Day 1 at Fulham: Shahid Khan is foxed by Michael Jackson questions
One of the most contentious decisions by Mohamed Al Fayed during his 18 years owning Fulham was to erect a statue of Jackson outside Fulham's Craven Cottage. Al Fayed warned Khan jokingly Saturday that he'd rip the American's trademark moustache off if the statue was removed.
Standing on Fulham's pitch next to the River Thames, Shahid Khan quickly discovered that the issues Premier League owners must tackle extend far beyond football.
On his first full day running the London club, the trickiest questions Khan had to face were not about the cash available for new players, or goals for the upcoming season.
The pressing issue locally for the owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars was about Michael Jackson.
Yes, the late "King of Pop."
A statue of Jackson sits outside Fulham's Craven Cottage ground after being commissioned after the star's death in 2009 by Mohamed Al Fayed in one of the most contentious decisions during his 18 years owning the club.
Now the ownership of the Cottagers has changed hands, might fans succeed in having the statue removed?
"I've been an owner less than a day," he said, while searching for a diplomatic response. "We have to preserve and respect history but we have to move forward. I'll reflect on it and listen to the fans, then decide."
There's no decision to be made, according to Al Fayed.
"Michael Jackson will stay - it's part of the deal," the Egyptian said, before adding with Khan in ear-shot: "Are you listening to me about Michael Jackson? You promise now? Otherwise ... I will take your moustache off."
The moustache has been Khan's trademark since 1972 as he built up his fortune in the automotive industry after moving to the U.S. from Pakistan, bought the Jaguars in 2011 and now Fulham in a deal reported to be worth more than $200 million.
As Fayed bid farewell to the club he took from the third tier into the Premier League, the former owner of the Harrods department store donned a fake moustache to pose for pictures with Khan on a rare scorching day in London.
The takeover deal was wrapped up swiftly ahead of the new season starting next month, as the 84-year-old Al Fayed heads into retirement.
But it was the NFL that first enabled Khan to establish a sporting bond with London, with the Jaguars striking a deal to play a regular season game at Wembley Stadium for four consecutive seasons from October.
"We obviously have the commitment to London with Jacksonville so I was looking at that," Khan told The Associated Press, discussing the takeover in Fulham's match-day dressing room.
"I have watched Fulham and I know the history and I've been to a game here. I just thought about contacting Mr. Al Fayed about a month or so ago just to talk to him and one thing led to another."
Khan's takeover means that the new season will begin with six of the 20 Premier League clubs under American ownership, with four having links to NFL teams.
Aston Villa's Randy Lerner sold the Cleveland Browns last year, the family of Arsenal's Stan Kroenke own the St. Louis Rams and the Glazers control both Manchester United and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is based in Florida with the Jaguars.
Khan said the abuse directed by some United fans at the Glazers over the debt they loaded onto the club did not give him any reservations about buying Fulham.
"They have a right to express themselves," Khan said. "But on the other hand, I think the world of the Glazers. I think they have done a great job with Man U so there might be a little difference of opinion."
Khan, who said his takeover preserves Fulham's debt-free status, hopes the association with the Jaguars will help to attract sponsors to Fulham.
"Certainly Jacksonville coming to London, that helps getting sponsors, but I'd love for Fulham to come to Jacksonville," he said, speaking beneath midfielder Kerim Frei's jersey for the new season.
Khan avoided making any lavish claims about how much of his fortune - estimated by Forbes magazine to be $2.9 billion - will be pumped into the squad.
There were also no outlandish targets set for manager Martin Jol, whose side finished 12th in May in its 12th consecutive season in the Premier League.
Jaguars president Mark Lamping, who has become a director at Fulham, told The AP that Khan "has a philosophy of hire the best people you can" and then expect results.
Khan made sweeping changes at the Jaguars after the first season since his $760 million-takeover ended in a franchise low of 2 wins and 14 losses in 2012.
"Virtually everyone on the football side has been replaced along with over half of our roster," Lamping said. "When you don't achieve to the level you expect ... you owe it to your fans who have made an emotional commitment to your team to make changes."
And Lamping warned that the Jaguars ownership will act as decisively at Fulham.
"Give them the resources, allow them to make decisions, then hold them accountable," Lamping said.