The last few years in the Premier League has seen a new type of character emerge, one that at times has seemingly overtaken the players in terms of importance to the story of the game. It appears that wherever you turn within soccer you are presented with the smiling face of a billionaire promising another club the world. Unfortunately like most of the best things in life, there is quite some risk to this indulgence.
As we head towards a weekend where most expect to see Manchester City crowned champions of England, thanks in no small part to the riches of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, it can become all too tempting for the modern football fan to dream of a billionaire riding in to lift their club from mid-table obscurity to the Champions League and beyond. But it can all easily go so very, very wrong.
Staying topical, lets look at Blackburn. When Venky’s, an Indian chicken company, took over the club in the summer of 2010 Rovers had just finished the season in 10th place. When they decided to sack Sam Allardyce midway through the following season they were sitting in 13th. Now, barely 18 months later they are heading to the Championship for the first time in 11 years. That was not the plan.
In that time there have been a number of incidents that have highlighted the damage that can be caused by an ownership that has more money than sense. First there were the attempts to sign Beckham and Ronaldinho, soon followed by the announcement that the club was aiming for Champions League football and that if it took £5 million “then we would spend £5million.” There is plenty of evidence to suggest that there is a distinct gap between the reality of football and the world in which Venky’s exist.
Admittedly it would appear that there is a world of difference between the people behind Venky’s and say, Roman Abramovich, but the lesson here is something along the lines of all that glitters is not gold. Just head north of the border and find a Rangers fan.
At Ibrox the Glasgow club spent most of the late 90’s and early 2000’s waiting for their own knight in shining armour, just so they could try and keep up with their neighbours Celtic. When he arrived, first in the shape of David Murray, then as Craig Whyte,few questioned where the money was coming from or how the club was being run. As the events of the last few months have shown, this was probably one of the most monumental mistakes ever made within football administration.
Admittedly there are plenty of examples where owners have injected much needed cash and impetus to clubs. My own club, Sunderland, have benefitted from Ellis Short taking over at the Stadium of Light whilst few would have said with any confidence pre Abu Dhabi takeover that Manchester City would be about to claim their first league title in 44 years. At least not many sane people anyway.
The latest club to see the bad side of rich owners is Cardiff City. Recently taken over by Vincent Tan, a Malyasian businessman, the club knowns as The Bluebirds were going to be playing in red next season until the owner withdrew this suggestion after “vociferous” opposition. He was also suggesting that the club crest be changed to a dragon – all to increase the visibility of the club in the lucrative Asian markets. Such is football these days.
Despite the amount of clubs who have suffered at the hands of unscrupulous owners spiralling ever upwards, it has almost become second nature for fans to constantly look for rumours of the next Sheikh, oligarch or private equity fund heading their way with many briefcases full of cash, ready to lead them up the table. Recent history shows us that this is just about the only way for most clubs to reach the top level but the point remains that, as with most things in life, football fans really should be careful what they wish for.