Is It Good That Manchester City Have Won The Premier League?

26 May

1. Wiping the Smile off Ferguson’s Face.  — On May 13th, 2012, Manchester City FC scored two injury time goals in their last match to clinch their first top flight championship in 44 years. It was a thrilling finish to the season as they snatched the coveted title from their city rivals Manchester United. on goal difference. Veteran players from the last title winning team in 1968 such as Tony Book, Mike Summerbe and Francis Lee, brought out the trophy, bedecked with light blue ribbons. They presented it to the current team, an international collection of all-stars, in front of their adoring fans. Everyone was happy, except for the red half of Manchester, which just for once got to sample the bitter taste of defeat. The City fans were ecstatic. Many were crying tears of joy after at last witneesing their team triumph after many years of disappointment.

  The pundits were happy too. Afterall, wasn’t it good for football that the Premiership had been won by a new team? The Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal monopoly had at last been broken. Surely this is good for English football as it shares the spoils more widely and increases competition at the top end of the league. Many football commentaters were also pleased for the long-suffering City fans who had endured many more downs than ups and were almost resigned to seeing defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. It nearly happened again, until those magical moments in last match injury time.

  So City’s triumph is a good thing isn’t it? Anything that can wipe the smile off Sir Alex Ferguson’s face must be good, in my eyes. Anything that can banish Wayne Rooney’s arrogant smirk ( at least for a while) has to be welcomed. The United players, who in recent years have taken success for granted, must have been ” gutted” and “as sick as parrots” to quote two of football’s corniest cliches.

  However, Manchester City’s great victory left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Here are some reasons why I have experienced  feelings of unease.

2. Buying Success. ——- The secret of success in life is: hard work sustained over a long period in order to develop one’s talents to the full. When I was a teacher I often told my pupils this in order to increase their motivation and effort. “If you don’t work hard, you won’t pass your exams. If you don’t pass your exams, you won’t have any qualifications to get a good job” etc. You know the argument. Teachers and parents have used it, quite rightly, for centuries. Until recently, the same argument applied to the running of a successful football club. The hard work consisted of: scouting for young players, grooming and preparing them through youth development schemes, spotting and buying more experienced players and blending them into the team, meticulous planning and preparation with regards to fitness, diet, strategy , tactics and motivation, lots and lots of training, the generation of team spirit and discipline, and so on and so forth. It is often said that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. In other words there are no short cuts to genuine success.  Recent developments in the entertainment world however have started to undermine this sensible approach to life. Now reality TV combined with tabloid and glossy magazine coverage, can provide instant fame and fortune for people with little or no talent and who have not really worked very hard or for very long to gain their riches.

  The other way that the long road to success can be circumvented is to spend a lot of money. Everything and everyone has a price it seems.This is the route that Manchester City have taken once they were taken-over by mega-rich new owners. In 2008, City were purchased by the Abu Dhabi United group for Development and Investment. Abu Dhabi is a vastly rich Persian Gulf state owning about 10% of the world’s oil reserves. The company which has bought Manchester City Football Club consists of super wealthy sheiks from the Royal Family that controls Abu Dhabi and its immense fortune. City have therefore become a “Petro-Dollar plaything.” Thanks to television, Premiership football has become a global phenomenon. By buying a Premier League club, the super-rich sheiks have bought into the glitz, the glamour and the action. They will also get much publicity and prestige. So Manchester City, a proud club, with a long, rich history, has been reduced to becoming a brand name in the international world of marketing.

  City no longer has to bother to balance its books, to make sure that expenditure doesn’t exceed income. Now the norm is to spend, spend, spend. This would be business suicide in any normal club, but when you are backed up by one of the world’s richest countries, then there is no worry. City have just announced the largest operating loss in the entire history of the high spending Premier league. That’s taken some doing. But do they care? Not a bit of of it it seems. In fact they have already announced their intention to buy one of Spain’s most talented and expensive players to strengthen the team for next season. They no longer have to raise revenue before purchasing players and do not have to worry about the patient, long-term development of young players. They can now break all the rules and acquire success the quick way by buying ( some would say “stealing”) other club’s best players. Patience and delayed gratification have now gone out of fashion. If one has enough money one can go straight for instant gratification. City’s new owners seem to be saying -” We want  success and we want it now!”

  Manchester City have achieved their dazzling ” success” by complete chance. The super-rich Arab Royals could have chosen: Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Scunthorpe United or even Accrington Stanley. The result would have been just the same except that with the lower league clubs, it would have taken a bit longer. City just happened to be available, as their previous owner, a dodgy Thai politician and businessmen, had got into trouble with the courts, being accused of fraudalent practices. He had to get rid quickly so was pleased to sell to the Sheiks when they came knocking. They were happy to acquire a Premier league club that would increase their prestige and profile. It could have been any club, but it just happened to be Manchester City!

  So how does a club craving instant success go about buying it, if it has limitless resources? Well, it uses it’s money to attract the top managers and coaches. It uses its money to create the best facilities. Finally it uses its money to buy other clubs’ best players. First of all it pays ridiculously high transfer fees that only a fool would refuse. Then it pays obscenely high salaries to make the top players want to come. If a player is already legally contracted to another club that is still no obstacle. The rich club ( in this case- City) lets it be known that it is interested in the player; the player becomes unsettled and unhappy because the grass now appears to be a lot greener on the other side; if the player’s club points out he is under contract and refuses to sell, the player is then encouraged to request a transfer and state that he is no longer happy to stay at the club he has signed to play for; no club wishes to retain an unhappy player who is no longer motivated to play his best; therefore the club reluctantly accepts the vastly inflated transfer fee and the player disappers to collect his riches. This scenario played out in the cases of Gareth Barry ( lured away from Aston Villa), Joleon Lescott ( lured away from Everton), and Samir Nasri.( lured away from Arsenal), to name just three cases. All three ripped up their contracts and walked away from the clubs that had nurtured and developed them into top internationals. All three are now playing for Manchester City and reaping in vast amounts of money. ( more than most ordinary people can imagine.) In all three cases their former clubs were left with major problems in trying to replace them at short notice.

  City’s management team led by Roberto Mancini refused to take “no” for an answer. In the case of Nasri, a player contracted to Arsenal, Mancini spoke quite openly to the press about his intention to sign him, saying that his team was not yet complete.After that, money did the talking. It seems that limitless resources can enable one to ride roughshod over normal manners, business etiquette and professional conduct.

  City are not the only rich club to do this of course. When Chelsea FC became the plaything of Russian billionairre, Roman Abramovich, they too went down the “instant success” road, buying other club’s best players and sacking a whole string of hard-working managers who failed to deliver fast enough. Players under contract, such as Ashley Cole at Arsenal, were approached undercover and acquired anyway, probably by unprofessional means. Big money doesn’t worry about professional niceties or rules. It will try to buy success at any cost. Chelsea have just won the coveted Champion’s League. Abramovich was there in Munich to see what his plaything had achieved. Is this good for football? I don’t think so.

3. Is Manchester City’s Success Good For Abu Dhabi and the World in General? —- One could argue that Manchester City have not really achieved any success. This achievement belongs to Abu Dhabi, a state that by a complete fluke, is sitting on top of one of the World’s richest oil fields. Maybe it would be more acceptable if they changed their name to Abu Dhabi United, if they trained in the desert and travelled to matched by camel. But would this be suitable and appropriate for one of the oldest, proudest football clubs in the country that invented the game? I don’t suppose all those elated City fans would be very thrilled if they had to fly to the Persian Gulf to watch every “home” match. Is there a long and strong footballing tradition in the United Arab Emirates? I don’t think so! Is the UAE’s football pedigree the reason why Qatar has been awarded a future World Cup Tournemant, or is it because the Qatari’s are awash with oil money as well and FIFA wants to grab as much of the wealth as it can?

  I would argue that Manchester City’s 44 year wait is not really over. The real football club has not won anything because it is really just a front  for an Arab business venture. In achieving the title, the heart and soul, tradition and history of the club has been ripped out and destroyed. All that is left is a travesty. A once proud club has been hijacked by an obscure Arab elite who know very little about grass-roots football and are just using it as a vanity-project and business venture.The chief Sheik — Mansoud — is so interested in Manchester City and football that he only came to one game in the entire season and didn’t even bother to turn up to see them clinch the title! Can you imagine a real football fan not attending what is potentially the greatest day in the history of the club?

  So what about the people  of Abu Dhabi? Are they proud of their great achievement? Were they dancing in the streets when the news came through from Manchester? When I was watching Sky Sports’ coverage of the great day I expected the cameras to cut from celebration in the blue half of Manchester to jubilation amongst the soaring skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi. Afterall, their team, bought with their country’s money, had just won and beaton off the challenge of their greatest rivals: Manchester United. But there was no celebration. The ordinary citizens of Abu Dhabi have no connection with the football club that their country’s revenue has purchased.

  Abu Dhabi is not a democracy. Its people have no say in what happens to the country’s vast amounts of oil money. Power and control has been commandered by a small hereditary clique and used as their own private income. Some would argue that the people of Abu Dhabi have been mugged by their own rulers. They have been robbed of their country’s God-given inheritance by their own despotic Royal family. These undemocratic Sheiks have acquired a football club which is totally alien to the culture of the people of the Persian Gulf. They have done this in order to gain prestige and status in the World’s eyes. The ruling elite of Abu Dhabi has been in competition with the equally unrepresentative ruling elite of Dubai, another formerly oil rich Gulf state, for World attention. The two of them have competed to build the highest skyscrapers and turn their capitals into mini New Yorks. The two of them have competed to host prestigious sports events with top players attracted by the immense prize money.

  Both states have undemocratic ruling cliques, intent on creating capitals of glitz and bling, more in common with Las Vegas than the  traditional, simple bedouin lifestyle of their people. These ordinary citizens have not been consulted about any of this and have no choice but to acquiese in the purchase of expensive, irrelevant vanity projects such as a football club in a cold, damp far-away city.

 The Abu Dhabi United group have thrown almost £1 billion at the Manchester City project. With that money they could have provided clean water for every person in Africa. With that money they could have done a tremendous amount to alleviate poverty, hunger and disease in their own continent of Asia. But these charitable actions would not have garnered much prestige or glamour. Poor people do not attract glamour and do not generate constant drama and excitement for the world’s TV audiences. That’s because poor people live in the harsh conditions of real life, not the fake, frothy world of entertainment which football is part of.

4. The End of Integrity, Trust and Loyalty.  — It used to be the case that football players largely honoured their contracts. Now they cannot be trusted to stick to their word if a rich suitor comes knocking. It used to be the case that clubs respected each other’s integrity. Now clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea treat others with contempt by openly poaching their players even if they are still under contract. These super rich clubs have no compunction about ripping up their own employee’s contracts either. If a manager or a coach doesn’t deliver, he is summarily sacked. As with everything else, money is used to achieve this aim, in the form of the sweetener of compensation for the dismissed employee. Mark Hughes was sacked by City because he was trying to build up a long-term project and was not able to conjure up instant success. Ranieri, Grant, Scolari, Ancelotti and Villas-Boas, all managers employed by Chelsea and poached from other clubs, were all sacked when they they failed to win the league or the Champions’ League in their first seasons. Would Mancini, City’s current manger, have survived if his side had not hit those two late goals to win the league by a whisker?

Patience and trust are not qualities exhibited by billionairre football owners.

  Then we come to the players. In recent memory, quite a few top footballers remained loyal to one club and developed a very special relationship with its fans. Bobby Moore, England’s World Cup winning captain in 1966, played for West Ham United for his entire career. Bobby Charlton always played for Manchester United. In an earlier era, another top England international, Johnny Haynes, always played for unfashionable Fulham and Nat Lofthouse was Bolton Wanderers through and through. Such long term loyalty is very rare in the top leagues these days. Most Premier League clubs consist of stars from across Europe, Africa and Latin America, rather than lads spotted in the local area.  These players are little more than mercenaries attracted by the big wages. The history and the tradition of the club mean little if anything to them. Carlos Tevez has travelled from Argentina to Manchester City, not because he wants to be part of a glorious footballing tradition or because he has a special affinity with the ordinary people of North-West England. The big attraction for Carlos is the £250,00 he is paid every single week to wear the chalky blue shirt. Only two of his team-mates, Hart and Richards, played for the team before the Arab billionairres moved in. The rest — from Spain, Italy, Bosnia, Ivory Coast, Argentina and Belgium ( plus other places I don’t know about)– are there  primarily for the dosh. If the Sheiks pulled the plug tomorrow, most of this mercenary team would have probably disappeared within a few months. This is because City would have to return to the reality of being a normal football club that has to try to make ends meet or go bankrupt.

It’s good that Manchester United, another club with lots of money, has been knocked off its perch. However, this is looking at the situation from a very narrow football point of view. From most other viewpoints, City’s success is not so good. Too many precious principles and time honoured traditions have been sacrificed in the ruthless rush for success. The price of City’s triumph has been unacceptably high in my opinion. Patience, prudence, integrity and decency have been sacrificed to impatience, greed and ruthlessness. The people of Manchester have had their club stolen from them, just as the disenfranchised people of Abu Dhabi have been robbed of their natural inheritance. Which ever angle one looks at it from, Manchesters City’s so-called triumph is far from a good thing.

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