Milan Mandari? at the Walkers Stadium on 30 July 2007
Milan Mandari? (Serbian Cyrillic: ; born 5 September 1938) is a Serbian-American businessman who has owned a string of businesses and association football clubs, including Portsmouth, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday. He was born near Gospi?, Kingdom of Yugoslavia (today Croatia), and grew up in Novi Sad, Serbia.
Mandari? took control of his father's machine shop aged 21, and by the age of 26 had turned it into one of the largest businesses in the country. His homeland of Yugoslavia was a socialist country where successful business owners and affluent people in general were considered to represent a political threat to the ruling communist party regime, which is why he and his family left the country.
In 1969, worried by the Yugoslav government's view of his business, Mandari? left Yugoslavia and settled in the United States. He had to leave most of his fortune behind, and got a job for an American computer component manufacturer in California. When two of the senior managers left to start their own firm, Mandari? was invited to be their third partner. The firm was successful, but disagreements over manufacturing processes led to Mandari? leaving to form his own company, Lika Corporation, in 1971. In 1976, he became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. By 1976, Lika Corp. was the largest manufacturer of computer components in the U.S., and Mandari? was pioneering the boom that led to the creation of California's Silicon Valley. He sold the company to the Tandy Corporation in 1980 and set up a new company, Sanmina, which manufactured printed circuit boards. In 2001, the company acquired SCI Systems, a much larger competitor, becoming Sanmina-SCI Corporation. Mandari? also began branching out into investment banking operations, such as Behrman Capital. He also became owner of the St. Louis Storm, a Major Indoor Soccer League franchise which ceased operations in 1992 when the MISL also folded. He was ranked 1,049 in the times top 2,000 rich list, worth £75 million.
Around the same time he had begun using his money to invest in football, Mandari?'s passion since childhood (as a young man he had played for Novi Sad). He set up firstly F.C. Lika, then San Jose Earthquakes which played in the United States' first professional league. In 1978, he purchased a North American Soccer League franchise called the Connecticut Bicentennials and moved them to Oakland, California, to play as the Stompers. After one year in the East Bay, the team was moved to Edmonton, Alberta, to become the Drillers.
After struggling for a number of years in the second tier of English football (now the EFL Championship), Portsmouth won promotion as champions to the Premier League, arguably the richest football division in the world. This was due in large part to Mandari?'s appointment of the experienced manager Harry Redknapp. Mandari? appointed Velimir Zajec as executive director, a move which caused tension between Redknapp and Mandari?. Shortly afterwards, Redknapp resigned from Portsmouth.
In January 2006, Mandari? sold a 50% stake in the club to French-Israeli businessman Alexandre Gaydamak. After the club's survival that season, Mandari? sold his remaining share of Portsmouth to Gaydamak, but stayed on as a figurehead in his role as non-executive chairman.
Mandari? resigned as chairman of Portsmouth on 21 September 2006. Since then, Portsmouth appeared to prosper, with successive top-ten Premier League finishes and an FA Cup win in 2008. The club, however, was relegated in 2010 and have since dropped dramatically, suffering the ignominy of successive relegation in 2011-12 and 2012-13, ending in the fourth tier of English football, League Two.
On 24 February, Mandari? made a bid for East Midlands club Leicester City, believed to be in the region of £25 million. He had wanted to remain outside of football for a longer period, however he "had to accelerate takeover plans" because of bids for the club by at least two other parties. On 18 November 2006, Leicester City accepted his approach to take over the club at an extraordinary general meeting.
Despite setting an initial takeover deadline of 15 December, negotiations stalled, reportedly after hidden debts in the club's accounts surfaced during the due diligence period. Both parties, however, dismissed reports that the takeover bid was in danger of collapse, stating that it had merely been delayed. Indeed, on 2 January the Leicester Mercury reported that the deal was in fact close to completion after Mandari?'s revised terms were accepted by the club's board. On 15 January, the paper reported that an official announcement confirming the takeover "will probably be on Thursday".
On 25 January, Mandari? put his bid for Leicester on temporary hold after news of his mother's illness back in Serbia. There were wild rumours that suggested he was on the verge of pulling out and, indeed, the delay guaranteed that manager Rob Kelly would not enjoy the benefit of a cash injection before the season's transfer window closed on 31 January. Mandari?, however, returned from Serbia to complete the deal the following week.
On 13 February 2007, Mandari? was officially unveiled as owner of Leicester City. However, that the club were still a public limited company (PLC) meant he did not acquire the title of chairman for a further 23 days. In April 2007, he sacked manager Kelly and replaced him with Nigel Worthington as caretaker manager for the last five games of the season. At the end of the season, Martin Allen was named the club's new permanent manager but Allen left after only three months in charge in August as a result of deteriorating relations with Mandari?.Gary Megson was then appointed in September, becoming the third manager since Mandari? took over the club. Megson left after only six weeks in charge to take control of Premier League team Bolton Wanderers. Ian Holloway was Mandari?'s fourth permanent manager, appointed in November 2007. Leicester, however, was relegated to League One at the end of the season for the first time in the club's history; many observers attributed this to the large turnover in managers since Mandari? took control of the club.
After tumultuous times, however, things started to look up for Mandari? in the form of Leicester being crowned champions of League One on 18 April 2009 under the stewardship of Nigel Pearson. The Foxes came close to achieving a second successive promotion the following season (something not achieved by any club at this level for a decade) as they finished fifth in the Championship but lost to Cardiff City in the playoff semi-finals.
During the close season, it was reported that Mandari? had agreed to sell Leicester City to a consortium of Thai businessmen, but these reports were swiftly denied by club officials. Just weeks later, however, he sold the club for a reported £40 million to Vichai Raksriaksorn and his son Aiyawatt. It later emerged that Mandari? was a shareholder in the consortium and he was re-appointed chairman.
On 29 November 2010, Mandari? agreed to purchase Sheffield Wednesday. The purchase was completed after an extraordinary general meeting of Sheffield Wednesday shareholders on 14 December 2010, during which 99.7% of shareholders voted to sell the company to Mandari?'s UK Football Investments for £1. Mandari? had agreed to settle the club's outstanding debts as part of the largely confidential deal. Mandari? also stepped down as chairman of Leicester City, due to Football League rules preventing him from being the Chairman of two different clubs.
On 15 June 2015 Milan Mandari? agreed to purchase NK Olimpija Ljubljana from Izet Rastorder for about 4 million euros. He was very successful in his first 2015/2016 season and managed to win the league title with Olimpija, finishing 6 points ahead of fierce rivals NK Maribor. In his third season, 2017/2018, Olimpija won the double, both the championship and the cup.