Longer term readers of this blog will know that occasionally my attention here turns to football (soccer); this is one such occasion, for which my apologies to those not interested. But the topic I am raising here may have implications beyond football, and may even be relevant to the management of universities, indirectly. Also, to declare my vested interest, I am as some here know a supporter of Newcastle United FC.
So what am I raising? Well, many people interested in English Premier League football will have been watching closely how one club, Manchester City Football Club, is faring. For those who have no idea why this should be so, let me explain briefly that a couple of years ago the club was bought by Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan. At the time he did so, Manchester City had for some time mostly been in the lower half of the league. The Sheikh has very deep pockets indeed, and he immediately began to pour money into the club. The idea was that the club should be able to buy any player they wanted from anywhere in the world, whatever the transfer price and whatever the wages. The world’s best and most expensive players were in the club’s sights, and the intention was that it would climb to the top of the league.
Like many fans I suspect, I really really hoped that this wouldn’t work. I was already fed up with the apparent ability of Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich’s ability to buy success for his club, and to have an even bigger spender come in and do the same (or more) for Manchester City seemed just annoying and also wrong. I wouldn’t even like it as a fan: if Newcastle were to win competitions solely because it had a very very rich owner it would spoil it for me.
Well, Manchester City is now firmly established in the top 4 of the Premiership, and may even win it (Chelsea being number 1). There are occasional glitches for these big spenders, but the lesson appears to be that mega-millions talk, and most persuasively. Unless, that is, the new rules being introduced by European football governing body UEFA put an end to this. The consequence of the big big spending by Manchester City is that the club has a major annual deficit, as its revenues cannot match the expenditure. But now UEFA is about to exclude clubs running a deficit from European competitions, and because these competitions are vital for the big clubs and their players, this may have an immediate effect. Nor will it be that easy for the big spenders just to stop the purchases as the new rules kick in, as they will still have the accumulated wage bills and indeed the amortization of the transfer payments.
So it may be that the rules are about to get fairer. No bad thing. If I were writing the rules, I might actually ban private owners of football clubs altogether. After all, the big Spanish clubs do very well without them. And who would shed a tear if Silvio Berlusconi were no longer the owner of a major club…
In the meantime, I’m still hoping that Manchester City ends up outside the top 4 in the Premiership.