IN LESS than two years, Bill Foley has already made huge strides towards building the football portfolio he envisioned.

Having completed a deal to purchase AFC Bournemouth in December 2022, his first venture into football, the American billionaire now has a financial interest in four clubs across the world.

It should come as no surprise. Foley describes himself as a “builder” and as soon as he arrived at Cherries, he laid out plans for Dorset club to be at the top of a footballing pyramid he was creating.

He said he was scouring Europe and South America, with potential destinations in Belgium and Brazil explored.

As it turns out, he has added FC Lorient of France, Hibernian in Scotland and New Zealand start-up Auckland FC, with varying degrees of shareholding.

Foley has made regular trips to BournemouthFoley has made regular trips to Bournemouth (Image: Richard Crease)

While Foley’s tenure at the helm of Cherries so far has been a roaring success – achieving a club-record Premier League points tally, playing an exciting brand of football and reaching the brink of moving into a new training ground – it has not been the same picture all across the rest of his ventures.

Around a month after purchasing Cherries from Maxim Demin, Foley acquired 33 per cent of Lorient.

Many fans were instantly upset by the move and being placed in the shadow of Bournemouth, a club they deemed to be no bigger than themselves.

Lorient went on to achieve a creditable mid-table finish in the French top flight, but Foley’s first full season with involvement in the club ended in disaster.

The club tumbled down the standings and into Ligue 2, relegated with 29 points from their 34 matches.

There is now a rebuilding mission on, with boss Régis Le Bris departing to join Sunderland and a number of players also moving on and restructuring off the pitch, with former Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny now hired as sporting director.

Regis Le Bris has recently joined SunderlandRegis Le Bris has recently joined Sunderland (Image: Richard Crease)

Towards the end of the campaign, protests ramped up, some at the club’s training ground and others at the stadium itself during matches.

To get the inside track on the situation at Lorient and what the fans think of Foley’s involvement, we spoke to Baptiste Cogné, who covers the Brittany-based club for Ouest-France.

“The season was a failure for many reasons, and relegation was a logical continuation after many bad choices,” he explained.

“In June 2023, coach Régis Le Bris had asked to leave, but the president retained him.

“But from the pre-season, the atmosphere was very heavy at the club. Then, the summer 2023 transfer window was a failure, with missed bets (Benjamin Mendy is an example).

“The coach didn't manage to create an osmosis, Romain Faivre was no longer in charge of Lorient on the pitch and left in January, a leader (Vincent Le Goff) took early retirement in the middle of the season, because he didn’t get along with the coach.

“On the pitch, Lorient never played an exciting game.

“There were plenty of reasons that explain this descent.”

Discussing the fan protests, Cogné added: “Since the arrival of Bill Foley, there have been demonstrations by supporters, the Merlus Ultras, who denounce the multi-ownership of clubs."

Ouest ran an article earlier this year, in which they spoke with Florian Le Bihan, president of the Merlus Ultras, the main group of FC Lorient supporters.

Le Bihan said: “We experienced it very badly because we immediately thought of the loss of identity.

“In the short term, we tell ourselves that we have two or three years left since Loïc Féry (the Lorient president) has always aimed for the club’s 100th anniversary goal (in 2026).

“But we know for a fact that what awaits us next will be much more uncertain, with the very likely majority takeover by Foley. This will jeopardise decades of building our club.

“His arrival has inevitably caused concern in the ranks of Lorient supporters.

“Between the rumours of his arrival and his entry into the club's capital in January 2023, it was quick, and we didn't have time to turn around, to prepare a demonstration in Lorient with the supporters.

“As a result, we released an open letter to the president to express our concerns.

“Behind it, there were several actions carried out against Bill Foley: banners in the stands, but also in town, putting up posters and the release of stickers.”

Having a club in the second tier of French football was not in Foley’s plan. He opted against investment in an unnamed European club before Lorient due to their recent relegation.

Lorient president Loic Fery has been seen at a couple of Cherries matchesLorient president Loic Fery has been seen at a couple of Cherries matches (Image: Richard Crease)

Asked what Foley has said since Lorient’s relegation, Cogné said: “Unless I missed his words, I don't think Bill Foley has spoken since the relegation of FC Lorient.”

President Féry has given a message to supporters, during a recent interview with newspaper L’Equipe.

He said: “If we have the opportunity to benefit from certain interactions with clubs that Bill Foley controls (Bournemouth in the Premier League, Hibernian in Scotland, Auckland in the Oceanian A-League), we will do it.

“But in no way does it call into question the autonomy of FC Lorient and the decision-making capacity that we have.

“The minority shareholder does not have an active role today."

Cogné added: “One thing is certain - Lorient will be very ambitious in Ligue 2, will probably have the biggest budget in the league, and wants to return to Ligue 1 very quickly.

“The club will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2026, and necessarily wants to be in Ligue 1 by then.”

In February of this year, Foley, through Black Knight Football, purchased a minority share in another club, namely Hibernian.

Foley’s second British venture saw him take 25 per cent of the Scottish Premiership outfit for £6million, shortly after the Edinburgh club had signed three players from Cherries.

Two were on loan in Emiliano Marcondes and Owen Bevan, while Nathan Moriah-Welsh joined on a permanent deal.

Emi Marcondes joined Hibs on loan from CherriesEmi Marcondes joined Hibs on loan from Cherries (Image: PA)

Hibs went on to have a disappointing end to the campaign, finishing down in eighth. They have since changed manager, bringing in David Gray to replace Nick Montgomery.

For more on what Foley could be planning at Hibs, we asked Patrick McPartlin, editor of the Hibs Observer.

“The majority stakeholders in Hibs have been the Gordon family since July 2019,” he explained.

“Patriarch Ron Gordon sadly died in February 2023 and since then his wife Kit and son Ian have been carrying on his vision for the club.

“When Bill Foley’s minority investment got the go-ahead from the Scottish football authorities, the Gordon family made clear that seeking outside investment in the form of a minority partner had always been an option - not necessarily as a priority, but something Ron had been keen to do to help advance Hibs on and off the pitch. 

“But I also think it had to be the ‘right’ type of investment; someone with a similar outlook to the Gordons, in terms of putting the club’s advancement front and centre. 

“As far as early impressions go, I think there was a lot of curiosity about why Bill Foley wanted to invest in Hibs, which gradually gave way to a broadly supportive view - from most fans.

“I think it would be fair to say that not everyone was in favour, or that some remained, and perhaps still remain, sceptical about it.

“But the Gordon family reiterated at the club’s AGM in February, when the investment got the green light from shareholders, that it wouldn’t mean a change in how decisions were made at the club and there was no chance of Hibs becoming a feeder club or a de facto B team for Bournemouth.

“I think, once they had more information and the Gordon family had reaffirmed their position, a lot of supporters looked at the quoted amount of initial investment and how it would be used and felt that it was a good way of helping take the club forward.

“Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen, however.” 

Hibs endured a disappointing seasonHibs endured a disappointing season (Image: PA)

Asked if there is hope Hibs’ fortunes could improve during the first full season with Foley involved, McPartlin added: “I think the important thing to remember is that, as minority shareholders, the Black Knights don’t have a controlling say on what happens with Hibs but with Bill Foley and Ryan Caswell sitting on the Hibs board of directors, they can put forward their suggestions and have their say. 

“The main things he has said about Hibs, although this was in January so the club’s final league position and change in manager among other factors might have forced a rethink since then, was about getting into Europe, opening more revenue sources so Hibs can be more competitive in the transfer market, work on developing homegrown players and, as a very long-term ambition, get to a position where they can ideally challenge Celtic and Rangers. 

“I’m not sure how many supporters felt Foley’s involvement was going to dramatically alter the financial landscape, but certainly club figures are mentioning, or at the very least hinting, that the Black Knights’ investment has the potential to help land one or two signings that might otherwise be out of reach.

“There was also talk of improving the infrastructure at the club but again, the financial position after failing to finish in the top half of the table could well impact that as well. 

“So I think it would be fair to say that there was an initial excitement which has since been replaced by a very cautious optimism in light of league placing and managerial change, but ultimately it looks we’ll have to wait and see exactly the impact their involvement will have.”

Asked if any Hibs supporters followed the trail of though from Lorient fans not being happy with the idea of being part of a multi-club model with Cherries at the top of the chain, McPartlin said: “Very early on, senior figures at Hibs were stressing that the Black Knights’ involvement would not mean the club turning into a Bournemouth B team and reassuring supporters that key decisions on recruitment, for example, would still be made by Hibs and not with any overarching input from Bournemouth.

“Naturally, with Bill Foley and Ryan Caswell on the Hibs board, they can have a say in matters but in the end it will be majority decisions and not a case of the Black Knights having the final say. 

“There have been some reservations voiced by Hibs supporters about the involvement of the Black Knights and this connection with Bournemouth.

“But I think with other clubs in the group and suggestions Foley may look to add more to his portfolio, many fans are satisfied that it’s not as if Hibs are becoming a feeder team for Bournemouth, or will get forced to take Cherries players on loan without having a say in the matter. 

“I think having a close link will certainly be beneficial, particularly when it comes to loan players or wanting younger players to experience different environments.

“It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Hibs are seeking a particular profile of player and if Bournemouth or Lorient have a player that ticks all or most of the boxes, a deal could be done with relative ease, and the same in reverse. 

“I don’t think it’s a huge surprise that the Hibs hierarchy have been keen to paint this as a big positive, while also seeking to allay any fears that fans might have.

“But, as is the case with a lot of things in football, the proof is in the pudding and with the link a bit more established now than it was, I suspect we may well see a bit more of the partnership at work as the season wears on.”

While Foley holds just a minority share in both Lorient and Hibs, he has a brand new venture to get his teeth stuck into in Auckland.

Having bought the club in November 2023 and acquired a licence to compete in A-League, Foley, like he did with ice hockey team Vegas Golden Knights, will now build the club up from scratch.

If it goes anywhere near as well as it has with the 2023 Stanley Cup champions, Foley will have done a good job.

In building a roster, Auckland began by signing up a clutch of homegrown players from the city itself.

At the time of writing, they are now up to 10 signings ahead of the new A-League season. They become the second New Zealand-based club in the division, alongside Wellington Phoenix.

Foley has previous business experience in the country, as part of his non-sporting ventures with Foley Wines.

Cherries chairman Foley is building a new squad in AucklandCherries chairman Foley is building a new squad in Auckland (Image: Richard Crease)

Discussing the American’s arrival into the A-League, we spoke with Auckland-based journalist Michael Burgess, who has been working for the New Zealand Herald for more than 20 years.

“He’s a bit of a hero here, to be honest,” Burgess explained, when asked what has been made of Foley’s arrival.

“In Auckland, we’ve been waiting a long time to have a professional club again.

“We lost a club in 2006, when the license went to Wellington.

“For a long time, Auckland has been one of the biggest cities in the world, two million people, without a professional football club. So we’ve been waiting.

“This guy that no-one really knew much about, apart from the fact he owned a lot of wineries and restaurants in New Zealand, has come in, paid for the licence, started the club, but not just that, he’s made a lot of promises.

“He’s said they’re going to spend the full salary cup, they’re not going to cut any corners, he wants to build a team that can go really well. So people so far are thinking this guy is brilliant.

“They’ve also looked at what he’s done with Bournemouth and can see he is turning Bournemouth into a very solid Premier League team.

“They’ve also looked at what he’s done with the Vegas Golden Knights. So there’s a lot of excitement about Foley.”

Burgess added: “There’s been talk about how Auckland FC will be using Bournemouth’s scouting system to pick up some marquee foreign players.

“Bournemouth will identify all these players, and the ones they don’t want, they can tell Auckland about them.

“So Auckland are over the moon about the fact they’ve got access as part of this ladder.

“Wellington, conversely, are a bit worried. Their fans are thinking Auckland are going to get all this help from Bournemouth.

“So Bournemouth has certainly become a lot more well-known because of all the interest in Bill Foley and Auckland FC.

“I guess the only concern is we’re wondering how he can divide his time between so many sporting interests, because Bournemouth by itself must take up a lot of time and energy.”