The show of football must go on

It is in the hard moments of life we learn who are our real friends or not. Hopefully we also learn what is important and less important so we can give priority to our choices in the right way, choices that in the future will be totally decisive for the life we strive for and want to accomplish.

The Russian Oil baron Roman Abramovich became trendsetter for the modern and overvalued football industry in Europe when he in 2003 invested in the former modest team Chelsea Football Club and transformed the English club from southeast of London to one of the sports large-scale productions. The billionaire in a rough estimate spent 700.000.000 euro during a five year period forth to 2008. After the Russians appearance on the international football scene it seems that several billionaires adapted to the progressive rockband Pink Floyds cynical song Money and its lyrics:

“Grab the cash with both my hands  and make a stash. New car, caviar, four star daydream. Think I´ll buy me a football team”

Despite that Pink Floyd´s cynicism is about the 70th circumstances in the American league NFL (National Football League) the symbolism and the parallels still are striking. More and more strong financial actors in form of private owners are getting stronger influence over European top clubs and divide the structure of power on micro and macro level in an unjust way. Hopefully there are some purpose with the investments, like Abramovich´s intense interest and commitment to the sport, but in later time we unfortunately have seen that it has rather been about profit interests.

When the americans George Gillett and Tom Hicks got control of the stocks in Liverpool with its distinguished heritage they did it with promises about a new economic and sporting greatness and a new arena. When the board a couple of years later, through a court decision, was forced to sell the club to the present owner, they did it with a debt for 500.000 000 euros and a summond from the old owners Hicks and Gilett for 1,5 billion Euros. In addition to this the club are still playing the home games on the antique arena Anfield. These are no astonishing evidence for how the americans prioritize and watch over their own economic interests.

In 2003 the Yankee Malcolm Glazer started to buy stocks in Liverpools main competitor and bitter enemy Manchester United. Two years later it was clear that Glazer and his family was controlling the clubs total value of stocks. For the investment Glazer was forced to take credits for about 600.000 000 Euros. Credits he finally, to the fans anger and frustration, was financing with massively increased ticket prices.

The 1st of September in 2008 Manchester City surprised the football world when it was made public that the clubs earlier owner, the billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, had sold 90% of the stocks in City to Abu Dhabi United Group, a big investment company that is placed in the federal state United Arab Emirates and owned by the states royal sheiks. Thaksin had due to accusations of corruption got his assets frozen in his home country, which stoped him from investing any significant amounts on City. After the takeover ADUG´s spokeman Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim made the aim with the purchase clear: They will make “the blue” the biggest and best football club in the world. They have good conditions to succeed with this when the investment companies total assets is incomprehensible 400.000.000.000 Euro (2010).

Similar power- and structure conditions we find among the Serie A clubs AC Milan, Internatzionale and Juventus, where private owners and families not just invest money in their clubs but also use them for political and personal interests. The hunt for footballs without comparison biggest status symbol Champions League, that according to the coaches Furgesson and Ancelotti now days is more valued than World Championship of football, seems like the madness of arms race to get single clubs and billionaires  to overvalue an already overvalued player market in a similar way that was made by the property- and stock market when they led the world into 2008 financial crisis.

The dividing of resources in the world of football, and the new purposes that the largest clubs are driven by, increasingly comes in conflict with UEFAs 11 values about the game and how the whole business of football shall operate. According to the European organization the game shall always come first. They shall also work for a good steering of society, independence and solidarity all the way down to grass root level and work for financial fair play and correct competitions. With the appearance of new financial actors  on the pitch these values becomes more and more meaningless.

In the future it will be increasingly important for the clubs to decide who are their real friends or not and for UEFA as the European Football´s deciding authority to think about what choices they should make to strive for the best of the game. Exactly as UEFA expresses, the sport is “ A game before being a product, a sport before being a market, a show before being a business.” And as the Rock group Queen sayes in their epic power ballad: The show must go on…

Niklas Liiv