Birighitti re-signs, Bozanic on radar as Charlesworth continues search for Mariners buyer

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Central Coast Mariners have re-signed goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and are in talks with former star Oliver Bozanic, as owner Mike Charlesworth continues his quest to nail down a buyer for the club.

Despite reports linking Sydney-based investor Abdul Helou with an imminent takeover, London-based Charlesworth says he “continues to plan for next season” in lieu of a cashed-up successor emerging.

Having put the Mariners up for sale in August, Charlesworth believes the financial upheaval triggered by the coronavirus pandemic has made finding serious investors increasingly challenging.

And he vowed not simply hand back to the FFA an A-League licence he’s believed to value at around $5 million.

In addition to the interest from Helou - which has yet to yield a tangible commitment- existing kit sponsor MATE are interested in taking a staged stake in the club.

The Australian-owned and operated telco provider recently partnered with former Mariners goalkeeper and current Socceroo Mat Ryan, and are looking at ways of boosting brand recognition.

Charlesworth declined to comment on negotiations with any of the interested parties, but did tell The World Game: “We’re preparing for next season as if this club is not going to be sold because that’s what you have to do.

“It’s always been an important part of the process that we find the right buyer.

“I want to hand this club over to someone who I believe in and someone who can take the club forward ... the right kind of person.

“If we can’t accomplish that we’ll continue as we have to.”

Amidst the uncertainty over the club’s future, coach Alen Stajcic has been told to continue recruitment as usual, hence the retention of Birighitti on a one-year deal, with an option for a second.

Meanwhile, former Socceroos midfielder Bozanic, who parted company with relegated Scottish Premiership club Hearts in March, is back home in Gosford, and in discussions over a potential third spell with the club.

At 31, the signing of the seven-cap Socceroo - who played at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil - would be a statement of intent by the club.

As explorations continue around the club’s ownership, there is also a push for a community-based model which would see fans potentially able to own up to 20 per cent of the club by investing their own capital.

“The Supporters Trust are looking at 2,500 people investing $500 each, which is feasible out of a membership base of 6000,” explained CEO Shaun Mielekamp.

“That raises you $1.2 million which is between 10 and 20 per cent of the club, and assures the club stays on the coast.

“And you’d then have a further investment of $200 per person a year which would generate another $500,000 towards the playing roster, that’s what they’re suggesting.

“The ongoing contribution would take the club from the floor ($1.7 million) to the cap ($2.1 million) and help purchase a marquee signing.

“It’s an interesting model and the Supporters Trust are taking it very seriously, and want to get all their ducks lined up.

“It would potentially suit some of the other potential opportunities who are talking to the owner.

“If you were to purchase 85 per cent of the club and the other 15 per cent was with the supporters Trust your 85 per cent could potentially be worth more than if you owned 100 per cent.

“This idea has gathered far more momentum than I believed it would.”