one of a number of potential buyers who had approached the Peter Sidwell-led board about a sale in the past few years, and although Heart officials didn't know it, he had also been selling City on the idea of taking a substantial stake in the struggling A-League franchise.

Most of those potential buyers turned out to be tyre kickers, but Campbell, a lawyer and financier who got into sports management by looking after contracts for All Blacks, was, as everyone now knows, the real deal.

Campbell's group began serious negotiations with Heart in July of last year and by August, it is believed, were close to a deal.

Due diligence began during the pre-season, but this took longer than expected to be completed - and probably kept beleaguered Heart boss John Aloisi in his job at the time, as there was little point in dismissing the coach until the ownership was resolved.

Heart directors had hoped to conclude the deal before Christmas, but that was not to be - they now assume that Campbell was continuing his talks with City to ensure the EPL club was lined up to play a leading role.

The Storm owner was confident that he had a winning proposition. Speaking on Wednesday, as he was flanked by City officials at AAMI Park, Campbell said there was huge upside to Melbourne Heart given the size and scope of the city and the growth in the A-League.

''If it was in Europe, Melbourne would be the third biggest city. There's plenty of scope for growth and I have experience and expertise in this environment. It's not beyond the possibility that Melbourne will soon have two very large soccer clubs.

''The infrastructure is world class and there is an attendance-based culture. If you add some EPL stardust to that …''

While Heart has not been very successful on the field, Campbell and his majority partners know that can be turned around quickly given strategic signings.

The club cut back on its playing budget to get its finances under control, so the new owners do not have to spend time clearing debt.

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