SALFORD Red Devils owner Dr Marwan Koukash has taken drastic measures to turn the club’s financial performances around, as he feels it has been ‘performing like a corner shop’ until recently.
The club are preparing for the 2016 season both on and off the field and the Kuwait-born businessman has appointed himself as CEO, in an attempt to drive their financial goals forward.
“I need to have a more hands on approach, like I do with my other businesses,” he commented on his self-appointment.
“The club is probably the only business I have not really been involved in and I am not particularly happy about the way it has performed as a business recently, and the way it had acted recently.
“I’m not going to be able to change things over night, it is going to take time, but hopefully on the 1st of January when we release our new website and our new approach to rugby league it is going to make people stand up and take notice of what we’re doing.
“You’ll start seeing the changes next year.”
As well as becoming more involved in the running of the club, Marwan is building a commercial team he is confident can improve Salford as a business.
“The business arm, or the commercial arm, of the club needs to perform better.
Right now, probably until recently, it has been performing like a corner shop. We need to treat it as a business and it needs to succeed as a business so it can continue to support the rugby side.
“A large investment, or a big investment, has been made there also to attract the right calibre of people to make the club more sustainable, more successful, so it can sustain the expenses of the rugby.”
He also insisted the Martin Vickers, the club’s former CEO, will not be leaving and will be involved in the club moving forward.
Just like the playing squad though, the members of his commercial unit will be judged on performance and will be left behind if their contribution isn’t up to standards.
“Martin Vickers, like everybody else at the club, will be given other roles to do to perform within that commercial unit and everybody has to perform,” he confirmed.
“Whoever you are, if you don’t perform then you can’t expect to be carried by the business, you need to contribute to the business success.”
The Red Devils have spent a lot of money on player recruitment over the past three seasons with little reward, failing to make the play-offs on each occasion.
A lot of impressive talents have found their way through the revolving door at the club, yet it is his capture of a Director of Rugby which he feels is their best.
“It is not me who put that squad together it’s the boss who did, and when I say ‘the boss’ I’m talking about Tim Sheens. Tim will look after the rugby totally.
“That unit will run independent to the rest of the club. Tim will make all of the decisions, it has nothing to do with me, so the fact that I have trusted him to do is my belief in whatever he does will be the right decision on behalf of the team and the club.
“I think Tim is the biggest and the best signing Salford have made. And what you see in that squad is a number of players who are attracted to the club because they wanted to learn from somebody like Tim, and they want to be in the environment with him.
“Now, have we finished recruiting? No we haven’t finished, but we will only sign players of that calibre, people who really want to play for the club and to give 100 percent.”
Those players are motivated by more than money, according to the owner, as he confirmed that his former squad was made up of players who ‘came to the club because we paid them inflated salaries’.
Last season they had to fight for their Super League future after an 11th placed finish pitted them against the top four of the Championship in the middle 8’s. Coach Ian Watson eventually led the team to third place and a guarantee of top flight rugby league in 2016.
Despite disappointing results since his takeover, ‘The Doctor’ feels that Sheens has found the secret ingredient to sustained success on the pitch.
“In soccer you need the talent, in rugby league what you need is hard working players who will always do better for you than talented players who don’t work as hard.
“As an owner of the club, I admit to some mistakes that I have made in employing certain people who made decisions on my behalf. I have learned from those mistakes and we move on.
“I demonstrated that yes we could bring in talent players, but did the talented players win games for me? No they haven’t.
“People say to me, ‘why did we get rid of the likes of Cory Paterson, Kevin Locke, Gareth Hock, Rangi Chase and so on’. They are very talented players but I remind these people that they are the very players who have only enabled our club to finish 11th in the league this year.
“And like I have said, what you really need is hard working players who want to succeed in the sport.”
He claims it is one of the youngest squads in the competition, however it still boasts a former Super League winner in Mark Flannagan and includes Robert Lui, who was a member of the North Queensland Cowboys NRL winning squad of 2015.
With the majority under 25 though, the aim is not to shoot for the stars as they did in previous seasons, the simple goal for 2016 is to secure Super League rugby for the following year.
A top eight finish would guarantee that, but an improvement as simple as picking up one more win than in their previous campaign will be enough, as Salford look to create a consistent group of players with the current squad at the heart of it.
“Any progress those guys make next year will be a real progress.
“Now I have been with them, and although I am not an expert on emotional intelligence, I know when somebody really wants to play for the club and wants to prove a point.
“This group of boys we have got now I am very, very proud to be associated with them because every single one of them will give 100 percent effort and that is all that you want from them.
“Results will follow if you put in 100 percent effort.”
Back in 2013 when Koukash purchased the club he was a newcomer to the sport, a sport which he ‘fell in love with’ almost instantly, and he claimed that ‘no other club as the potential of Salford’.
The reality is that they haven’t scratched the surface in terms of realising that potential, yet that hasn’t wavered his faith in the club and the impact it could make within rugby league.
“I still strongly believe that the club, and I am not just talking about the team, could become the biggest club in England.
“With all due respect clubs like Wigan, St Helens, Widnes and Warrington are small regions compared to where we sit.
“We can reach not just businesses in Salford, we can reach the whole area of Manchester.
“Not far away from us are the Quays for example, think of the numerous businesses there, we need to reach out to them and we need to attract them to come to the stadium.”
The AJ Bell Stadium has struggled in terms of attendances since the club moved there in 2012, but the plans he has in place could see fans finally flock to watch the Red Devils in action.
“In January once the website is published and you see the different products that we have, we will try to make rugby part of an event and part of a good Friday night out or a Thursday night out.
“Where people will come to our stadium and enjoy not just the rugby but the other things which are going in within or around the stadium. There is a huge potential there but unfortunately we did realise that potential.”
Fans will feel that a re-structure commercially is well needed, and if the plans ‘The Doctor’ has in place are effective we could finally see Salford Red Devils challenge the big clubs, both on and off the field.
By Sean Hayes