Tuesday 12 August ~
Both Manchester City and the Premier League face a difficult few weeks. Man City owner Thaksin Shinawatra failed to answer corruption charges in a Bangkok court on Monday having fled (via the Olympics opening ceremony) to London and a warrant is now out for his arrest in Thailand. Thaksin’s wife was sentenced to a jail term of three years for tax fraud two weeks ago but was granted bail and is now in the UK with her husband, yesterday pictured shopping in Guildford. If Thaksin himself is convicted in his absence the Premier League will face an unprecedented test of its notoriously obtuse “Fit and Proper Persons test”, which states: “Any director of a club is automatically disqualified if convicted of one of a number of offences by a ‘competent court’ anywhere in the world.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore seemed to be attempting to buy time: “If we feel the rule has been breached, we will invoke it... We will not turn a blind eye to issues of a serious nature [but] it is quite a complex matter and we can’t just make a judgement on the spot.” Scudamore is clinging to the fact (for the time being) that Thaksin has yet to be convicted: “We have a club owner who has not yet been found guilty of any offence.” The Premier League will seek advice from the Home Office on whether to accept a Thai court conviction, but Britain and Thailand have had an extradition treaty since 1911 and ultimately it is the Premier League’s responsibility. Scudamore’s squirming may well get worse.
Message boards, Manchester City fan sites and the newspaper back pages were yesterday deluged with rumours of what may happen ranging from Mark Hughes’s resignation to, at worst, the impending collapse of the club. There were lurid stories of City “operating on a hand-to-mouth basis” and of former chairman John Wardle having had to loan Thaksin £2 million on several recent occasions to pay staff wages. Very little of City’s spending last summer was paid up front so they owe millions in transfer fees. The fact that Thaksin was unable to access £800m of frozen personal money in Thailand is unlikely to help. This lack of spending power has apparently has upset Man City fans but sympathy elsewhere is limited, especially given the City fans’ welcome to Thaksin, as pointed out in WSC’s webwatch at the time.
Elsewhere, Fabio Capello’s “2010 pledge” made headlines with the England manager talking up the national team’s chances prior to the World Cup qualifier in Croatia on September 10. This was accompanied by the news that Darren Bent is likely to receive a call-up for next week’s friendly against the Czech Republic, solely on the strength of pre-season goals. Capello at first seemed bullish – Croatia played “well enough in the Euros” but that he has a lot of confidence because “only Spain played really well” and that England “are at the same level, or better”. On closer inspection, however, Capello’s “2010 pledge” was not to win the World Cup in South Africa, reach the semi-finals or even get out of the group. This solemn promise was simply to qualify: “We will be in South Africa, for sure.” He’s clearly had some media training in managing expectations.