Wealth and power mean more than nationality in football

ON Sunday the Premier League trophy will more than likely become the plaything of yet another foreign billionaire.

ON Sunday the Premier League trophy will more than likely become the plaything of yet another foreign billionaire.

If, as expected, Manchester City do lift it for the first time, it will be the latest and most emphatic reminder of the hold foreign money has over English football’s top division.

If not, it will go back to the American owners on the other side of town who held it last year.

The Premier League is split half and half between clubs owned by foreign investors, and those in British hands. The North East has one either side of the divide. Sunderland are owned by a Texan, Newcastle United by a man from Buckinghamshire.

But while City’s fans are thanking God for Sheikh Mansour, Blackburn Rovers’ are cursing the Indian poultry farmers who have run their club not just into the ground, but the Championship.

Ask any fan for his dream owner and he would probably come up with someone as disgustingly rich as Mansour, prepared to sink every penny in, and as hopelessly in love with his club as Everton’s Bill Kenwright.

Mr Right does not exist. No top-flight owner meets the criteria.

Some, like Malcom Glazer, are outrageously rich and have no intention of changing that by wasting money on a football club.

Others, like Roman Abramovich, happened upon their club by chance. Abramovich was in the crowd at Old Trafford, apparently weighing up a bid for Manchester United, before settling on Chelsea.

Kenwright is besotted with all things Everton. Many supporters would like to see the back of him because he cannot compete in what has become a billionaire’s playground.

The largesse of Mansour and Abramovich has transformed relatively mediocre clubs in the noughties, but Uefa are onto them. If – and it is an “if” – their Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules are vigorously enforced, such largesse will no longer be allowed.

You certainly do not want the Venky’s – clueless about football (they allegedly did not realise the Premier League had relegation until after buying Blackburn), happy to sell stars and replace them with cheap imitations, and who thought it was a good idea replacing an experienced manager with a track record of swerving relegation (Sam Allardyce) in favour of an utter novice they have stayed curiously loyal to ever since (Steve Kean). The plan was to buy superstars like Ronaldinho and David Beckham en route to the Champions League. The reality was Bradley Orr, David Goodwillie and relegation.

Nor do you want David Morgan, who turned to Wolverhampton Wanderers when he was unable to buy his beloved Liverpool. Morgan thought it would be a good idea to go into the dressing and tear a strip off his players in front of the manager whose job that actually was.

Mick McCarthy was fatally undermined. When Morgan accepted as much his mouthpieces talked the Venky’s-style talk about experienced replacements, and ended up with Terry Connor, still to win a Premier League game.

If proprietal perfection is out of reach, are Newcastle the model to follow?

Derek Llambias recently outed his boss as a Chelsea fan, which came as a surprise to most of us – Mike Ashley was widely thought to support Spurs. For all the replica-shirt-wearing, terrace-dwelling antics of his early days, he failed the “one of us” test.

The sportswear magnate is extraordinarily wealthy, hence all the giddy talk of a “Geordie Abramovich” when he booted out Freddie Shepherd – a locally born, Newcastle-supporting chairman who failed – in 2007.

There was widespread disappointment when Ashley was revealed to be as tight-fisted as Shepherd was flash with Newcastle’s cash.

The longer time goes on, the less foolish his approach looks.

Ashley will not be fretting about transfer embargoes and European bans. Newcastle’s accounts will stand up to FFP scrutiny.

A good chief scout was crucial to the masterplan, and in Graham Carr he has one. With manager Alan Pardew they have cornered the market in shoestring management.

Some signings – Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux – have not come off, but at the prices Newcastle have paid arch-gambler Ashley could afford the risk. Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba have more than made up for it on their own.

The downside is Ashley’s unerring ability to shoot himself in the foot. Cutting season-ticket prices was quickly forgotten when he tried to flog the name of St James’ Park.

When it comes to communicating with the fans, he is better than the invisible, mute Venky’s, but not much.

If he gets Newcastle into the Champions League – and even if he does not with the Europa League as the booby prize – maybe his faults are a price worth paying.

Ellis Short came to Sunderland as the sugar-daddy, lured by Niall Quinn when his Irish consortium no longer had the money to play in the big league.

But after an initial flurry, Steve Bruce signed 11 players last summer, mostly from the bargain bin. Martin O’Neill will be looking for more Kevin Davies rather than Darren Bents.

Like Ashley, Short is the silent type. Unlike Ashley, he had the perfect frontman to communicate with supporters. Now Niall Quinn is a Sky commentator. In truth, what passport a football club owner holds makes no difference.

Those that think all foreign owners are automatically anti-relegation, pro a 39th game are deluded. British owners can be just as stupid and greedy, some from overseas quite reasonable.

Right now, all that matters is results. Deliver them and your background makes no odds. Fail, and a lifetime on the terraces will not save you.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer