Rich City are good for soccer

By Martin Samuel, June 11, 2009
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There are a number of people who do not like parvenu Manchester City. They resent the sudden wealth, the vaulting ambition, the presumption in their attempt to join the Premier League elite. Me? I love them. I love that a very wealthy man is spending his money to make our football more interesting, rather than saddling his club with hundreds of millions in debt, I love that they told the truth about staying loyal to Mark Hughes, the manager, and I love the fact that they employ a British coach, rather than searching abroad for the flavour of the month. And we need clubs like Manchester City; because in straitened times there are not too many with the drive to challenge for the top prizes, and that is unhealthy for our game.

We lost West Ham United this week. Not as a Premier League entity, but as contenders; as a club that is going to aspire to more than survival. The collapse of the Icelandic banking system did for the fortunes of owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, and the group that now control the club, CB Holding consortium, is an uneasy alliance of his creditors. Largest among them is the Straumur-Burdaras Investment Bank, itself in administration and now run by the Icelandic government. CB has installed its head of debt, Andrew Bernhardt, as the new non-executive chairman.

His first pronouncement was that there would still be investment in players, “but all within the parameters of sensible budgeting based on revenues generated by West Ham.” So no investment on players, then. Investment is what is happening at Manchester City, where the owner takes new money from outside the club and spends it on improving the team. What Gianfranco Zola, the manager at West Ham is required to do, is spend money that he has generated, therefore balancing the books, which is not the same thing at all. If he wants a new striker, he has to sell another player or players in the squad to finance it.

No club will compete consistently at the top end of the table in this way. West Ham’s only aim from here will be to do enough to maintain Premier League status. CB Holdings aspire to no more than the relegation avoidance.

The Premier League is full of businesses like that. Existence for the sake of existence. These are the clubs that put reserve teams out in the FA Cup in order to go for a draw at Hull City in midweek, and consolidate 15th position.

Every now and then a manager gets it so right that his team shoot up the league and qualifies for Europe, at which point everyone at the club panics and treats success like a nuisance, overstretching the resources, until the following season they return to comfortable mediocrity once again.

Some believe this financial Puritanism is the way forward for football, all clubs living cautiously within their means, never dreaming, never speculating, never taking a risk.

I think it is a tragic, dull, little life; boring, too, because Manchester United will always win the league if all clubs think this way. That is why the hopes and desires of Manchester City, or any team that wants to have a go, should be applauded. Daring to dream is what makes football special; anything else is just accountancy.

Martin Samuel is the chief sports writer of the Daily Mail, where his column appears on Monday and Wednesday

    Last updated: 4:47pm, June 11 2009