Thursday 13 March ~
English football's expansion into a global business has created a lot of work for translators, working with players, club owners and even the England manager. But they have to tread carefully. With so much press coverage of football here now, on the internet and through sports news channels on digital TV as well as the daily press, every translated comment is liable to be reported, analysed and in some cases ridiculed. Thaksin Shinawatra, the owner of Man City, was accused of widescale human rights abuses during his period in power as prime minister of Thailand, including large scale arrests of political opponents. So someone in his retinue was a bit careless in announcing on Wednesday, just after he pleaded not guilty to corruption charges in Bangkok, that Thaksin was returning to Manchester to “tighten the bolt” on his club who have fallen away from contention for a European place.
Thaksin believes that involvement with English football will be useful in boosting his public standing in Thailand and indeed elsewhere – he talked recently of creating “ A team that the Thai people will be proud of. Before long there will be Man City China, Man City Japan, Man City USA.” When he returned to Bangkok to face charges at the end of February he took Man City players Kasper Schmeichel and Kelvin Etuhu with him, ostensibly to take coaching sessions with Thai children. Schmeichel also warmly complimented his employer in interviews with the Thai press. It is unclear what Thaksin's “bolt tightening” is likely to involve other than to give the general impression that the owner is taking charge, just as Roman Abramovich is prone to turning up at Chelsea's training ground when the team have a bad result.
After a match in September, Abramovich even gave Michael Essien a dressing-room lecture about getting the ball forward quicker – or at least that is what his temporary interpreter Andriy Shevchenko apparently passed on. Mild-mannered as he is, it is unlikely that Sven-Göran Eriksson would appreciate his boss turning up to pass on advice. He just wants assurances that there will be a lot more money to spend in the summer. Thaksin had £900 million of assets frozen when he was deposed in 2006. No doubt some of that money will be passed on to Man City should he get access to it through negotiations with the new government, which is stocked with his supporters. However, it was reported today that the Premier League didn't seek information from the Foreign Office when assessing whether Thaksin would pass their fit and proper person test when taking over Man City last year.
Foreign owners who have got involved with clubs recently for purely business reasons can create chaos behind the scenes, as we have seen at Liverpool. But just as much damage can be done by autocrats at play, as Thaksin and Abramovich are showing, no doubt to the delight of rival clubs. Huge investment always comes with strings attached.