LONDON (AP) — Prospective Wembley owner Shahid Khan wants to host 2030 World Cup matches and has assured the English Football Association the national stadium can remain the centerpiece of major tournaments if the sale is completed.
England has been exploring a bid for the 2030 centenary World Cup but is yet to say if it will challenge the early applicant from maiden host Uruguay, which has launched a joint campaign with Argentina and Paraguay.
Khan told The Associated Press that “very preliminary talks” have been held with the FA about bidding for the FIFA tournament. The 90,000-capacity Wembley, which would be required for the final, is already due to host seven games at the continent-wide European Championship in 2020, including the last three games. England is also vying to host the Women’s European Championship in 2021.
“We would want it to host the World Cup and anything else that is available,” Khan said in a telephone interview. “The FA still has key assets there they will be getting revenue off. All of us will be aligned to use it and build on the heritage of the place.”
Khan, who also owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and London soccer team Fulham, hopes his purchase of Wembley from the FA goes through in two to three months after a period of due diligence.
“We are going to be perfectly aligned (with the FA) … on all the important issues,” Khan said.
The FA is still expecting to have use of the national stadium for England games and major cup finals, even if the sale goes through for a price of around 600 million pounds ($840 million).
“Wembley is still going to be an iconic British stadium,” Khan said. “We are going to be investing more in it to keep it right up to the leading edge of game-day experience.”
There was a large backlash when Wembley’s distinctive white twin towers were demolished to make way for the new Norman Foster-designed stadium, which opened in 2007 featuring a “Triumphant Arch” towering 400 feet above the venue.
The reaction has been less hostile to the FA’s plans to sell a facility it has owned for only the last two decades as it oversaw the reconstruction at a cost of 800 million pounds.
Gordon Banks, the goalkeeper who helped England win the World Cup in 1966 at Wembley, fears NFL fixtures might take precedence over games for the national soccer team.
“It was a very special place and I don’t think we should be selling it,” Banks wrote in The Sun newspaper. “Football’s gone wild with the money right now. I think it’s spoiling the game a bit.”
The Sun was one of four British newspapers to use their front or back pages on Friday to gather criticism of the proposed sale, saying “fury erupted.”
The Daily Express headline asked, “Is nothing sacred? How on earth can the FA even think of selling Wembley Stadium when your money paid to build it twice.”
The Daily Star launched a campaign to “Save Our Stadium,” and the Daily Mirror said the FA was “selling football’s soul” by selling the “home of the English game to an American billionaire.”
Aware he might have to overcome resistance to the deal, Khan knows emotions run high when it comes to the scene of English soccer’s greatest triumph in 1966.
“Obviously it has history and you have to respect it,” Khan said. “When it comes to a transaction it’s a lot of money but it’s not the most money I’ve spent. I’ve spent a lot more money investing in auto factories in the last 12 months.”
Khan built his fortune in the automotive industry after moving to the U.S. from Pakistan. He bought the Jaguars in 2011 and secured a deal to play annual NFL regular season games in London. The sports portfolio was expanded with the buyout of Fulham in 2013.
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports