The American businessman Chris Kirchner has been named as the preferred bidder to take over Derby County by the club's administrators.
They have confirmed in a statement this morning that his bid includes the purchase of the football club only, with the terms of the club’s ongoing occupation of Pride Park stadium to be negotiated with external stakeholders.
Kirchner initially expressed an interest in acquiring the club in late 2021.
The joint administrators say they have entered into a period of exclusivity with Mr Kirchner and his advisers, during which further operational, commercial and contractual discussions will take place.
Carl Jackson, joint administrator, said,
“We are delighted to be able to name Mr Kirchner as preferred bidder, which the Joint Administrators consider represents the best deal for creditors and one which will secure the long-term future of the Club.
“The naming of our preferred bidder represents a significant milestone in the administration, and we look forward to working with Mr Kirchner and his team to complete the sale of the Club.”
Our reporter Mark Kielesz-Levine has been following this story closely and has this analysis of today's statement.
While the news that Chris Kirchner has been selected as the preferred bidder marks a significant turning point for the Rams, it is worth looking over what the statement says and doesn't say and as you might expect, there are some unanswered questions.
When Kirchner originally bid for the club, it included the stadium which is owned by Mel Morris. At the back end of last year, Kirchner withdrew his offer after the administrators said it did not match other bids.
Various names including Mike Ashley were linked to the takeover, but Kirchner coming back into contention was a surprise twist. We know that the issue of stadium ownership has been a contentious one. Even Derby City Council appeared to distance themselves from rumours that they could step in and buy it and lease it to a new owner.
So it is interesting now that Kirchner has become the preferred bidder, without the stadium being part of his purchase plan. Does this now mean an arrangement where he will rent it from either Mel Morris or another third party?
What does it mean for the club's future?
The English Football League released their own statement on the news this morning but they are keeping their cards close to their chest.
I believe they are yet to see what the bid actually involves formally. This really is important - if the bid doesn't plan to pay off non football creditors at the level the EFL require, Derby will face another points deduction either this season or next.
If it is this season, they will be relegated automatically but at least start next season with a clean slate in League One. Since Reading won last night, the chances of Derby staying up now look even more remote - perhaps an agreement between the EFL, Kirchner and Derby will allow the club to take this points hit now rather than next season, leaving the club to push for promotion.
But all options remain on the table for the EFL who are keen for matters to be resolved quickly.
The news will also be a boost to manager Wayne Rooney who backed Kirchner's original bid. They have the same representation and so are closely linked. If there were any lingering doubts about Wayne's future at Derby, could Kirchner be the man to persuade him to stay, even in League One?
However, it must be stressed that although this is a big step forward, it is not the end of the matter. The preferred bidder status allows Kirchner to look into accounts and complete any takeover free of competition from others in an exclusive arrangement. But it does not mean a buy has been completed.
Until that happens, Derby fans will quite rightly be cautious about celebrating too soon.
Who is Chris Kirchner?
Kirchner is an American businessman who is the CEO and founder of a software company. He must pass the EFL Directors and Owners test to ensure that not only is he suitable to take over the club, but also has the required funds.
According to reports, this is a formality. We don't know exactly how much wealth Kirchner has, but it must be significant as the scale of Derby's debts and the numbers required to get them back to potentially the Premier League has been well publicised.
In the last 24 hours a new Twitter account has been created in his name and three hours ago a tweet was published simply with the ram emoji.