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You Can Stick Your Billionaire Up Your.........

You Can Stick Your Billionaire Up Your.........

I used to harbour a real soft spot for Manchester City. It may be in part owing to a mutual distaste for their neighbours, it might be from that time at Maine Road in 2001 when Arsenal had raced into a 4-0 half time lead and the City fans, always ones for laconic, self deprecating humour, chanted "what`s it like to be outclassed?" followed by, three minutes into the second period, "0-0 in the second half!" But in light of their recent sensational takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group (so that`s what our perennially injured midfielder does with his spare time?) I have felt that soft spot fade somewhat. Interpret this as one of the big boys feeling threatened if that is your inclination, but the speed with which they were willing to jump into bed with the deplorable Shiniwatra removed the sheen from my fondness. Even if, in typical City style, they came up with an amusing chant to honour their benefactor. (To the tune of the Proclaimers, "You can take £500million and you can take 500 more, cos Thaksin`s got another £500million underneath his bedroom floor. Shiniwatra, Shiniwatra.") With Thaksin`s assets frozen as he refuses to re enter Thailand for fear of imprisonment, City looked to be lacking atonality and knee deep in the brown stuff.

With Thaksin not exactly screaming larceny from the rooftops, this development pleased me somewhat. Firstly, because it elucidated the deplorable incompetence of Scudamore and his cronies in applying the 'fit and proper persons test`, which looks to be one of the most flimsily applied pieces of legislation since the Government`s laughable ASBO scheme. Secondly, I regarded it as a kind of moral victory for football, illuminating the delightful schaudenfreude of watching a human rights abuser and all the supporters that soporifically anaesthetised themselves from his past get their comeuppance. The footballing deities seemed to have stirred themselves from slumber and declared, in the delightfully menacing words of Thom Yorke, "this is what you`ll get/ if you mess with us." However, the comatosed Gods of football must have slipped back into their narcolepsy as deadline day saw an audacious buyout from Saudi Royals, their interest piqued by the prospect of another plaything. Scenes scattered across our scenes as City fans greeted the signing of Robinho with Bacchanalian delight, once again they were lifting their skirts and accepting a shafting from the Abu Dhabi United group and all of a sudden the top flight had another steroid injection to deal with. Most of these supporters were likely unaware/ unconcerned that the family behind the group, the Al Nahyans, were the subject of an Amnesty International Report to the UN in July. The fact that their regime offers detention without trial, public floggings, but not the vote for citizenry did not appear to register on the Eastlands radar.

Perhaps you cannot blame them really, after years of comic underachievement, subsequent relegations, managers that lasted for 33 days, the boardroom battle of Swales and Lee, the death of Marc Vivien Foe and the spectre of United`s shadow engulfing them, perhaps they feel they are entitled to take a seat at James Bond`s Monte Carlo table. But from a moral standpoint, do City fans want it that way? With a synthetic cash injection? Is not the essence of sport, perhaps ironically, the last bastion of the Capitalist ideal, best man wins, best clubs get the best players and the best clubs win the biggest prizes? I wouldn`t argue that the wealth distribution of football is fair and even at this moment, but is another billionaire the solution? (Though it does make me laugh that such a right wing governed sport as football has people rushing to orgiastically apply Socialist principles when it suits their agenda to do so). Perhaps my thinking is outmoded, perhaps the fact that my immediate social group is comprised entirely of people who support lower league sides, but a football club means more to me than that. It is more than a result on a screen and a trophy on the sideboard to boast to my mates about. Perhaps that`s because when you go drinking with Millwall, Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday fans, there`s a limit to the amount of banter you can realistically indulge. But Arsenal play for 180 minutes every week at the most, yet the club demonstratibly dominates all of our thoughts for much longer than that in an average week. It is a culture and an epoch we buy into (if you`ll excuse the phraseology there). The clubs I mention above, Palace, Millwall and Wednesday; they have not achieved a great deal in their modest histories, they are unlikely to achieve much in their futures either. Yet people still turn up in their thousands to watch. When a friend of mine renewed his Millwall season ticket this summer, he remarked on the insanity of paying money, knowing he would watch his side lose more than they would win in the third tier of English football. Does that not prove that supporting a team is more than just a Saudi businessman presumably bored with the spectre of public floggings?

Would I have been happy had Arsenal been taken over by these devil may care billionaires? Not at all, not only for the moral implications but because I happen to treasure the fact that my football club is not a circus. City`s star signing got the name of his new side wrong in his first interview as their employee. With fickle, starry eyed players comes a brand of synthetic interest, the kind of which I am sure annoy those who supported Chelsea through the 1980s. While it`s fair to say Arsenal attracts its fair share of glory hunters, I wouldn`t be comfortable with this artificially piqued interest in the club. Aside from his questionable sense of ethics, this is one of the reasons I strongly resist the neon claws of Usmanov, together with his Daily Mail driven campaign for power and his attempt to sensor naysayers on the internet. (Though you have to give credit to him and Dein, they have achieved the impossible by making the august publication of the Daily Mail even more despicable than it already was).

But something that is wantonly overlooked by City fans are the broader financial implications. Firstly, upon the club itself, the Abu Dhabi group have called themselves an "investment company", though given their boasting about signing Ronaldo and talk of them initiating the first £500k weekly contract; they are obviously unconcerned about receiving much of a return on their investment. Whatever the semantics of it, the fact is that City are now at the absolute behest of their benefactors. The wage bill is likely to sky rocket to unprecedented proportions, should the Saudis decide to pull the plug in a fit of pique, City`s future will be plunged into immediate danger. One can foresee the manner the club is likely to be run in, with talk of immediate Champions League success, instant pressure is applied to the current staff and an unpleasant environment is created. Whilst the Abu Dhabi Group may know a thing or two about business, football is somewhat trickier and breaking the hegemony of the top four is likely to take at least a little bit of forbearance. For the long term, it does not look at all sustainable to me and like Icarus who flew too close to the sun; the wax might just fall from beneath City`s wings in the long term.

There are of course the worrying implications of football as a whole, this summer`s transfer window was a little like the quiet after the storm. A global recession had forced clubs to reign in their spending and a little sanity was restored to the game. Barcelona spoke of selling before they could buy, Chelsea were unusually frugal by their standards. Now with the Saudi billions entered into the equation, already astronomical wages will swell further, transfer fees will inflate as sellers look to milk City for all their worth. When the time arrives for the seller to replace their "asset", negotiations will fat with avarice, as the new seller looks to feed on City`s sloppy seconds. As competing sides struggle to compete financially, their only riposte will be to raise ticket prices still further, which will likely be met with indifference from a paying public in the grip of the credit crunch. The Abu Dhabi Group might as well have ridden into Manchester on four horses, because their arrival could have apocalyptic consequences on a game already close to eating itself with talk of distorting competitions to include foreign league games, the G-14, ostensibly a group of pigs with their snouts in a trough, of which we are part, and such like.

Construe this as a terrified whinge from a member of the Sky Sports, super duper Grand Slam Sunday endorsed big four who feels threatened if you must. Perhaps you will throw the predictable cry of envy at me, perhaps you think I that, as early as my mid twenties, I have entered fuddy duddy territory with my overly romantic notions. Or perhaps I think football is fast losing its appeal, gripped in a cyclone of sheikhs and fakes. I want my club to be successful, of course. But not that way thank you, I don`t want any part of that vulgar circus for reasons moral and long term fiscal. Not for all the tea in china, or all the oil in Siberia for that matter.LD.

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Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday September 10 2008
Time: 10:42AM


Good article LD. I've grown increasingly annoyed with a lot of MC fans over the last few days at their 'If Cesc doesn't come to us he's a fool' bollox. They're running before they can hold their head up. I don't want to knock City, like you I have a soft spot for MC. Be careful though. If money automatically got you Champions League football, Tottenham or Newcastle would be there instead of us. If billions won the champions league, Chelsea would have at least one. With Cesc, Kaka and others quashing City approaches already, players don't seem too impressed by their money. Unfortunately these billionaires are not football people. If I were a City fan, I'd worry about the long term implications. BE CAREFULL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!!!!!
10/09/2008 11:18:00
i wholeheartedly agree, not much more to say than that, nice article
10/09/2008 11:21:00
Lol I like City fans, why not give them their moment? I don't want to follow the same apth as their club though. Arsenal is fine as it is thanks. And their comments about Cesc and Ronaldo make me laugh, so it's worth having them around. Dellusion is always funny.
10/09/2008 11:35:00
The hypocricy in this article is galling. FYI Abu Dhabi is the richest state in the UA Emirates. If you were so outraged by the human rights of Abu Dhabi then why have you allowed them to inter alia name and help pay for your new stadium..unbelievable double standards. To cap it off YOUR Peter Hill-Wood said yesterday that he would recommend selling up if Arsenal were subject to a massive bid from an Arab consortium ala MCFC! If you have any decency at all you will apologise to all City fans for insulting them with this bilge. If not, I can only assume it is all bitter hypocricy again from a Champions League top 4 cartel member scared of some decent competition for once. As for not liking City fans anymore, well that is ok as we will continue our self mocking chants and humour without mourning the loss of our bad weather friends. A very happy Man City fan after 30 years of pain, taunts and continually having our first team and youth team raided by teams with Arab/Russian sponsors (with dubious civil rights records).
City Girl
10/09/2008 11:39:00
It would be nice if you had your facts right lol. We were not bought by Saudis.
10/09/2008 11:46:00
Read this about one of your shareholders :) its in two parts Part1 Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media because he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter: “Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.” Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue. Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socilist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House. Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed. Usmanov has two key alliances. He is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.
10/09/2008 11:47:00
I still say this'll all end in tears city girl. Sparky will be out of a job by May, and if this arab guy can't bring in the superstars he's promising then maybe his interest will wain. I might be wrong, but non-exhaustive resources financially doesn't mean you can have whoever you want! Chelsea - Henry/Robinho/Kaka, City - Berbatov.
10/09/2008 11:48:00
part 2 Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states. Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out - with the owners having no choice - the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window. All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here [Not now it's not] Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment. I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked. Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters - as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any - can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea. I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term
10/09/2008 11:48:00
its a sad day when fans from different clubs are having a pop at each other regarding the suitibility of their foreign investment. we are all from the same stock. we watched football on muddy pitches for years, players were paid £250 a month and the owners of the club had a history with the club and were at hear supporters. we have been invaded by money. there isn't enough money in the UK to support what the premier league has become. Russia, America and Arab states are the only ones who can afford to run an english club. its a very sad state of affairs. one day Arsenal will succumb to the evil that has already consumed Chelsea and Man City. we are all losers at the end of the day. the game that I fell in love with has gone and now I must learn to love something uglier. Hey if we still had DD, we'd have been the ones sold to Abu Dhabi. he saw it coming years ago to be fair to him. I agree with your sentiments whole heartedly LD, but ask gooners if they want to stay independent and never win another trophy or be bought by a billionaire and compete for trophies, I think I know what most would vote for.
10/09/2008 12:03:00
I can't believe this article has made it on to the boards!?! Do you not have any understanding of the Middle East. Abu Dhabi is not in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)!!!!!!! . Your own stadium is sponsered by the national airline of the United Arab EMIRATES!!!!!!!! " However, the comatosed Gods of football must have slipped back into their narcolepsy as deadline day saw an audacious buyout from Saudi Royals" Is this genuine idiocy on your part or is it something of a more sinister nature, along the lines of their all the same that lot! Abu Dhabi has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia and it much publicised repressive regime!! UAE is considered a moderate Arab country. You are allowed to worship your own god, there are many Churches for you to attend should you wish. Crime is almost nil! You feel safe in your home and never worry that you or your family will be attacked. If this is the result of criminals knowing they will be flogged if caught I'm ok with that. Maybe the UK could learn something from them. Amnesty international have highlighted UAE on a number of issues but AI have also highlighted the UK and your managers country France on issues of human rights but you are not calling for Wenger to end his term at Arsenal because of it. There is a saying "It is much better to be thougt of as a fool than to open your mouth and prove it"
Salford Blue
10/09/2008 12:04:00
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