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Who is Mr. Zingarevich?

Anton Zingarevich, a 29-year-old businessman from Saint Petersburg, recently completed the takeover of the English Championship side Reading. Thus he became the fifth Russian shareholder of a British club, following the footsteps of Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov, Maxim Demin, and Vladimir Antonov. Sports.ru correspondents Denis Romantsov and Vladislav Voronin decided to ask him a few questions about his past, as well as to find out what the regular English fans think about yet another Russian fat cat in the Premier League. Finally, our duo compiled a list of five more «sons of oligarchs» in Russia, who decided to try themselves in the business of football.

«They have a right to invest their money where they like, but, naturally, it would be better for them to help sport in their own country. It would be more patriotic and would produce more positive results. They make their money in this country, so let them spend it here as well,»

Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Putin at a meeting with football fans, January 19.


Anton Zingarevich

29 years old

Graduated at Cass Business school at City University London, where he studied sports management. Took an internship at investment fund called Fortress Sports Fund.

Bachelor’s degree at Regents Business School.

Vice-president at Ener1, a company specializing in the production of lithium-ion batteries for the automotive industry.

Founder of Zyla Networks, a US-based company that specializes in the development of popular smartphone app Friends Around. Co-founder of another mobile app developer, Karma World.

Fan of Zenit St. Petersburg

Favourite groups on VK.com, Facebook’s Russian lookalike: RUSSIAN ELITE, VIP PRESENTS, I love Monaco, and Cool Football.

Son of Boris Zingarevich, a prominent St. Petersburg businessman, whose net worth is estimated at $750 million, earning him 130th place in the Forbes rich list. He is the co-owner of business group Ilim and former business partner of current Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. Ten years ago he was given an offer to buy Zenit, but the club was eventually purchased by state company Gazprom.

Married to Belarusian supermodel Yekaterina Domankova. Their wedding took place 2.5 years ago. Zingarevich’s wife lifted the curtain over his personal life a little, telling Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda how she met the young millionaire:

«Anton saw my photos and asked his friend to introduce us. We started chatting on Odnoklassniki [another Russian social network – Sports.ru] and then met in New York. I lived in NY at the time, while he was based in Miami. At first we were in the company of our friends, but then went out to a club, just the two of us. We talked for a while and afterwards I called my mum saying: «I think I’m going to marry this guy!» Of course, she was sceptical at first – I was only 19 and calling from a nightclub, but I immediately felt a connection to him.»

«Did he know you were a model?»

«Yes, he realised that from looking at my photos.»

England on Zingarevich

Chris Samuelson, Zingarevich’s assistant at THAMES Sports Investment’s:

«Why did Anton choose Reading? It is an ideal club for him. It’s got a great supporter base, a magnificent stadium, a good team, all ideal, and no debt. It really belongs in the Premier League, we have to get it back there which of course will take time, who knows when that can happen. The first thing is to invest in the squad and that’s one thing that we are to provide some money towards. This was Anton’s dream – to come in, find a football club that he could back and help grow.»

His bond with Reading formed in an almost fairytale-like fashion. Back in the nineties Zingarevich, a student at a local college, would go to watch the club at Elm Park. This tiny arena, built in end of the 19th century, was home to Reading up until 1998. Even if this story is just a fancy tale for the public, it is a smart move: the local crowd would always have more respect for a longstanding fan, than for just another random foreigner with bags of cash.

Stephen Aiano, Zingarevich’s head teacher at Bearwood college in Reading:

«We are proud that Anton Zingarevich was a scholar at Bearwood College from 1998 to 2000. Our scholars and staff are big Reading Football Club supporters and we are delighted that a Bearwood Old Royal – one of our alumni – is taking up such an active role locally.»

Yet even such poignant stories don’t stop people from taking a peak into the 29-year-old’s past. Some call him the darling of fortune, but most observers agree he is a very mysterious character, whose plans for the future remain unclear.

Chris Brady, financial expert at the BBC:

«The father of Anton – Boris – is the real money guy. Anton is only 29 and is using his father’s money. I know Boris has been sniffing around English football for about the last seven or eight years and made one tentative bid for a Premier League club a few years ago. The interest in Reading comes from his son who went to college and university in the town. As for the financial side of things, Reading fans should be cautiously optimistic. I can’t see billions being spent.»

Zingarevich’s arrival to the club is shrouded in mystery. The negotiations with the club were kept secret; his name was kept away from the general public until a deal was struck. The sides met in Milan as Zingarevich still requires a British visa, everyone kept quiet. It is no wonder that some prefer a cautious approach, suggesting Reading fans may not want to start the celebrations just yet.

Tim Dellor, BBC journalist:

«As usual in these circumstances, the middle ground of cautious optimism is probably the most sensible approach. There are too many unknowns for Reading fans to celebrate, but at the same time an injection of cash and a few new players, or at worst an ability to keep the current squad intact, must be a good thing.

The ideal scenario would have been Sir John Madejski to have stumbled across a billion pounds. Uniquely Reading fans like their chairman. He is local, does not interfere with the football, is friendly, successful and dependable. They would have preferred him at the helm, and his money, but sadly good things must come to an end. The fear is this Russian tycoon’s roubles becoming trouble.»

In fairness, Zingarevich is not radical enough to attempt kicking Sir John, who is massively important to Reading, out on the streets. The Russian seems to truly believe he can maintain the club’s ethos and build on its history and traditions.

Adam Federici, Reading goalkeeper:

«We had heard a few whispers before the game. The chairman has said he’s still the chairman and nothing will change, I know no more than that. We don’t really worry ourselves about that kind of thing. I don’t think it’s going to be a Man City style takeover where we go and buy everyone, unfortunately! If we get a few more players that would be fantastic. It would be nice to have that investment, we don’t know how much, we just know not much is going to change.»

John Madejski, chairman of Reading:

«This guy is not like Abramovich one little bit. The club is going to be run exactly the same way as it always has been. If people think that all of a sudden because we have Anton Zingarevich on board we’re going to be spending money like drunken sailors, they’re totally wrong. This will give us the opportunity to strengthen the squad.

And the thing that convinced me about it further was that they want the ethos of the club to stay exactly how it is. They’re not going to come in here and throw money around like idiots, they want to carry on in the same way.»

Zingarevich’s 4-step program to success:

1. Make the club profitable

Last year Reading was failing financially, making a downturn of £5.3 million. With this in mind, the financial fair-play regulations may be the least of the club’s worries, but the key is that for Zingarevich Reading is just a business project. «Reading is not a hobby for me, it’s an investment», he recently told one of the Russian newspapers.

2. Maintain club ethos and keep the backbone of the squad

The first steps in this direction have already been made: Madejski will remain the club’s chairman and the stadium will keep its name, even though renaming it may have been beneficial. The top players will also remain in the team.

«Hopefully, we won’t have to sell our best players now, which is so important. That’s all I’ve wanted to do, if you can keep your best players and add a couple now and then, it’s a recipe for success,» said Reading manager Brian McDermott.

3. Develop the youth academy

One can see the kind of state the current youth system is in just by looking at its page on the club’s official website: it has no recent news, just a few notices from year 2008. What needs to be done? The first aim is to bring the academy into the top category, which requires annual funds in the region of £2.5 million. That would provide new facilities and more intensive training methods – a luxury not many clubs can afford.

«We will invest in the Academy and scouting system of the club and this is investing in the grassroots to create the values in football. The current youth and scouting structure is already working well, we just need to improve it and continue to grow. That is the most effective way to succeed,» insists Chris Samuelson of TSI.

4. Keep the wage bill down

The last of the takeover’s key conditions is the establishment of strict regulations of the players’ wage structure – it cannot be subject to sudden shifts.

«If we don’t take a cautious approach to the financial aspects, the club will go bankrupt. Reading is going to spend wisely, and it is no longer going to need to sell its top players in order to stay afloat,» insists Samuelson.


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