LONDON (AP) — Standing on Fulham’s field next to the River Thames, Shad Khan quickly discovered that the issues Premier League owners must tackle extend far beyond soccer.
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 on Saturday was about Michael Jackson.
Yes, the late “King of Pop.”
A statue of Jackson sits outside Fulham’s Craven Cottage stadium, commissioned after the star’s death in 2009 by Mohamed Al Fayed in one of the most contentious decisions of his 18-year ownership.
Now that the Cottagers have been sold, might the statue be removed?
“I’ve been an owner less than a day,” he said, 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 his fortune in the automotive industry after moving to the U.S. from Pakistan. He bought the Jaguars in 2011 and now Fulham in a deal thought 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 day of rare scorching heat in London.
The takeover was wrapped up swiftly ahead of Fulham’s Aug. 17 opener at Sunderland 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. The Jaguars will play regular- season games at Wembley Stadium for four consecutive seasons starting with an Oct. 27 meeting against the San Francisco 49ers.
“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 locker 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 six of the 20 current Premier League clubs have American ownership, including four with 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 Glazer family controls both Manchester United and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Khan said the abuse directed by some United fans at the Glazers over the debt they added to 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 said his takeover preserves Fulham’s debt-free status and hopes the association with the Jaguars will help to attract sponsors to the Cottagers.
“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.
Khan avoided making any lavish claims about how much of his fortune — estimated by Forbes magazine to be $2.9 billion — will be invested.
There were also no outlandish targets set for manager Martin Jol, whose team finished 12th this year 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 following his $760 million-takeover ended in a franchise-worst 2-14 record 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.
Rob Harris can be reached at www.twitter.com/RobHarris