DEBT-STRICKEN Terry Serepisos has finally lost control of Wellington Phoenix and a group of local businessmen has taken over ownership of the club this morning.
Serepisos was crippled by $200 million of debts and has had to fight a series of court cases to fend off creditors while the stocks at the A-League club have dwindled.
Just a few days out from the start of the season, Phoenix have only 17 players on their books, three less than the absolute minimum required - and coach Ricki Herbert is said to be owed $100,000 in unpaid wages.
The crisis came to a head this week when the FFA met with Serepisos and demanded to see a $2 million bond to guarantee the club's future this week.
The club insisted on Monday that the meeting was not an ultimate deadline and insisted talks would continue.
But it is believed the FFA have been focusing on an exit strategy for Serepisos and a way to bring in the local businessmen keen to get on board with the club.
Today they confirmed they had persuaded Serepisos to hand over control to the new regime.
“I feel very proud to have created this football club from scratch and I have poured all of my heart and energy into it but I have come to the conclusion that it is time to hand the licence back to FFA,” Serepisos said.
“This is not an easy decision but I feel it is the right decision in the best interests of the club, New Zealand football and especially the Phoenix fans.
“I wish the new owners all of the best in the future and I will always be extremely proud of everything Wellington Phoenix has achieved.”
FFA CEO Ben Buckley thanked Serepisos for putting the best interests of the club first and allowing it to enter an exciting new chapter in its history.
“I would like to thank Terry for the massive contribution he has made to the Hyundai A-League and New Zealand football,” Buckley said.
“Terry has been a fantastic founding owner of the Wellington Phoenix Football Club and without him the club and New Zealand football would not be in such a fantastic position.
“While we have been supportive of every effort for Terry to find a long term solution this is a selfless decision by Terry and will ensure Ricki Herbert and his players can continue their preparations for the upcoming 2011/12 season without distractions.
“I would like to take this opportunity to specifically recognise and thank Terry for his commitment and passion for the game.”
The new consortium of local businessmen headed by investment banker Rob Morrison has been granted the Wellington Phoenix licence, the FFA confirmed.
“We would like to welcome Rob and his team into the Hyundai A-League and have no doubt they will ensure Wellington Phoenix continues to prosper for the years ahead,” said Buckley.
“Having businessmen of the calibre of Rob and his team ready to invest in the club is a great testament to the standing and reputation of the Hyundai A-League and its future growth prospects.
“Securing the future of the club was Football Federation Australia’s number one priority for the fans and the stability of the Hyundai A-League and we are proud to present Rob and his team to the football family.”