By Nomfundo Mcetywa
KwaZulu Natal is set to have a third team in the Premier Soccer League after a Swedish-owned consortium, Thanda Group, which also owns the Thanda Private Game Reserve in Hluhluwe, bought Benoni Premier United.
Pierre Delvaux, Chief Executive and vice-Chairperson of Thanda Group in South Africa, confirmed his company and a number of Swedish businessmen, including former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, had bought the Johannesburg soccer club, and would relocate it to KwaZulu-Natal.
The Thanda Group is owned by Swedish IT software businessman Dan Oloffsson.
Delvaux refused to say what they had paid for the club.
Benoni boss, Dumisani Ndlovu, refused to comment. However, in an interview with Kickoff magazine, he confirmed that he had sold his club after receiving an offer that was "too good to turn down".
Earlier media reports said that the club had been sold for R50-million.
The team, which Delvaux has vowed to turn into a "world-class institution", will be coached by former Sierra Leone, DR Congo and Rwanda coach, Roger Palmgren, with the assistance of Eriksson's son, Johan.
Delvaux said they had notified the PSL the sale late on Friday and hoped approval would be given before the team played its first PSL match against Kaizer Chiefs on Wednesday, at the Germiston stadium.
On Saturday, PSL bosses said they still hadn't received any official word about the club being sold and had only received a request from Ndlovu to have the club relocated to KwaZulu-Natal.
"I was at the office until 6pm on Friday and we still hadn't received any notification," said PSL Operations Manager Ronnie Schloss.
"As far as we are concerned the club is still owned by Ndlovu. We've heard people talking about the club being sold but nothing official has come our way," he said.
Despite the deal not having been finalised, Delvaux said the club had already secured Durban's Absa stadium as its new home ground, and would apply to the PSL to change its name to Thanda Royal Zulu Football club.
"The PSL has already agreed to the team relocating to KZN. We hope that they will approve the name change and accept the contribution we are trying to make in advancing soccer in the country," said Delvaux.
Brian van Zyl, chief executive of the Sharks, said discussions on Thanda using the Shark Tank were still ongoing and that nothing had been finalised.
"Yes, we like the idea, because we believe we can add value for our suite holders, and ultimately all stakeholders," he said. "It's good for the stadium, which is at this stage a multi-purpose stadium."
According to the PSL's constitution, if a team is bought by a new owner it can change its name and headquarters only after 12 months.
Schloss said they had allowed Benoni to relocate to Durban only because of a shortage of stadiums in Gauteng, where many facilities were being revamped for the 2010 World Cup.
He said a club couldn't be sold without the official approval of the PSL's executive committee. The deal would need further approval from the South African Football Association (Safa), as the club was being bought by foreigners.
"The sale would be thoroughly scrutinised - including ensuring that existing contracts with players are honoured before it gets approved," said Schloss.
Both coaches of the team, Palmgren and Eriksson, are already in Durban.
They were at Chatsworth stadium on Saturday, as the team was playing a friendly against local PSL side Golden Arrows.
Eriksson said he was happy to be in the country. "More than that I can't comment, until we are formally announced as the coaches," said Eriksson jnr.
Palmgren is a close friend of the Eriksson family and was mentored by the former England coach.
Delvaux said Sven-Goran Eriksson, currently coaching Manchester City, would work closely with the team.
"He will pretty much be hands on with the team. We'll also bring in the best international expertise to help us build a strong team. It is time that KZN had a strong team, which has a good administration.
"We want to build an international brand, which will be run professionally with high work ethics. We want to make this team as successful as our game reserve, which has received many accolades internationally," said Delvaux.
The club is set to follow Mamelodi Sundowns, owned by mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, as Delvaux said they would lure "top players" in their bid to become a "world class" football team.
"Obviously Sven-Goran Eriksson has some good contacts in football, being coach of Manchester City, so he can help us get some good-quality players. We will, however, be keeping all of Benoni's original players and add a few more to strengthen the team.
"But our main objective is to build an academy which will help South Africa develop quality players.
"We want to identify youngsters with potential and help develop them by ensuring they have all the resources they need to develop as players," said Delvaux.
Players who perform well in the team will be given a chance to go for trials in the English league through Sven-Goran Eriksson's contacts.
This is not the first time Sven-Goran Eriksson has tried to buy a South African soccer team. Several months ago he made a bid to buy the newly promoted Mvela Golden League side, Hanover Park, but had his offer rejected.
This is not the first time that KZN has acquired a team via the back door. AmaZulu had to buy the PSL status of Dynamos to play in the top league. Maritzburg United also clawed their way into playing in the PSL by buying the status of Tembisa Classic in 2005. They were, however, relegated last season.
The Thanda group has already been playing a role in developing soccer in Northern KwaZulu-Natal through their Star Schools project, through which they sponsor school teams in the Mkhanyakude district.
The foundation recently held a schools cup, whose winners were taken to participate in the Gothia cup in Sweden.