It’s been a few weeks now since the explosive revelations released by German newspaper ‘Der Spiegel’ that exposed the nefarious nature of Manchester City’s ownership. Who could have predicted that an oligarch from a regime with an oppressive human rights record, no democratic institutions, and a penchant for illegal detention of dissidents, might fudge the sponsorship numbers to allow him to inject billions of dollars into his pet project? What a coincidence then that the hierarchy were all too willing to allow unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to Amazon’s cameras and paint the club in such a favourable light. What are the chances?!
I imagine you too were aghast when you realised those beholden to the ‘Super Clubs’ at UEFA not only knew about this, but are partially complicit, despite being the body tasked with sanctioning this kind of behaviour.
Kidding aside, the fact that many of us football fans aren’t surprised that the owners of one of Europe’s biggest football clubs aren’t as clean as a whistle perhaps speaks to a wider problem. We’re all part of it, the problem is only becoming voiced as such because Manchester City are REALLY good. Like, REALLY, REALLY good. Obviously on the pitch, but the Amazon documentary does do a good job of illustrating the machine-like efficiency of City off the field as well. They have the best scouts, the best physios, the best facilities, all designed for the best manager in the world, whom has everything tailored to his exact preferences. It is an instruction manual for success. They have built the sturdiest cabinet known to man, and are filling it with trophies.
When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea back in 2003, we could have easily been in a similar situation. The problem was Chelsea weren’t good at being bad. I’m not denying the success they had on the pitch, that clearly speaks for itself, and the state of the art training facilities at Cobham are very impressive too. However, there is not the same Owner to Board to Staff to Pitch cohesion that makes Man City the behemoth they threaten to become. Poor managerial appointments, hierarchy disagreements, and a recent necessity to reign in spending have meant that Chelsea aren’t put under the same scrutiny. If we wanted to open the closet, there could be plenty of bribery, illegal share-dilution, theft of government property, ties to Putin, and allegations of fraud shaped skeletons to come tumbling out.
Its pervasive and sickening. My club, Arsenal, are now owned by Stan Kroenke. He owns a trophy hunting tv channel. Our title sponsor, Emirates, has ties to the UAE, the same haven of humanitarianism home to City’s owners. We recently signed a sponsorship deal with the tourism board of Rwanda, where a horrific national genocide occurred just 24 years ago, and who’s media is almost entirely state-run by that same regime.
Liverpool’s sponsor Standard Charted secretly funnelled money illegally for Iranian clients, and those in charge of internally policing behaviour of employees have been investigated for harassment. The workers making Manchester United’s shirts are paid 64p per hour for merchandise costing £110. West Ham are playing their home games in a tax-payer subsidised stadium. Tottenham Hotspur aren’t even playing in their stadium at all, after their fans have found promises made to them not come to fruition. And just this week, we find the departing Richard Scudamore, the man overseeing the Premier League, will depart his role with a nifty £5 million goodbye gift from all the clubs.
So the beautiful game we love might not be as gorgeous as we all want it to be, and the fact that deep down a lot of us knew that makes it even harder to take. Are we complicit? Maybe. Largely there is little we can do about the aforementioned issues raised by Der Spiegel and Football Leaks, but the fact they are being raised is important.
The outrage caused can help unite football fans in areas where we can make a difference; I hope the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign for cheaper tickets has received some much deserved momentum off the back of this. I think it has also helped raised a real awareness and introspection amongst football fans, that some things are more important than the tribal rivalries we all love. Adoring your team ‘on the pitch’ – the players, the manager, the stadium experience, fellow fans – is what is important. I love having debates and discussions with fans from other clubs, but if it gets to the point where you are defending your club over allegations like those levelled at Man City, it’s probably time to take a break. Step away from the keyboard, brew a cup of tea, and think about football’s importance in the wider context of the world. Probably advice I should take now too.