Whatever the facts that emerge surrounding the arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano at West Ham, there’s no point in becoming overly exercised by this latest move, whatever the baggage proves to be. In moral terms, top-level football plummeted down the abyss a while ago. With the creation of the Premiership and the Champions League, greed became the dominant principle. The only question these days is whether greed is the reason for an investment or what provided the funds to make a bid possible.
Older readers will remember Terry Ramsden. He was a young “entrepreneur” who took over Walsall in the mid-1980s. On matchdays he liked to land on the centre circle in a helicopter and was prone to making bold predictions for his club. His three-year involvement with Walsall was full of incident – they were promoted from Division Three but also set a League record of 15 consecutive defeats – then his businesses collapsed and he was jailed for fraud. As it happens, Ramsden has made a mini-revival lately as a City investor; another club chairman of the time, Robert Maxwell, is less likely to make a comeback.
Other businessmen, “colourful” rather than criminal, took over clubs then and basked in the publicity that owning a team provided. If there was profit to be made in the game it was indirect. There are echoes of the 1980s in the arrival of Kia Joorabchian at West Ham and other well connected international millionaires such as Alexandre Gaydamak at Portsmouth. It’s as if some of the chairmen of those days had swallowed growth serum and transformed themselves, just as meek bank clerks gain superpowers in old comics. All the old lines are trotted out about how the newly acquired club has limitless potential and is “the best brand in football”, as potential investors have called Newcastle of late.
Although they wouldn’t have said no to a profit, the previous generation of wealthy extroverts who took an interest in football clubs were principally in it for self-aggrandisement. The breed is far from dead – whatever Roman Abramovich’s motives, he isn’t looking to Chelsea to keep him yachts and Simon Jordan certainly loves the platform for his views that being Crystal Palace chairman provides. There were times when the idea that moving into football could be a step towards respectability would have seemed laughable, but it’s certainly been the case for the sex shop owners at Birmingham.
But for others, interested in established Premiership clubs or those with the support to suggest that they should be, the profit motive is key. The Glazers, for instance, need to make a fortune out of Manchester United simply to pay for their purchase. It’s not always clear who is who. Or what is going on.
Readers of the News of the World were treated to a glowing two-page interview with Joorabchian; curiously, it didn’t refer to one potential investor being mentioned elsewhere, Badri Patarkatsishvili, a Georgian billionaire who recently secured investment from that Sunday paper’s owners, News International, for his media company back home. Though Joorabchian, an Arsenal fan, claims that the investors he is talking to are from the Middle East and not the old Soviet Union, Patarkatsishvili was one of the investors in Media Sport Investment when Joorabchian’s company got involved with Corinthians in Brazil. Perhaps the Georgian is just being helpful rather than providing cash; after BSkyB’s abortive takeover of Manchester United, it wouldn’t be the first time that Rupert Murdoch’s papers had been used to provide favourable media coverage.
Joorabchian told the News of the World: “I believe in the very near future West Ham can become bigger than Chelsea.” That prediction demands an Abramovich-style investment to give it a chance of it being fulfilled. On the other hand, West Ham fans concerned that their new players are being parked in order to be sold on at a profit are unlikely to be reassured by Alan Pardew’s wide-eyed reaction to the surprise arrivals: “It is all intriguing. They have come to us in a manner that is undisclosed. But I can’t worry about that, I’m the team manager.” Corinthians supporters may have welcomed the takeover of their club by the mysterious MSI, especially when the team won the title in 2005. But they will be less enamoured now, with their club reportedly riven by infighting and stuck in the relegation zone, having got through three coaches in a year.
Tevez has said: “I will rub salt in the eyes of anyone who stands in the way of West Ham.” There’s no need; no one can see what’s going on already.
From WSC 236 October 2006. What was happening this month