Thursday, September 04, 2008

Disillusion and despair

Do I feel like this because there is something deeply, ethically wrong with English football or is it because it has happened to Manchester City?


Anonymous said...

I suppose there's no reason why the national obsession with wealth and riches wouldn't have spread to football. I think it's totally obscene what's happening in football at the moment, but while the media treat any influx of money into the game as a terrific boost, then the fans seem to do likewise.

I just find it so difficult to identify with the clubs any more. My own team, in the second tier of premier league riches, has spent a fortune two years running on a dozen new players of dubious quality. How you can build a team or establish any empathy with the players in this situation is beyond me. I hope the professional game goes the same way as the housing market and can be rebuilt from scratch.

Igor Belanov

Anton Deque said...

I pity the fans but do not feel sorry for them.

The reality is quite simple and has one cause, one only: The rise and rise of China.

In my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne we have had two demonstrations of this reality. Without wishing to prejudice any enquiries, one incident revolved around allegations of an alleged betting fraud in China and the other the (completely unrelated) departure of Kevin Keegan as manager of the citiy's football club. Keegan has fine football mind but is also a realist and pointed out that he cannot match the likes of Chelsea player for player. Why? Simply it is a case of having an owner who likes to spend money. Money which seeks something like a return, because the rich cannot be satisfied by trophies alone. The finances which are driving the whole football world now are related to the rise of China, its wealth and population and gambling culture.

Some years ago the FT reported that the Far East audience for one televised live UK Premiership game was in the order of 350 million viewers, about five times the official population of the UK. The game was not even among the top two clubs but the then fifth and eighth placed sides. The focus of the audience is not on the rivalries of the English clubs, but spread betting – on every aspect of the play; throw-ins, fouls, corners, yellow cards, red cards, who does what and when and so on. The consequence of this gambling mania is advertising revenue for broadcasters, money pulled in by the sheer weight of activity and for some companies highly cost effective ways to get their brands into millions of Chinese homes. It is this reality which is encouraging people who almost certainly do not know the offside rule to acquire UK football businesses. That is what a UK club is today, a business opportunity.

How many of the fans know or more importantly, understand what is happening? From the interviews on the local BBC here in the north east I doubt if more than a few do.

Given the kind of money that can be generated and sizeable fortunes of its new owners, Manchester City could easily become a dominant force in a few years. The Manchester connection which troubles Peter is again quite simple: Manchester is a recognised brand name in football.*

Others will jump in and say, perhaps correctly, that money is not everything and that a team must play as a team not a collection of "cigarette cards". Teams of the super talented rarely 'gel' and so on. Yet, given the business skills of the new owners I think they will buy more than just players, but the cream of the management and coaching staff of the world also.

Hundreds of millions of pounds might seem a lot of money to spend on a football team – indeed it is. But think what the revenue streams are likely to be. Not just the share of the television fees but subsequent commercial opportunities and kudos. The long term return, as long as China maintains its interest, must be substantial.

The fans are paying for the privilege of providing the necessary background sound effects for a ruthless commercial enterprise. The days flat cap and a meat pie are long gone. Soon it will not be simply that 'your' team won't be able to speak English; neither will the management or staff. Good bye "beautiful game".

* Not just football. It is widely held that a successful football club in your city will help attract students from the Far East. I have heard first hand about one 'Universities fair' held in China in which the sales pitch by a certain northern University was entirely built around the local team and its charismatic star player!