Category Archives: Football

Finance over football- the foreign invasion

Finance Over Football – The Foreign Invasion

It’s the summer of 2003 and Roman Abramovich splashes millions of Russian roubles to take control of underachieving Chelsea Football Club. The Russian oligarch embarks on an ambitious programme of commercial development, with the club’s aim becoming a worldwide brand and brushing shoulders with Europe’s footballing elite. Abramovich transformed the footballing landscape, funding the most remarkable spending spree the English game had ever seen.

With experts now investigating prospective takeovers in the premier league, attention once again turns to the ownership of football clubs. Foreign investors threaten to change the very fabric of the English game forever. But the question is, do I really care as long as my team are winning?

Seven years on since the Abramovich regime took hold and over half of all premier league clubs are now in control of big money businessmen, each with varying degrees of success. Club’s are being run just as they would if they were corporate businesses. To some owners, the commercial aspect of the club is on a par or even more important than what’s going happening on the pitch.

“You don’t make money because 11 guys run around the pitch,” claims former owner of Portsmouth football club, Sulaiman Al-Fahim. “You make money because of all the other commercial aspects that go with a football club, particularly real estate and television rights” Of course, these the thoughts of a man who played his part in Pompey’s near-liquidation.

Could English teams take a leaf out of Barcelona’s book? The Catalan side are not a public limited company, it isn’t possible to buy shares in the club and so decisions are made by those who actually care, the fans. Football over finances – that‘s what we‘re after, right?

Stamford Bridge, taken by ProForged

Lets not hold our breath. Anyway, money from overseas continues to influence the status and popularity of clubs all over the country and it would be foolish to argue against the positives of foreign investment. After all, the Premier League is now the most watched league in the world, furnished with the game‘s finest foreign talent.

Since the wave of foreign investors began in 2003, English clubs have dominated the most sought after prize in European football, the UEFA Champions League. In the last six years, last year excepted, each of the Premier League’s top four have participated (at last once) in the final. All of these clubs are owned by foreign investors. From 2006 – 2009, the semi finals of each competition included 3 English teams, domination personified.

As English teams continue to dazzle Europe’s elite, the national side regress. When expectations soar, England bow out in the quarter finals at both Euro 2004 and the World Cup in Germany . Under Steve McClaren, they fail to even qualify for the 2008 European Championships. Although foreign investors cannot be blamed directly for the demise of the national squad, young hopefuls’ chances of breaking through are deteriorating, with instant success the soup of the day. Anyways, I’m from Northern Ireland, why should I care how England fair?

Nevertheless, many worry that if the current crop of youngsters aren’t tried and tested on the top stage of club football, Team England will suffer.

In Manchester, there are contrasting opinions on foreign ownership. Manchester United is owned by Malcolm Glazer, an American businessman who was recently brought under scrutiny by Panorama. Fans fiercely opposed the takeover, as the Glazers have been running the club in huge debt, paying a reported £60million in interest each year for their debt.

Conversely, the blue half of Manchester are now finally able to compete with their city rivals financially. The arrival of the Abu Dhabi group provoked a flurry of high profile bids, paving the way for over £200million of talent, including Carlos Tevez and David Silva.

Manchester City is further evidence of the legacy that Abramovich will forever impose on the premier league, inadvertently setting the trend and in doing so, paving the way for astronomical transfer fees and higher salary. Whether this is healthy for the game is widely debated, but one things for certain, City fans will not disapprove.

As a Liverpool fan, I had been forced to listen to countless empty promises made by a (now former) custodianship who saddled the club in debt, all whilst the team underperformed on the pitch. But when the new owners announced deals for Luis Suarez (£22 million) and Andy Carroll (£35 million), I felt like a City fan – and enjoyed it. Not for one minute did I think, “Oh shit, now our up and coming young strikers are less likely to get a look in.”

In a modern game, littered with disenchanted fans and unaccountable owners, deliberation is only expected. Fans can debate for or against foreign ownership, but if their club are successful, are they really bothered? My opinion – as long as there’s success, the answer will be no.

Whether the future of club ownership lies in the ways of an idealistic democracy much like FC Barcelona’s remains to be seen. Foreign owners have left their stamp on the English game, for better or worse, and will continue to do so. With all it‘s riches, football is not just a sport, but now a business model.

Craig Hannan

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A game for gentlemen, played by thugs?

A friend and I recently had a bit of a spat over rugby and football. Our petty argument was as old as the hills but you can bet we weren’t the only people debating about which is the better sport, as the rivalry always seems to raise its ugly head in some shape or form every time the Six Nations around. My friend (who shall not be named, let’s call him Mr X) commented on how rugby was a sport for the Eton-educated upper class twits of the year, and how his potential enjoyment of watching a match at Murrayfield in Edinburgh had been ruined by a Oxbridge reject chanting “oh do come on Scotland!”.

Mr X conceded, however, that he had been dragged to the game in the first place so perhaps his mind was always going to be made up before the first whistle had even been blown. The fact that he was Scottish meant him finding an Englishman irksome somewhat unsurprising. In the end we agreed to disagree and the old adage ‘Rugby is a thugs. . .’ came to the fore amongst much laughter. A disclaimer to quickly excuse myself before you read any further should be that if you haven’t guessed already, I am slightly biased towards rugby.

But if we look at this old adage with a keen eye we can analyse the football/rivalry further. Since rugby is known to be a rough and brutal game you could be forgiven for thinking the rival teams and players would readily kill and maim each other after the match. Instead usually it’s a plethora of pints and handshakes in the bar afterwards. I have seen it first-hand and a similar aphorism is not an exaggeration- ‘after a rugby match there are no winners or losers, just drunks’.

That is not to say that that case doesn’t happen in football. Perhaps the former axiom is talking more about the sportsmanship presented at the matches, with a stereotypical view that rugby players play with honour and always respect the referee’s decision whilst footballers play dirty or tactfully and always contest the ref’s decision.

Unfortunately, these stereotypes are just that: stereotypes. There are many rugby players out there who would willingly punch an opposing team member or feign an injury to give his team an advantage. Likewise, many footballers are respectful of the beautiful game played as ‘a gentlemen’. To put it simply, possibly football supporters think their opposite rugby equivalents look down their haughty nose at them with a superior sneer, while rugby fans think that because of this very ignorant view, footballers see rugby as pretentious and privileged whilst they know differently.

It’s whenever we see the fans of both games respectively at club level, international games or even World Cup matches that we see a clear difference. Football fans of two opposing sides are often segregated before and after a match so as to avoid conflict since their seems to be an almost tribal quality as to how much they would sacrifice of themselves for their beloved teams. On the other hand how many times have you seen the headline on TV: ‘rugby fans run riot abroad’, with in depth stories of rival rugby fans injured by hurling street patio furniture at each other? Or indeed why is it that we have films such as ‘The Football factory‘ and not ‘the rugby factory’?

It seems to be all rooted in class. I once noticed an article when I was an undergrad entitled something along the lines of ‘The correlation between football and working class society’. Perhaps this is the foremost reason why football and rugby are polarised into two separate camps. Working class football in one corner, middle or upper class rugby in the other’.

There is a spectacularly funny scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (Terry Jones, 1983) which depicts young teenage schoolboys getting pummelled by fully grown men in a rugby match held at what looks like a very posh English boarding school. For many, this crystallizes everything rugby is – the upper classes using the excuse of sport to savagely prove their dominance over the layman.

That last sentence could well have been said by a biased football fan. The hilarious irony of football being such a ‘working class’ sport is the fact that football supporters think their idol players are cut from the same cloth as themselves, while the said players arrive to training in their polished Lamborghini or Ferrari sports car. Sport of the people indeed. Apart from a few exceptions, the celebrity aspect is unarguably more so in the footballer camp rather than rugby. Perhaps the whole class argument is now outdated since nowadays celebrity and accompanying riches have nothing to do with ‘one’s breeding’ or other such bile.

As I mentioned before, I am biased towards rugby as I have been raised that way. I have grown to be a football ‘tourist’ fan though every time the World Cup comes about and I play football every week (the first time I went I thought I would be stabbed by the local ‘Ned’ population, who gathered gradually by the pitch like that scene from The Birds, before I realised they were a local youth club waiting to get on the pitch after us).

Perhaps the truth is that either we grow too accustomed to one sport when we are at an impressionable age to see it’s flaws against the other and that prejudice always gets the better of more rational thoughts. Or perhaps the whole argument will continue to be futile as it could be likened to ‘apples or oranges?’, ‘Beatles or Stones’? What is clear is that the rugby versus football argument has never really been kicked into touch and that it will always have referees trying to hear both sides of the story equally to no avail.

Adam Smyth

Take note Andy Gray, even the male referees get stick

Referees are under constant pressure to get everything right, every time. When they don’t, they face the wrath of livid managers, bemoaning the standard of officiating, whilst back page columnists criticise both them and the authorities. But is it right to be getting on their backs all the time? And will Fifa ever bring in goal-line technology?

November last year, and Tony Pulis, the Stoke City manager, suggested that referees should be marked on their performance and relegated accordingly. I have two problems with this, one which carries a little more gravitas than the other. Firstly, it’s difficult to take any forty-something man who dresses like a naughty teenager seriously (Google him). Secondly, more importantly, that would suggest a lower standard of football requires a lower standard of referee. If anything, the opposite is true.

Picture the scene. Stoke play Wolves at some point next season, and three players get sent off for some eye-watering challenges. England’s top referee Howard Webb (more on him later) is incandescent after the game because Tim Westwood look-a-like Pulis only gave him a 4 out of 10 for his performance. “I think it’s well unfair, because I did, like, loads of good decisions and had maybe one howler. And Tony gives me a four. Just not fair.” He’s right, it’s not fair. The last things refs need is more pressure.

The pressure piled on referees in the modern game is both enormous and unreasonable. You might argue that they know what they’re getting themselves into, but I imagine it’s pretty difficult to replicate 50,000 angry screaming scousers at a training camp. And the players don’t help themselves. Manchester United’s Portuguese winger Nani has got himself a reputation for being a bit of an iniquitous little cheat, just as Cristiano Ronaldo did a few years ago. So even when he has been fouled, when a ref sees him rolling around stricken on the floor like he’s been dismembered, they, understandably, react in a fairly unsympathetic manner.

That’s not to say referees don’t make dreadful decisions with great frequency. Anyone who watched the world cup will probably remember that goal for England against Germany (the old nemesis). England were 2-1 down and playing pretty poorly, then Lampard hit a scintillating volley, which crashed against the crossbar and landed approximately 3 or 4 miles over the line. Everybody saw it. That would have made it 2-2 at half time, and entirely different game (which England definitely would have won). They went on to lose 4-1.

The aforementioned Howard Webb is rated as the nation’s best, but I have my reservations. He’s the type who, when it’s a goal kick or a penalty, will give the mediating corner. And he’s our number one. A couple of years ago the league’s youngest referee, Stuart Atwell (who seems to surround himself in controversy), gave the infamous ‘ghost goal’, which then-Watford manager described as “like seeing a UFO”.

Decisions like that are nothing new. Most will have seen footage of Geoff Hurst’s goal against West Germany in the ’66 World Cup final, which was controversial at best. Germany fans will say Lampards ‘goal’ evened it out somewhere, but it still hurts them. The problem is, huge advances in technology have made poor decisions like that much less acceptable.

Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, is one of the most vociferous proponents of introducing goal-line technology into the beautiful game. It’s easy to see why. When he was manager of Blackburn (my team), West Ham were allowed one of the most outrageous goals I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing. The ball no-where near crossed the goal-line, but it was given (by a linesman called Jim Divine, inexplicably). A simple bit of video technology would have proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was never a goal. They have it in rugby, where there’s considerably less money involved. Why not in football?

That’s where it becomes difficult. Where do the footballing authorities draw the line? Rugby is much less free-flowing that football, so it’s much easier to stop the game and have the video ref take a look at a replay. If it is brought in then, of course, managers will be demanding replays for bad tackles, handballs and penalty decisions. The English game in particular is extremely fast, so constantly halting play to check a video would severely disrupt it, potentially ruining the game as a spectacle, and that’s why Fifa have constantly rebuffed requests for technology.

Not only that, but bad decisions make for great talking points. I love talking about a referring shocker in the pub, and it gives the pundits the various TV stations employ something to witter on about in the studio after the match. Once the game becomes too draconian you run the risk of dehumanising it. And remember, referees are people too.

You can follow Neal Wallace on Twitter @nealjwallace