Can toothpaste be put back in the tube?
With last week's Last Night of the Proms and its traditional patriotic union-jack waving finale, it seems timely to reflect on foreign ownership on football clubs.
With last week's Last Night of the Proms and its traditional patriotic union-jack waving finale, it seems timely to reflect on foreign ownership on football clubs. Particularly with West Ham this month being linked with a possible takeover by Media Sports Investment - the company which appears to own the rights to Hammers' Argentinean duo Javier Mascherano and Carlos Teves.
There has been a great deal of comment in the Press about foreign owners. Do they represent a progressive way forward for clubs; a sensible way of ensuring high levels of investment in one of the country's key assets?
Or is the trend towards offshore owners a worrying continuation of the growing divide between clubs and the communities that surround and sustain them?
What is beyond any doubt is that, one by one, Premier League sides are falling into foreign hands. Chelsea (Roman Abramovich - the Russia billionaire), Fulham (Mohamed Al Fayed - an Egyptian-born, Swiss-based businessman), Manchester United (Malcolm Glazer - the American owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Portsmouth (Alexandre Gaydamak - a French businessman of Russian descent). Control of all these famous football names has already gone offshore.
And with American Randy Lerner poised to assume full control of Aston Villa, 25% of the Premiership will be in foreign hands. But it doesn't stop there. West Ham have admitted to exploratory talks with potential investors; Iranian financier Kia Joorabchian has confirmed to the Stock Exchange that he is considering making a bid for the club. Newcastle United's Sir John Hall recently confirmed an un-named party had expressed an interest in buying his majority stake in the club. Reading chairman John Madejski has publicly expressed his interest in selling his club to new owners. And Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra tried in 2004 to buy a significant stake in Liverpool. So, in reality, in can only be a matter of time before nearly half of England's top division will be in foreign hands. And, like toothpaste out of the tube, once done, it can't easily be undone.
So why is foreign ownership perceived to be such a problem? Should it really be a matter of concern whether our clubs are owned by local business people or by foreign investors? There are, after all, plenty of examples in football of relatively undesirable 'locals' taking their club for a ride.
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In my view though, there are huge issues that the authorities are complacently ignoring. And the biggest of these are transparency and accountability. The fundamental difference between local and foreign ownership is that a truly local owner cannot easily escape the consequences of their decisions. An owner thousands of miles away in a foreign jurisdiction most certainly can.
And, as we are seeing in the case of West Ham, trying to understand where the money behind Media Sports Investment comes from is much easier said than done.
But of course there are also huge competition issues to wrestle with. Abramovich's billions have massively distorted the market for players in this country. Quite simply, no other club can match Chelsea's awesome spending power - a fact that has directly led to the Blues picking up back-to-back Premiership titles.
And on the subject of transparency, Sports Minister Richard Caborn and UEFA Director of Communications William Gaillard appear at one: Caborn has gone on the record urging the mystery bidders for West Ham to reveal their identity. While Gaillard has reportedly gone further: “This is a wake-up call and the UK government have a responsibility to start investigating. After all, it's part of the UK economy.”
“The trend is going against what we want to see, which is more clubs being owned by the community and the people who really care for them”. On this occasion at least, UEFA appears to have hit the nail on the head.
On The Ball, City!