Shilen Patel: West Bromwich Albion owner aiming high – but with realism and patience

Shilen Patel: West Bromwich Albion owner aiming high – but with realism and patience

18 March 2024 0 By Total Football News
Shilen Patel surveys the view at The Hawthorns
Shilen Patel’s arrival at The Hawthorns follows American ownership at neighbours Aston Villa and Birmingham City

Another English club, another West Midlands club, another new American owner with dreams.

But West Bromwich Albion’s new main man Shilen Patel mixes those ambitions with realism.

The 43-year-old businessman has taken over the Championship club as they chase promotion back to the Premier League, via the play-offs.

Albion are fifth, have been fifth for weeks, and look likely to remain fifth for the next few weeks too. The reward for which would be that one-in-four chance to get back to the top flight in May.

But Patel said: “Nobody can control the future. All we can do is influence that future, and do the things that might bring the best possible outcome. But you also have to prepare to experience the worst possible outcome.

“The biggest mistake you can make, with any Championship club, is assuming that next season you’re going to be in the Premier League.”

When he and his father Kiran Patel completed the deal for their Florida-based Bilkul Football WBA to buy Albion on 28 February, Patel Jr says they did also look at what might happen if the club do not make it back to the big time just yet.

“It was important for us to understand what the next three to five years might look like if it didn’t happen,” he told BBC Radio WM.

“If it does, you have a lot more options available to you and your priorities can change. But, for now, we have to manage under the rules and constraints of the Championship.

“We have to aim at being in the top quartile of teams in this league and, if we keep doing that, we get an annual opportunity to get to the next level.”

Shilen Patel in the West Brom dressing room
An excited Patel spent time in the Albion dressing room before he met most of the players

Big hitters such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Leeds United, Aston Villa and Birmingham City all have American ownership, with differing degrees of success.

So what is the attraction of English football to US investors?

“There has always been a certain romance in sports ownership,” said Patel. “Global football – and European football in particular – is interesting from a business standpoint. The stakes, the potential and the accessibility.

“You look at something like the NFL, Major League Baseball or the NHL, the valuations are quite uniform… and in some cases eye-wateringly high too.

“If you find the right club in the right circumstance, the opportunity to alter the standings and the trajectory of a club is much greater in football than in the American leagues.”

The Tom Brady influence

Patel – raised in the US, of Indian descent and with a Zambia-born father – was an American football fan before his head was turned by both the history and the potential of English-style football.

He was also a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. He was there on the night Tom Brady won the Super Bowl for his team in 2021 at the age of 43. And he watched with interest when Brady became part of US-based Knighthead’s Birmingham takeover last summer.

“It’s good for the Championship to have Tom Brady involved,” Patel said. “It instantly put this whole league on the radar for a lot of people who weren’t thinking about it before.

“Hopefully Albion will now have a pace of success that’s greater than theirs. It would certainly be nice to take in a game together with him.”

Patel, with a smile, then added: “And hope that he goes home the unhappier.”

How Bologna experience prepared Patel

Perhaps more important than Patel’s American sporting influences is the decade he has been involved with Italian Serie A club Bologna.

The Patels had a stake in a takeover, led by Canadian Joey Saputo in 2014.

They gained promoted back to the top flight in 2014-15 and now sit fourth in the table, in a Champions League spot, with 10 games to go.

“Joey did a great job of bringing back belief,” said Patel. “And, 10 years on, we are seeing the fruits of the proper infrastructure going in. It has been largely the same group of people there from the beginning.

“These years in particular have showed me the importance of patience. It allowed me to go into pursuing this with eyes wide open.”

Patel had two big questions to answer from fans when he came. Would Albion pay off the loan, in excess of £20m, from US investment group MSD Holdings, that the previous owners had lumbered them with? And would hugely popular head coach Carlos Corberan’s job be safe?

Shilen Patel interviewed by BBC Radio WM's Steve Hermon at the Kensington Hilton
Patel was interviewed before Albion’s 2-2 draw at QPR last week

“To have an individual already in place like Carlos Corberan is not something to worry about,” he said. “To have someone like Carlos already allows you to think about the best outcomes, rather than worrying about what’s next.

“As for the MSD loan, there will be a time to address it but the way that it is structured, there is no specific benefit to paying it off on day one.”

In fact, promotion aside, and the chance to make money from that, his interest in Albion – and West Bromwich – he insists, is more of a philanthropic nature.It’s a trait he learned from his own family.

“One of the things I’ve always admired most about my father, and even his father before him was that, even when circumstances were tight and limited, there was always a desire to be doing something for others,” he said.

“At no time was my grandfather ever a wealthy man but our home in Zambia was always open.

“I still run into people all around the world who tell me their father or grandfather once stayed at our home in Zambia, a month, or even up to six months.

“My history is so important to me and how I carry it forward.

“My father is 75 next week and instead of throwing a big party he’s cutting the ribbon on a new hospital we’ve had built, bringing jobs for 200 more doctors. That’s what is meaningful to him.

“I see a lot of possibilities now with West Bromwich Albion in changing mindsets. I have a broader vision of creating global academies in places where there are none. And it’s all about my contribution to this legacy.”

West Bromwich Albion owner Shilen Patel was talking to BBC Radio WM’s Steve Hermon

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