London: Fulham was sold to Jacksonville Jaguars billionaire owner Shad Khan on Friday, making the west London club the sixth in the Premier League to now be under American ownership.
Khan bought the London club from longtime owner Mohamed Al Fayed in a deal that strengthens his links with the British capital, having already arranged for his American football team to play matches here. The Jaguars have a deal to play one home game in London for four consecutive seasons, starting in October at Wembley Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers.
"Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me," Khan said in a statement. "I want to be clear, I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans. My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each have a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of."
Al Fayed, an Egyptian businessman, has owned Fulham since 1997 and is leaving the club debt-free as it prepares for a 13th Premier League season. Details of takeover were not disclosed but it was reported to be valued at more than $220 million.
The 84-year-old Al Fayed, the former owner of Harrods department store, said he is retiring to spend time playing football with his grandchildren.
"Mr. Al Fayed rescued the club in its hour of need and has led it to a sustained place within the Premier League," Khan said.
Fulham finished 12th last season, well above the relegation zone, and opens the new campaign in August at Sunderland, which is owned by another American, Ellis Short.
Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Aston Villa are also owned by businessmen from the United States, where interest in the Premier League — the world's wealthiest football division — is soaring.
NBC's networks will televise matches from August under a $250 million, three-year deal. The Premier League is receiving more than $8 billion from broadcasters in Britain and overseas for the next three years.
Each club is set to receive at least $90 million each season from that cash pot.
But Khan had to prove to the Premier League's board at a meeting this week that he had the sufficient funds for the takeover and can also meet all liabilities at Fulham for at least a year. Forbes magazine estimates that Khan is worth $2.9 billion.
"We will manage the club's financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programs as fundamentally important elements of Fulham's future," Khan said.
Born in Pakistan, Khan left home at age 16 in 1967 to attend the University of Illinois. He graduated in 1971, a year after he started working for automotive supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp. as an engineering manager.
He left in 1978 to start his own company, Bumper Works, and two years later bought his former employer, which is a major manufacturer of bumper systems for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
After building a multibillion-dollar company, Khan — who has sported a prominent mustache for more than 40 years — started working toward spending some of his fortune on fulfilling his dream of owning an NFL team.
After learning the NFL business from the inside at the Jaguars, Khan bought the franchise in 2011 for around $760 million.
"By his hard work, vision and determination, Shahid Khan has become a living embodiment of the American success story," Al Fayed said. "His achievements speak for themselves. I met him twice prior to our successful transaction this week and have been very favorably impressed."
Fulham plays at Craven Cottage, a 25,700-seat stadium on the banks of the River Thames in west London. The venue has been the club's home for most years since 1896, and the team was given approval last year to redevelop its Riverside stand and increase capacity to 30,000.
The Cottagers have never won a major trophy but reached the final of both the FA Cup in 1975 and the Europa League in 2010 under current England coach Roy Hodgson. Fulham has had a string of American players in recent seasons, including Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra, Kasey Keller and Eddie Johnson, and a hospitality area at the stadium is named after McBride.
Al Fayed has been largely adored by fans for pouring money into the club, but one of the most contentious decisions of his reign was to place a statue of the late pop star Michael Jackson outside the stadium in 2011.
Al Fayed wanted to commemorate his friendship with the "King of Pop," who died in 2009.