NEW Leyton Orient director of football Martin Ling has reassured fans the club are in safe hands with their new owners – and can aim for League One in the long-term.
The disastrous three-year reign of Italian owner Francesco Becchetti, who oversaw two relegations, finally came to an end last week when it was announced that the club had been purchased by Eagle Investments 2017 Limited.
The consortium is headed by Nigel Travis, 67, the chairman and CEO of Dunkin’ Brands Inc., the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts, and a life-long fan of the O’s.
Travis will be chairman, while main investor Kent Teague, from Dallas, will be one of the directors.
After such a tumultuous time under Becchetti, which left supporters fearing for the club’s existence, Ling feels the fans can breathe easy under their new regime.
The delighted former O’s player and manager told The NLP: “When I met them it just felt right – that was my gut feeling. They are ambitious but with realistic targets, enthusiastic, and there’s a real love and passion for the club.
“They aren’t saying, ‘We are giving you £10m’, but they have put a structured plan in place. One of the main things is that Nigel has been supporting the club for 60 years. Kent has bought into that.
“They know that good business sense can be transferred into football and they want to put the right people in the right places. All the supporters can be relaxed that they have the right people in charge.”
After more than a century in the Football League, the O’s are preparing for their debut season in the National League – but Ling believes there is no reason why they can’t climb back up to League One in the coming seasons.
“The owners want to take the club back to where it was and League One is possible – I took the club there in the past,” said the 50-year-old.
“The difference now is that we’re starting from a lower base and want to take it a step at a time.”
So will the O’s be able to make an immediate return to the Football League? Ling is optimistic but realistic.
“We haven’t got a lot of staff and players at the moment and we’re going to have a busy few weeks, but anything is possible,” said Ling, who will be seeking to appoint a head coach to take charge of team affairs.
“There will be bigger budgets in the league but ours will be one of the best. If we can overachieve with that, we can end as number one.”
However, Ling admitted that the O’s face a race against time to be ready for the start of the season.
“There could be some signings before the head coach comes in because we are going to lose out on players otherwise,” he said. “We’ll have to take some short-cuts, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take off or flourish.
“The situation we are in makes it more difficult to be successful this season, but you can never write off what you can do until you give it a go.”
Consortium leader Travis made the right noises in his opening address to the club’s supporters.
“I have been a passionate Leyton Orient supporter for my entire life and feel a great sense of responsibility to the players, the staff, the fans and the community,” he said.
“We have challenges in front of us, and I am not under-estimating those. However, over the long-term, we believe we can return the club to the Football League.”
Unsurprisingly, the Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust have expressed their delight at the takeover.
LOFT vice-chairman Tom Davies told The NLP: “We are very, very pleased and relieved – we’ve got our club back. It feels like a promotion!
“It’s been a turbulent summer and even this week the fans were thinking ‘we’re doomed’. All the early signs from the new consortium seem to be positive. They’re talking about supporter representation on the board and engaging with fans, and they’ve appointed Martin Ling as director of football – he’s a huge favourite.
“There’s a long way to go and a relationship to establish with the new owners, but everyone is happy.”
As for the departing Becchetti, Davies added: “I’m glad he’s seen sense and realised there was nowhere left to go. The way he had run the club had been a disaster.”
Becchetti has insisted he has left the club on a sound financial footing.
“I invested a great deal in the club in good faith and have delivered the club to Nigel Travis and his consortium without any debts to the banks, without arrears for taxes and salaries and in a normal situation with its suppliers,” he said.
“This is a position from which it can grow.”
Meanwhile, Omer Riza, 37, who managed the O’s in the run-in last season, has confirmed that he has applied for the manager’s job.