Monday, 10 January 2011

Whatever Platini says...

I have nothing personal against Hull City. In fact, I'd go so far as to say most people have nothing against Hull City. Quite a few neutrals around the country will have cheered a little when they beat Arsenal at the Emirates a year or two back with that screamer from Geovanni. Part of this comes from the fact Hull don't really have any natural rivals. Scunthorpe and Grimsby are as big as Hull rivalries really get, and I can imagine that Hull fans are a bit miffed about that (especially when you consider even Torquay have cracking local derbies to get stuck into every now and then).

Anyway, I'm getting off my point already.

Hull have been in financial trouble for a while now, since Adam Pearson left them and Phil Duffen took over. Quite how they managed to get into financial trouble with 25,000 fans coming through the turnstiles every week and a further £30m incoming in TV money I really don't know. It isn't as if they spent masses of cash on players (unless it all went on Phil Brown's tan). Since their relegation back to the Football League, they've been taken over by Arabic businessmen who have, apparently, put the club back on a stable footing.

I don't know why people keep selling English clubs to foreign owners. Perhaps in the short term it reaps rewards (look at Notts County last season - from 19th in League Two in 2008/9 to champions in 2009/10, with a progressive side featuring the likes of Kasper Schmeichel), but in the longer term it's a recipe for disaster.

What emotions tie an Arabic businessman to an English football club? Precisely none. Some would suggest that this is an advantage; a business needs to be run in a certain way, and that way doesn't involve emotions ruling the roost. But unfortunately very few clubs will ever be run that way by a foreign businessman because the aim is simple: success at any cost.

Do Manchester City have a sustainable business model in their quest to win the Champions League? The answer is no. Spending £27m on Edin Dzeko this past week, plus goodness knows how many hundreds of thousands on weekly wages is just one example of the way foreign - and in particular Arabic - owners throw money at the problem in search of prestige. Foreign owners aren't interested in the team or the fans, per se, but instead are interested in their own bragging rights. Owning a successful club is a badge of honour, and that club being a sustainable business doesn't matter one jot.

Not all foreign owners are like this. Randy Lerner at Aston Villa has been a good chairman and owner. Villa haven't thrown money at players except in rare instances (wasting £8m on L**ds no-mark Fabian Delph springs to mind instantly), and have instead relied on talented youngsters. And some of these youngsters are superb. Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan, Jonathan Hogg, Gabby Agbonlahor, Ciaran Clark and Eric Lichaj are all players with international futures ahead of them and, with the exception of Agbonlahor, all are players who have made their mark this season. The impression I get from Villa is of a side building for the future through steady, sensible progress rather than going for broke in a do-or-die scenario. In recent times, Roman Abramovich at Chelsea has become far more like this, although success is still the bottom line for him.

Going back to Hull, I fail to see how these new owners will benefit them one jot in the long term. Spending £40m on buying the stadium may endear them to the fans for the immediate future, but when they're bored and success hasn't materialised they'll leave the club to the vultures, with players on stupid wages and with a mounting debt. Sometimes this isn't the case, but because the emotional attachment isn't there why would they stay? It's not as if they were watching on from the terraces at Boothferry Park with a young Dean Windass playing for Hull, is it?

Oh, for the days of Jack Walker and Jack Hayward. Both Englishmen, both determined to see their clubs (Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively) advance, but never jeapordising the future of the clubs. Walker was accused of buying Blackburn the title, but if that's the worst you can say about him he did his job properly. His legacy was a club capable of sustaining itself at a high level, with the very sensible John Williams taking over. The same can be said for Hayward. Now compare Jack Walker's running of the football club with the new (foreign) owners, who are more interested in bringing in short-term prestige over long-term stability.

As a Huddersfield Town fan, I'm delighted Town aren't owned by a foreign owner with no real connections to the club. We're owned by a man with a nine-figure fortune, yes, but this is no oil tycoon from the United Arab Emirates. Dean Hoyle is a self-made millionaire, born in Heckmondwike, who has supported Town through thick and thin for 30 years. He went straight from the Kilner Bank not too far along from yours truly to the boardroom. His investment is heavy - but when we come out of this phase of investing the club will have been revolutionised and will, most importantly, be a sustainable business.

In many ways I'm an extremely lucky football fan. These days there seems to be a choice between a foreign owner with wads of cash but no emotional attachment who leaves the club in dire straits when he leaves or a succession of well-meaning but ultimately not-very-rich owners who try to keep the club on the straight and narrow. Having a fan with money and business sense in charge leaves me with the feeling that the club is in very safe hands.

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