Tag Archives: Roman Abramovich

#oneaday 21: When money is easy, madness follows

Yesterday was a significant day in the (English) Premier League – £135 m spent by football clubs in one day, bringing the spend in the January transfer window to in excess of £200m – tens times what it was last year. Significant, however for all the wrong reasons. Indeed is this the last hurrah before the UEFA’s new financial rules come into play in 2013?

Januray 31st 2011 was the day when the English Premier League broke all bonds with its fans, who have clearly become the least important constituent in the football universe. Sitting way back in stands, we peer at the antics of a bloated game, one which cannot produce a credible national team, despite pouring obscene amounts of money into a whole host of distinctly average players. It all starts with the owners. Nowadays these fall into 3 broad groups.

  • The rich individual – think Roman Abramovich at Chelsea (wealth quoted at £8billion) and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his Abu Dhabi United Group at Manchester City. These people are often quotes as businessmen, yet there is often controversy surrounding their wealth. In the case of Abramovich it was gained in a very short period of time when Vladimir Putin broke up a communist, state owned economic system into pieces and bestowed it piece by piece on a number of favoured friends, the oligarchs. Over in Abu Dhabi, well it is a tale of black gold, oil.
  • The US based business conglomerate who may use debt to leverage the purchase, think the Glazers at Manchester United and Gillette and Hicks formerly of Liverpool who basically got it wrong and had to sell out to fellow American John W  Henry of New England Sports Ventures.
  • The rest, usually business men, whether they have made money in the pornography industry, sportswear or intensively farmed battery chickens, but ones who will find competing with the mega rich, just a little bit too, well, rich for them.

Yesterday saw the redistribution of a fraction of one Russian oligarch owners ‘wealth’, into an owner of a sports goods empire, via New England Sports Ventures. When Roman Abramovich decided to part with a mere £50m of his easy money,in return for Fernando Torres, he passed it to John W Henry at Liverpool, who flicked over £35m to Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct and Newcastle United for ‘England sensation’ Andy Carroll. I wonder if that money just goes to pay off some of the debts that Newcastle have accrued down the years? Either way I am sure it will be pretty useful to Mr Ashley. Along the way, the usual cuts would have been taken by the agents, even more money would have been put into the overpaid player’s pockets and who knows, maybe us tax payers will have gained a few quid towards our debts.

These amounts of money are nothing short of obscene. They show that the game at the ‘top end’ is nothing more that a bloated and rotten borough. In these troubled times, when pretty much all of the people who pay to watch the games via entrance fees or less so via a Sky Sports subscription, are facing an age of austerity, this sends out a message that the game has become nothing more than an effete and irrelevant sideshow, a circus. As crowd numbers fall off, the owners literally fiddle. It is yet to be seen if a fire has started, but the mood out there amongst the fans is starting to turn against their ‘heroes’.

Whether you wake up today as a Newcastle fan, a Liverpool fan or indeed a Chelsea fan this morning, you anger or elation may be short lived and the gloss may wear a little thin. Indeed, you have to ask whether the late, great Bill Shankly would ever utter his famous saying, ‘some say football is a matter of life and death. I say it is more important than that’, nowadays. Perhaps he would simply say ‘some say football is a matter of money. I say it is a matter of too much money’. I would like to think the great man would have something to say about the mess our once beautiful game is now in.

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#oneaday 4:Re-use and Recycle?

Management, specifically football management, what makes a good manager and why do failures get re-used and recycled time and time again? It seems like the only way the managerial gene pool is ever widened is when Premier League owners decide to import big hitters from abroad, or Blackpool and Stoke get promoted.  Having seen the hapless incumbents at Liverpool, West Ham, Aston Villa and even Chelsea look like dead men walking (apologies Gerard) after their teams all lost vital games tonight, the talk is of who will be sacked first. 

Surely this prize must be won by Avram Grant at West Ham, who has never really fitted the bill since he arrived in the summer. After 3 games in the Premier League, the owners Messrs Gold and Sullivan put dear old Avram on a warning. He’s had more since, despite the MD of West Ham, Karen Brady (her of The Apprentice panel alongside SirAlan) assuring the media, public and the fans, that ‘we just don’t sack managers’. The big question was how did this Israeli football manager ever get a job in English football in the first place? He arrived as technical director at Portsmouth when Harry Redknapp was manager and  Harry made it clear that he did not want any interference. He then went on to do a similar job, this time director of fooball, at Chelsea and dropped into Jose the Special One’s manager’s seat when Emperor Roman decided that Mourinho had expressed an opinion one too many times. After losing the Champions League final, Grant was sacked. He then returned to Portsmouth as director of football, only to become manager about a month later after the latest Pompey owner sacked the latest Pompey manager. He left after Portmouth lost the FA Cup final and were relegated, admittedly because of points deduction due to Portsmouth FC going into administration. Indeed Grant did not even hold the required top-flight coaching certification from UEFA when he took over at Chelsea. In fact, he had never received the lower-level coaching cerfications from UEFA for “B” and “A” level coaching in Europe.  But Messrs Sullivan and Gold thought it would be a great idea to hire him.

Not far behind must be either Roy Hodgson (most pundits ‘in the know’s’ choice as England manager to replace Capello after the shambles that was the 2010 World Cup) or Gerard Houllier. Neither seem in control of their respective teams, both seem just too old, too bemused and actually not good enough for either team and certainly unable to handle the expectations at their respective clubs. Indeed Hodgson’s first foray into English football was to get sacked by Blackburn a few years back. Admittedly he had a very good season with Fulham, but his record in our league was actually poor. Ditto Houllier. One UEFA Cup , FA Cup and League Cup victory plus a runners up in the League really does not make him a great winner, especially at Anfield. Thus groans were heard all through the claret and blue parts of Birmingham when Martin O’Neill stepped down, Kevin MacDonald stepped in and then made way for Houllier. If Houllier gets the boot, then he will almost certainly return to France. Ditto if Carlo Ancelotti leaves stricken Chelsea, it is unlikely that he will seek further misery in England.

So the question really is why do some of these consistently under performing managers keep getting employed? Why do the club owners fall for the same candidates time and time again? Lord knows why. If Grant and  Houllier go, surely that must be the end for them in English football? Of the current 20 Premier League managers, 14 are British which is as high as I can remember. Of those, Hogdson will not be in his job until the end of the season and some of the others may have a few sleepless nights. But we need new, younger  managers, men with fresh ideas and men who can handle the errant ways of the modern millionaire footballers. Outside of natual promotions – ie managers of teams who gained promotion in order to gain a foothold as a Premier League manager namely  Ian Holloway, Tony Pulis, Roberto Di Matteo and Owen Coyle, there seems to be a total lack of promoting managers from lower divisions into the top jobs. Is that caution or stupidity? Indeed, does football need a bit of a cull in order that we can refresh and relaunch our game?

Let’s see what happens in the coming months. Meantime, if you are a Villa, West Ham, Liverpool and even a Chelsea supporter, the next few weeks will be  very interesting. Messrs, Southgate, O’Neill, Allardyce, Curbishley and Hughton are all looking to get back into the top jobs, it will be interesting to see who does not come back and if clubs like West Ham or Aston Villa live a little and look to the Chanpionship for talent.

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#oneaday 1: The decline of auotcracy, in the national interest…?

 Given the generally depressed outlook all the way back in dark old days of 2010, I would like to think that 2011 would be a year where things started to get a little bit  better? On a personal front 2010 was as good as any year, but as a West Ham and England supporter it was absolutely dire. Mind you, if you are a Chelsea or a Liverpool supporter, it has also been pretty dire and in Chelsea’s case this is a major change in fortunes twelve months on.  A bright start to the year for the England national team soon faded and hopes of glory ended in a seedy and bloated fashion in South Africa.  Money it seems, can’t buy you love, or indeed sustained success and certainly not the right to host a World Cup.   However, behind the easy headlines though perhaps we are getting a glimpse of a different and possibly a better way of getting collective success. 

2011 saw the slow but significant decline of the’ autocracy’. Gordon Brown, a famed autocrat, led the way in politics by losing an election, all be it narrowly, to a couple of jolly decent chaps who days before were at each other’s throats but seemingly had no choice but to bury their hatchets and work together ‘in the national interest’. We hailed the ‘New Politics’ and even the most cynical of commentators have had to admit that coalition politics is a reality which will be with us for some time, who knows may be for the next 4 1/2 years. We have already seen the compromises and ‘breaking of promises’, but that surely is a sign that change is upon us and one party ideology over another is surely too 20th century. In any case, good or bad it is a change and change can be as a good as a rest.

Moving sideways into sport and specifically football, we have seen the cracks appearing at the top, namely at Liverpool, Chelsea and to some extent at Manchester United. The debacle at Anfield has been a long time coming, but it has torn a once invicible and hugely proud club apart at the seams. A couple of ‘no nothing (about football) ‘ Americans – Gillette and Hicks –  basically borrowed unfeasible amounts of cash to buy a ‘business opportunity’ which they could not resist. The rest is history, except that history is still being written – Americans still own the club, all be it different ones, and Roy Hodgson, the critics’ chocie to replace Capello post South Africa, is on the thinest of thin ice, after only 5 months. The fans are calling for control.

Over at Old Trafford, the fans have been vocal ever since Mr Glazer and his sons and/or brothers took over, again leveraging the cash  debt against the assets of the club. Only Alec Ferguson could steady the ship, bringing an errant Rooney to heel and deliver continued success, seemingly. What will happen when Sir Alex eventually decides to press his stopwatch for the last time?  Again the fans are calling for control, via various business consortia.

However, the biggest  surprise has been in the softie South, in West London, the home of millionaires, billionaires and those who govern us. Chelsea. The absolute reign of Roman Abramovic rolls on,  but the cracks are starting to appear and the water is flooding into the ship. The Mighty Roman is almost like a latter day Captain Smith on the bridge of the Titanic. Chelsea, the unsinkable machine, have hit an iceberg and now need to change course, and make repairs fast. Ray Wilkins was sacked and no one knew why. Ancelotti is living by a thread and their players, used to winning, are getting older and their ambition is blunted. The murmurs from the fans have started and if the bad run continues, those whispers become taunts, which become boos, which become protest and leads to a boycott. The Roman is under pressure and you have to wonder how he will deal with it, given his meteoric rise to fortune and lack of experience in the ‘old’ country. I personally think that he will simply fire and forget, but time will be my judge, and those Chelsea fans may well be demanding control before 2011 is too much older.

So these autocratic club owners may be facing up to the reality of managing people, highly paid ones, who just don’t follow the script. Who knows if there will be more fan democracy at play in 2011, I personally hope so, but what other country allows their prize business assets to be sold to anyone who raises the money? After all, this was the year that Cadbury’s was sold to Kraft and promises made pre-sale, were soon broken once the paperwork had gone through. We operate in a free market, and it allegedly produces the best ‘product’, the dear old Premier League is the best in the world, we are told,  but in the national interest? From the England football team’s perspective, that will never happen.

Meanwhile over in Geneva, one autocratic organisation that is totally self interested and is not showing any signs of changing  soon has announced that they are setting up an anti corruption committee.  FIFA and corruption are words that seem to travel all over the world together on expenses. Let’s see how this one develops in 2011.

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Home Grown?

So the Premier League’s new squad cap rules come into play this season and the headlines make for good reading if you are an England fan, or indeed Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.  A lovely little phrase is present with the Premier League’s wording, one to lure us all and make us feel like the game is no longer being commercialised and raped beyond all levels of decency. That phrase is ‘home grown players’. It feels like the equivalent of John Major’s ‘warm beer and evensong’ doesn’t it? I bet some big hitting lawyers have earned some big hitting fees definining that innocuous and friendly sounding phrase. Far from it being a reference to illicitly made, but generally harmless narcotics, it seems like it has been selected to appease and encourage all football supporters who fear for the future of a game geared soley around a club’s ability to pay for talent.

The wording of the rule is interesting:-

Every Premier League club has a squad of 25 and that number is capped. Of these 25,  8 must be ‘home grown’. Sounds great doesn’t it? But what is the definition of ‘home grown’. Well that is simple enough. A ‘home grown’ player is ‘one irrespective of age or nationality, who has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or Foootball Association of Wales for a period continuous or not of 3 entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday or the end of the season in which he turns 21′. Does it remind you of the rules attached to meat classification – reared n the EU but slaughtered in the UK’. Clubs will be able to supplemement their squads with additional players under 21 (defined as under 21 on 1st of Jan in which the season commences). Changes to the squad list of 25 may be made during the period of the Transfer Window. Clubs have to declare their 25 players by the end of the Transfer Window (ie 31st August) and then again by the end of the January Transfer Window.

So don’t be fooled. ‘Home’ refers to the club not the country,  I am pretty certain Luis Boa Morte is ‘home grown’. Granted the system should and probably will encourage clubs to invest in more young players in order to beef up their squads, especially once the injuries set in and European football takes its toll. But think about why this rule has come in.  Just think about who will really benefit from these new rules. Clubs can’t put a system of wage or salary caps in, it is after all against the free market, free wheeling Sky fed model and besides players and agents would be up in arms heading for Terminal 5 quicker than you could say ‘Robinho’.

 Premier League chairmen preside for the most over businesses that have a fundamental broken model. Far from the ‘Broken Britain’ that we keep on hearing about, we all know that we definitely have ‘Broken Football’. Everything changed in 2003 when the ‘rags to riches’ ‘ entrerpreneur’ Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea. Most people know that Roman’s wealth is massive, although many wonder if it has been truly earned through hard work and innovation. Suddenly the old guard of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were playing catch up. There was a new force on the scene and one which was going to become successful, after years of mediocrity. Chelsea had entered the big league and so long as Roman’s money was there, they would be taking up one of those precious ‘Champions League’ slots, the ones which make the clubs all the money and vitally, get them all the ‘brand exposure’ that they both need and crave. The stakes had been upped, and it seemed the only way clubs could compete was through spending more and more money. And it was. But to spend big, you had to have the cash or at least the access to the cash.  Both Liverpool and Manchester United changed ownership in a bid to match Roman’s Blues, although the choice of owners was questionable to say the least. A few Americans who knew little about football and even less about English football leveraged the clubs with massive debts, something which both clubs and their fans are suffocating from right now. Wily old, privately owned Arsenal stood and watched, and primarily because they have always been prudent and because they have a single minded, myopic, but ultimately a brilliant talent spotting manager, spent less. But they won little in the process. The relationship between success as defined by winning the League or the Champions League and available cash has never been so close. However, the storm clouds of debt were gathering, and even Roman could see that this ‘football drug’ had it’s downside, declaring that he wanted Chelsea to be self sufficient in future and the money he had put into the club was only ever a fully recoverable loan.

These owners and charimen knew that things had to change, they simply could not afford the spiralling debts incurred by the ever increasing wage demands players and agents. Has anyone analysed the inflation multiple in players’ wages since 2003? In an age of transparency, we should be able to know the actual wages all players earn. Indeed, what professional class has salaries quoted in weekly amounts rather than monthly amounts nowadays. How very flat cap and working class!

And then BANG, 5 years after the Roman, along comes  Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group, and now owner of Manchester City. The bar was raised again, and raised smack in the middle of the global financial crisis. 19 other Premier League chairmen were looking down the barrel of an Arab gun. The Abu Dhabi United Group did not rely on leveraged debt, they had cash and plenty of it. Cash for gold, black gold.

So you see, these new rules are nothing to do with helping the English (or Welsh) national teams do better (and Scotland and Northern Ireland not at all). They are all to do with money just as they always are.  Limiting the squads to two full teams not only limits clubs like  Manchester City and Chelsea from ‘warehousing’ all the talent and thus choking the supply to their rivals, it also limits the cash the second tier have to spend.   Allowing clubs to boost their squads with younger and therefore cheaper players, or more accurately players who cost less in wages, utimately means that the ‘Broken Football’ model gets some new life and potentially a new direction. Is this a good thing for football ?  Yes, I think it is. After all Richard Scudamore, Premier League chief, said ‘ it is to protect the viability and sustainability of the clubs’ . But these new rules and their cosy language are there to do just that. Nothing more, nothing less. If England’ s team benefit great, but don’t be taken in by the language, the spin and the branding of these changes. Home grown? I think not.

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