Posts Tagged ‘Aston Villa’

Money in football seduces all including its critics

Monday, January 26th, 2009

The transfer window remains open for a week and in that week it is expected that Manchester City will add to the parade of signing – a bloke called Nigel who they could have had for a tenth of the price and Craig Bellemy – as they prepare for next season’s assault on the Champions League places an ascension to which is already assumed in some quarters with the talk being of who from the top four – Arsenal it seems to be feared – will lose a foothold that would be taken by the men from Maine Road.

Certainly yesterday’s 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Everton is seen as something of a last rites but I would suggest that Manchester City could have limitless money and they will still not finish above either Merseyside club until they are able to put in place the kind of systems that both have behind the scenes.

There is a correlation between clubs that keep managers, the build slowly, that do the right thing and success and Liverpool’s attempts to win the league this season may end up the same as Manchester United’s attempt to win the last Football League title which was acquiesced to Leeds United but should Benitez’s side capitulate they may be – looking back with hindsight as we do on 1991/1992 – judged in the same way as the gradual improvement of Ferguson’s side. Few talk about how Old Trafford blew the League and those who do are shown to the trophy room as proof of the long game being played.

Everton – and the rise of Aston Villa as a footballing force and the decline of Chelsea under the merry-go-round system of management – show that lashing money at a team is not a path to success yet the fear amongst those who worry about money having overtaken football has it that the rise of Manchester City is assured because of this.

I’m not sure how signing Robinho and Kaka would have differ from signing Teves and Mascherano in trying to guarantee a top four finish. The two Argentines are proof that good footballers need to be in the right surroundings to make a difference and parachuting them into chaos and expecting the two alone to produce results is no solution. West Ham are nowhere as close to Everton to the hallowed ground of Champions League football, Aston Villa are a tauntingly similarly coloured speck on their horizons and while the talk is of expensive Brazilians Villa pick up Emile Heskey for £3.5m and trundle on towards their goals.

Chelsea – so often held up as the example of reckless spending – built a side slowly into a top quarter finisher under Claudio Ranieri which was taken on to become Premiership champions and many would argue that the wheels came off that wagon when Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko signed and disparity in the dressing room began. A look at the Midlander’s dressing room and the balance therein suggests that Heskey has more chance of making a fist of things at his new club than Shevchenko did at Stamford Bridge.

All of which is to further heap praise on the hair to Clough – Martin O’Neill – and suggest that if Manchester City were really keen to make a difference to the club then they would be looking not at getting the best players they could but the best manager. Someone who could turn a team of strugglers into someone who can compete with the best and from that level stake a claim for a place in the elite of English football. With 2-1 and 1-0 wins over Manchester United last season and a top half finish with a team that had finished four points off relegation the season before one might think that perhaps City had that manager in place in Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Not that this is a suggestion that money should be allowed to flow unfettered into football – controls are badly needed at all levels – but rather a statement that not only can money not buy one love but it also makes a pretty poor show of getting you a good football team when compared to finding the right man to lead your team and sticking with him as evidence on both the red and the blue halves of Manchester.

Certainly it would be harder to argue – Robinho and all – that Mark Hughes’s side is not further away from those lofty aims as they splash out more money in January than Eriksson’s was this time last year and that for missing out on the League in May 1992 someone other than Sir Alex should have been given the keys to the Old Trafford war chest.

We worry about who is running our clubs when we should be worrying about how

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

It is hard to imagine a sight less dignified than the public hawking of Newcastle United by Mike Ashley as he tries to off load the Geordies attaching the sale rider that the club requires a bottomless pit of money.

Ashley contests that only wealth at the level Manchester clubs now enjoy will bring silverware and happiness to the supporters although the evidence of Spurs and neighbours Middlesbrough bringing back prizes suggests this to be a misjudgment on someone’s part. Unfortunately all football seems to buy into the idea that the richest wins all despite Chelsea’s two years of running up. It is more accurate to say that the biggest wins unless they mess it up and that biggest is at Old Trafford with Newcastle not that far behind.

Regardless the Magpies are shopped around with the idea being – and the worry that – they will be the latest club to fall into the hands of overseas investment.

Each time there is a purchase of a club by non-English investors alarm bells are sounded do the future of our game so much so one could be forgiven for thinking that we have a monopoly on good governance in football. With almost half England’s professional clubs having used bankruptcy protection in the fifteen years since the formation of the Premier League that supposition would seem to be far from the truth.

English ownership covers Risdale and Richmond just as much as it does any examples of the better run sides and the likes of Randy Learner and his slow, deliberate building of Aston Villa is as valid an argument as any for the idea that it is not who owns clubs that is problem so much as how they are owned.

Learner probably has the best manager in the business in Martin O’Neill – he got him in place before he arrived – and backs him up with sensible signings. James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young probably take home the same combined as Robinho and unless the situation in England’s second City is out of focus the club is run within the remit of having huge out goings met by the huge income of a Premier League club. Morally one might question the size of the figures but from a business point of view there seems to be equity which one simply cannot say about Manchester City or Chelsea.

Distressingly one would thank that outside the realms of the mega-rich clubs at Eastlands and Stamford Bridge the thinking would veer more towards a model of attempting to balance the books or when attempting to advance the club investing soundly but the experiences of those down the leagues suggest that in most cases this is anything but. The well run teams are accused of a lack of ambition and those who overspend seem to do so in the assumption that when the chickens come home to roost they will be long gone. Any sympathy one could have for the likes of AFC Bournemouth or Luton Town is not shared by supporters who have seen their teams lose out on promotions and progressions in cups to a team bought on the hock.

The Football Association has recognised the need for control of finances starting running the Football Conference as a tight ship but the Football League struggles to do the same unwilling to douse the flames of passion that come to the game via investors in their local club but incapable of ensuring these new investors behave in a way that even guarantees a long term future.

The popular perception of football investment is that it is done in the transfer market and by paying higher wages and one would be niave to suggest that was not a factor in the improvement of clubs. Squads are important but so are supporters and the recruitment of the next generation of fans which is failing at lower levels with the jump between the child’s rate and that for teenagers being simply too steep. A wise investor looking at trying to create something other than a season or two on the field would do well to look at subsidising or creating a way that will build the fan base for a generation or more.

Likewise facilities are a way of ensuring revenue streams for clubs and it is telling that while Gillett Jnr and Hicks continue to fund Liverpool’s squad a section of support are bitterly opposed to them on the grounds that they are not building the new stadium putting the future success of the club at risk.

On the whole football chairmen fail to understand the best way to invest in clubs because they do not grasp genuine value in clubs. They look at playing squads and imagine how much a player could be sold for but more acute book keeping would render Robinho’s £120,000 a week as a liability from which the business suffered and his resale value as windfall payment rather than a reason to value the club more highly.

The real assets of football clubs are position in the league set up and the sponsorship and television deals that bring, good will – in the support and in the brand – and facilities. The league position is temporary but the contracts it bring in are easily read, the facilities can be assessed with some ease but that middle element – good will – is harder to put a value on.

However Mike Ashley values Newcastle United as twice what he paid for them because he understands that what Freddy Shepherd sold him at the value of a mid-range debt ridden Premiership club is actually one of the league’s strongest with a permanent tradition of support and a strong brand. His hawking of the club around is undignified for sure but having bought the club on the cheap he is not so much trying to get rid of it quick as realising the value of his investment. Shepherd’s last cock up at Newcastle was to not understand the value of what he had.

Too many chairmen are the same. They have a thing of value but have no idea how to augment that value and end up spending the club’s resources on things of no value – players – and not the assets they have got – good will.

We worry so much about who owns football clubs and where those investors come from yet we do not worry at all about how those clubs are run or even if the people who own them even know what they have bought and how much it is worth.