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By Miles Dilworth and Oliver Park
It would not be ludicrous to suggest that the 2011/2012 season was the most dramatic we’ve ever seen. Two moments surely stand out – Sergio Aguero’s last gasp winner against QPR and Didier Drogba’s winning penalty against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
Drogba was signed with Roman Abramovich’s millions back in 2004, whilst Aguero was bought for £35million as part of Manchester City’s Sheikh-Up in 2011. Foreign money has changed the English game, for better or for worse, and it is here to stay. There is nothing we can do about it so maybe we should just cherish the glorious moments it has provided us in recent years.
Agreed, you don’t need to have money to have drama, but without Mansour’s millions, Manchester United would have run away with the title last season, with Arsenal finishing a distant second. I don’t think anybody could argue that City’s emergence as serious title contenders hasn’t added spice to the Premier League and has taken the Manchester Derby to new levels of quality, atmosphere and entertainment.
In view of last week’s debate piece, that is surely one justification for some of the extortionate ticket prices burning a hole in fan’s pockets. Even if you are not a City or a Chelsea fan, your ticket begins to seem value for money when you are treated to David Silva’s guile or Eden Hazard’s trickery. Even the flops give us a laugh. We all grant ourselves a sarcastic jeer every time Torres fluffs his lines in front of goal, which just wouldn’t be as funny if Chelsea hadn’t paid £50million for him.
Admittedly foreign owners have not been all good news for clubs. Southampton are currently in the midst of a rage against crazy Cortese after he dispensed with their well-loved manager Nigel Adkins, whilst United are still less than happy with the Glazer family and just don’t mention chicken to Blackburn fans.
Unfortunately you can just never tell what you’re going to get. New foreign owners could mean silverware and glory or it could mean ridicule and relegation. But the crux of the matter is that it cannot be regulated. Who was to know that the Venky’s would prove so incompetent? Besides there was a period when Newcastle fans were apoplectic with anger against Mike Ashley, a life-long Magpies supporter who sat, drank and sung with the fans. Little did they know he planned to change the name of their stadium to the Sports Direct Arena.
It is increasingly difficult to predict the suitability of new owners and it is for that reason that you can’t properly regulate it with any kind of ‘fit and proper owners’ test. So enjoy the ups and downs and keep your fingers crossed; the Russian roulette of football might just land your club with the next Premier League trophy.
However, Oliver Park just wants chairmen to care more
A club gaining a multi-millionaire owner can of course have great benefits. However what fans have increasingly found to their cost is that it can also carry with it enormous risks. Portsmouth are one club which have been taken over by several wealthy individuals only to be left deep in the mire when they have either lost interest, tried to exploit the club for their own ends or the funds have run out.
A further problem is the propensity of clubs who acquire a wealthy owner to spend in a manner that is often ill thought out and, even with the rich owner’s backing, unsustainable. In addition to the huge financial burdens this places on the club, the new owner’s desire to see a quick return for their investment often leads to panic buying. When Fenway Sports (backed by two wealthy American businessmen) bought Liverpool in October 2010 they made no secret of their hopes of revitalizing the club’s fortunes. As a result they then spent big in the transfer market, paying way over the odds for players in a desire to mould a new, successful team. Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson may all be decent players but in no way were they worth a combined total of nearly £70 million. There can be little doubt the money could have been better spent upgrading the club’s infrastructure or on some properly thought out transfers.
Even the stereotypical rich owner success story is perhaps more complicated than it might have appeared. Roman Abramovich when he purchased Chelsea in 2003, was able to dramatically revive the club’s fortunes, a turnaround which has produced Premier League titles and of the course the Champions League last year. However Abramovich’s role has not been without criticism from some Chelsea fans who view him as dictatorial and unaccountable. This came to the surface with the sacking of two very popular managers, Mourinho and Di Matteo which have led to Abramovich’s ownership and leadership style being questioned.
Therefore while acquiring a multi-millionaire owner can provide a vital injection of cash to boost a club it also has the potential to led to financial ruin. Furthermore, some owners driven by their desire to produce immediate results neglect the club’s longer term future safe in the knowledge they can simply cut and run. In such cases it is the fans, buoyed briefly by the hope of an upturn in fortunes of their club, which are left to disconsolately pick up the pieces.