It’s not so much a funny old game as a money-hole game these days. Today’s football’s finances leave me mystified to be honest. A family of lookie-likey leprechauns from Florida, the Glazers, take on Manchester United by saddling the club with over half a billion pounds of debt. And the American comedy duo, Gillett and Hicks, performed a similar trick down the East Lancs road at Liverpool FC. But instead of building a new stadium as promised, the now-feuding G&H spend all their time hawking the club around the Middle East’s idle rich or re-financing the debt with RBS or some other bank which has been rescued from collapse by the British taxpayer.
The group who have bought out the mighty Notts County and installed Sven Goran Ericsson as the messiah to turn them into the next powerhouse of European football (if only he could sign players to stay longer than one match) are a mystery consortium whose identities are being kept secret. But it seems that one of the investors may or may not be a former Pakistani Prime Minister and they tend to be the blemish-free pillars of society don’t they? A bit like that Thaksin Shinawatra bloke who bought and then sold his interest in Man City when he returned to Thailand to clear his name of those dreadful allegations of corruption, authoritarianism, treason, conflict of interest, muzzling the press, tax evasion, selling of national assets and the odd complaint from Amnesty International about his Government’s poor human rights record. Yup, I can see how such a character would pass the Football League’s ‘Fit and Proper’ person’s criteria for club owners.
Today I’ve learned that Portsmouth have secured their 3rd overseas owner/chairman of the season now that that dodgy-looking Arab bloke has decided to get rid of his troublesome kidney stones as well as his controlling stake in the club, by selling his interest to Saudi businessman Ali al-Faraj, having bought the club from Alexandre Gaydamak (isn’t he that meerkat?) less than 8 weeks ago. Just as in Liverpool none of them have delivered that promised new stadium – much like the previous owner Milan Mandaric – who’s now in charge of Leicester City of course. Fortunately they already have a new stadium, affectionately known as the Crisp Bowl, which seems fitting as ownership of football clubs seems like nothing more than a tit bit to these mega-rich foreign asset-collecting magnate/oligarchs.
Even at the quintessential traditionally-run club Arsenal where they’d have you believe the club is financially prudent and still under the control of the two old English families the Hill-Woods and the Bracewell Smiths, the reality is that two business behemoths from the big U’s – the US’s Stan Kroenke and the Uzbek Alisher Usmanove are fighting for overall control of the club with around 29% of the club’s shares apiece. It can only be a matter of time until Danny Fiszman sells his critical share interest to one of these true fans of the beautiful game and then we’ll presumably see Arsenal’s admirable profits (unspent by the noble manager Arsene Wenger) repatriated to points very far East and West.
Can you give me one true example of where foreign ownership has been entirely beneficial to a major English club? It seems that Randy Lerner’s doing a really decent job of controlling Aston Villa. It’s certainly a more sophisticated operation than when deadly Doug Ellis was in control but I can’t help wondering if the club are that much further forward. Have they become more successful? It’s debatable – and is the soul of the club any stronger now? Even at Chelsea where Abramovich’s millions have delivered success domestically, there is a sense that the ultimate prizes escape the club because of their false sense of belief that it is their divine right to have them. And what if Abramovitch was to tire of the chase (and the cost!)? The club would be around half a £billion worse off than when old Ken Bates sold them to the ridiculously-roubled Roman. And having lost an estimated £3B in the recession is it likely that Abramovitch will generously write off his investment if he walked away bored, now? Would you?
I’m not making a xenophobic (or racist) point I hope but just a real concern about the way top level football in this country has been virtually highjacked by overseas profit strippers or ego merchants of the worst order. If Flavio Briatore has been banned from any future involvement in motor sport because of his deceitful and anti-sporting actions at the Singapore GP, can the football authorities here seriously continue to view him as an appropriate person to run a major London club? It kind of makes me hanker after the old-fashioned club chairmen; the local business-man with delusions of grandeur and a penchant for hiring/firing managers like Sam Longson at Derby and the much maligned but always enjoyable Peter Swales at Man City, who once sacked a poor manager for having no ‘repartee’ with the fans. Ah life was simpler then.
And to to complete this little rant how could I not make reference to this week’s latest from Newcastle United which used to be a proud football club but thanks to the antics of the last two (home-grown!) chairmen has been turned into a marvellously entertaining circus. Wasn’t it reassuring to see former manager Kevin Keegan win his constructive dismissal case against the club and walk away with over £2m in compensation? You and I might think that’s quite a decent settlement for someone who suffered a bit of interference and delivered mediocre results. But little Kev was actually seeking more than £25m in compensation. Yes that’s right; he wanted in excess of £8m to cover the remainder of his contract plus more than £16m for ‘stigma damages’. Apparently he reckoned that it would be reasonable (!!) to assume that he could realistically expect to work as a leading football manager for another 8 years at a minimum rate of £2m per year, except that his prospects had been ruined by the actions of NUFC in sacking him. I noticed that KK failed to suggest which of the leading clubs might employ his services (other than NUFC themselves I guess) and pay that kind of salary. Maybe Real Madrid Kev? You can imagine my shock when the tribunal dismissed this part of his claim out of hand. Imagine that, a realistic decision about value in football.