Cambodian prince bets on returning fallen French soccer giants Saint-Étienne to their former glory

Cambodian prince Norodom Ravichak has confirmed his bid to take over Saint-Étienne, a cash-strapped club whose declining fortunes belies its former status as French soccer royalty.

After a poor start to the season, Saint-Étienne is second from the bottom in France’s Ligue 1 top division, deep in the relegation zone. But it’s possible that Prince Charming will come to the rescue.

Norodom Ravichak, the nephew of the King of Cambodia, has joined a bidding race for the ten-time champions of France, commonly known as Les Verts because of their iconic green jerseys. A Francophile businessman known for his humanitarian work, he plans to make “Sainté” a symbol of cooperation between his home country and his former colonial power.

“I am officially a candidate to take over AS Saint-Étienne,” the 47-year-old prince told FRANCE 24’s sister radio RFI this week, promising to “take good care of Saint-Étienne” and promising a “long-term investment.” “. in the club.

Fallen giants

Based in the namesake industrial city of the “rust belt” in east-central France, Saint-Étienne is the royalty of football in France, known for its impressive number of trophies and passionate fans. With 10 first division titles, it remains the only club in France to have reached double digits (PSG and Marseille are tied at 9). Local fans say they would also have been the first French club to lift the European Cup were it not for Hampden Park’s famous square goal posts, which repeatedly denied Les Verts a goal during their final defeat in 1976. against Bayern Munich.

On this day in 1976: the curse of the ‘square goals’ (les poteaux carrés) of Hampden Park that affects the Saint-Etienne fans to this day. They say that if the goalposts had been round as in the rest of the world, Sainté would have won the European Cup against Bayern Munich vi…

– r / soccer (@from_rsoccer) May 12, 2020

However, Saint-Étienne’s fortune has dramatically declined since its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, including a financial collapse in the early 1980s and two stints in the second division. While they have been a fixture of Ligue 1 for the past 16 seasons, they are once again in dire financial straits as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of a lucrative television deal.

The club’s annual budget has been reduced from € 110 million two years ago to just € 70 million, allowing for the purchase of a single player in the latest transfer market. The club is officially on sale since April 2021.

According to the French newspaper Le Parisien, Prince Ravichak has offered to pay 100 million euros for the ailing club and talks could start very soon.

‘I’ve always had a soft spot for Saint-Etienne’

Norodom Ravichak, son of Norodom Chakrapong, half-brother of the King of Cambodia, is the grandson of the late Norodom Sihanouk, the “father-king” of Cambodia, who was once a close friend of Charles de Gaulle. To this day, the royal family maintains close ties with France, dividing their time between Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and Paris. Ravichak himself runs a consulting firm based in the 13th arrondissement of the French capital, home to the city’s largest Southeast Asian community.

The prince was born in exile in Canton (today’s Guangzhou of China) in 1974, during Cambodia’s bloody civil war, and later educated in France. It has developed a vast business network in Europe, the Middle East and China, where it maintains close ties with various state-owned companies and investment funds. He is often referred to as the crown prince of Cambodia, although there is technically no such role in the country’s constitutional monarchy. Instead, Ravichak serves as an honorary ambassador.

In France, Cambodian royalty has been noted primarily for their humanitarian work, appearing at a fundraiser organized by “The Heart Fund” at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. He received the Grand Prix Humanitaire de France in 2009. A fan to football, he took part in a charity match in Rouen in 2014, sponsored by former PSG and Saint-Étienne player Mathieu Bodmer.

“I am passionate about football, having grown up following the French league and, of course, the French team,” he told RFI. “I have always had a soft spot for Saint-Étienne, who occupy a special place among the best clubs in France.”

Rival offers

For the moment, the Association Sportive de Saint-Etienne (ASSE) remains in the hands of its two main shareholders, Bernard Caïazzo and Roland Romeyer. The two disagree on the future of the club and have chosen Anglo-Dutch consultants KPMG to examine the offers. They hope to close the sale by the end of 2021.

So far, two bidders have fulfilled the first requirement of the consultants: a bank guarantee of at least 100 million euros. One is the Terrapin investment fund linked to Jérôme de Bontin, a French-American businessman with experience managing AS Monaco and New York Red Bulls football clubs. The other involves local entrepreneurs backed by a rich Luxembourg fund.

According to the sports daily L’Equipe, Romeyer favors the Franco-Luxembourg candidacy while Prince Ravichak has the backing of Caïazzo.

The Cambodian prince says he is not looking for a mere “financial operation”.

“My ambitions for Saint-Étienne are both national and international,” he said, with floating plans to establish soccer academies in his home country and throughout Asia. He added: “If we reach an agreement, I will provide the resources to fulfill these ambitions and restore Saint-Étienne to its former splendor.”

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