What makes a perfect owner? What do they have to be? Is it endless riches, or is it dedication? Can there even be a perfect owner? I guess it depends on where you look at it from.
I think it’s fair to say most Liverpool fans will agree that George Gillett and Tom Hicks have ticked all the boxes when it comes to being bad owners. Not only have the so-called ‘custodians’ placed huge amounts of debt onto the clubs holding company, they also lied about it. Since their takeover the trophy cabinet hasn’t been opened at Anfield, which is no coincidence. Selling to buy has left us with little to no strength in depth. Whilst the starting eleven may be formidable beyond the players on the pitch there’s little to no quality, with Rafael Benitez being forced to sell players to finance bigger buys.
Without getting into a debate about our current owners, the question has to be asked. What really makes a good owner? Not in the short-term, but in the long-term, what kind of person is truly right for the club? What kind of person will make the club successful well into the future?
Many may look to Manchester when considering their answer. Sheikh Mansour has turned Man City into a formidable outfit in record time, allowing former manager Mark Hughes to spend countless millions on whoever he desired. Now the former United man has left the City of Manchester new boss Roberto Mancini will likely be afforded the same privileges in the January transfer window.
Surely the Arab Billionaire is the example of the perfect owner? Well, not exactly. Taking a longer look at City and certain things start to appear that may worry supporters of the Manchester club.
Firstly, the new owner was quick to ensure Etihad, Abu Dhabi’s main airline, was made kit sponsor. This would seem normal to most, any owner would love to take advantage of such a situation, free advertising never hurt anyone. However, this is a time when Abu Dhabi as an Emirate are starting to consider life after oil and how the can continue to support their current lifestyle’s. The answer was seemingly found in neighboring Dubai, tourism. Abu Dhabi, as with Dubai, has set out on a number of adventurous, yet calculated investment projects based around bringing tourists to the UAE’s capital. Manchester City are acting as a great billboard for the Emirate, but what happens when Abu Dhabi does establish itself as a tourist destination? Will the Sheikh really want to keep hold of a business that won’t have made a profit under his ownership? Will he really want the financial burden of having to pump in a few hundred million twice a year?
The other issue with Manchester City’s situation is the same as at Chelsea, do their owners just think of them as a play thing? All boy enjoy their toys and many of the worlds richest have chose football clubs as an especially big Subbuteo set that they just had to have for their birthday. But as with the children’s football-based toy football teams may go out of fashion, they may be replaced by something better, like video games with Subbuteo. When they get bored, will they just push these clubs aside and forget about them?
Sheikh Mohhamed, Vice-President of the UAE and Crown Prince of Dubai, seems to be an exception to the rule. Sheikh Mo, as many call him, has a passion for sport and many of his sporting ventures have been hugely successful. His most noted sporting business is the Godolphin Stables, who’s horses have won all that there is to be won in the racing world. If the Crown Prince was to own a club there’s no doubt it would get his time, attention and money. He does of course have a negative side. Under his rulership a number of ambitious projects have been built in the city, with huge borrowing based upon the property market, which has now crashed. While Dubai will recover in time Abu Dhabi has had to pick up the bill for the reckless spending by many Dubai development companies. Although Sheikh Mohhamed’s personal wealth hasn’t really been affected it still leaves question marks over his financial decision making, or at least the decision making of those who control his investments.
So, the problem with the uber-wealthy seems to be that they can’t see past the short-term and are notably reckless, but what about the dedicated? What happens if you get that supposedly amazing situation where a supporter gets rich and buys the club he loves? Well, just as Middlesbrough. The Teesside club were rescued from extinction in the eighties by passionate fan Steve Gibson, who made his money trucking steel around. Under Gibson the club saw decent investment year in year out, at least to the amount he could afford, and as such the club went from strength to strength, at one stage making it to the UEFA Cup Final.
However it all went downhill for Middlesbrough when the appointed ex-player Gareth Southgate as manager after the departure of Steve McClaren. Gareth had become somewhat of a legend at the Riverside, leading the club to the most success they’d seen in their history. Not only did the fans on the terraces love Southgate, so did Gibson. Southgate was backed in the transfer windows and signed below average players like Alfonso Alves, who cost the club just over 12 million. Despite a run of huge mistakes by the manager Gibson stuck by his good mate and eventually saw the club relegated. The true downside to a loyal chairman.
Looking at all of these example’s it’s hard to really pick a truly great chairman. Many have touted Aston Villa’s current owner Randy Lerner. The American tycoon has invested heavily into the club and put a great deal of trust in manager Martin O ‘Neil. With his quiet financial backing Villa have gone from an average mid-table outfit to challengers for a place in the European Cup. Some would say he is the perfect Premier League owner, but then again he’s not a true fan and that’s always going to be an issue.
So, the perfect owner seems to be someone who has been a childhood supporter of the club, who’s now worth billions but isn’t reckless and is in for the long-haul. Not to mention they can’t be bias when it comes to the manager, they have to ensure that they know the pressure is on to perform. Oh and they have to have the best interests of the everyday fan at heart, which includes low ticket prices and a plethora of community scheme’s.
Let me know when you find someone who fits the bill.