Call me Mr Sour Grapes, but I am afraid I will not be joining much of the media gushing over Manchester City’s League and Cup double, doubtless to become triple-winning Manchester City following next week’s inevitable victory in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) against Inter Milan. Pep Guardiola must be the greatest manager in the history of history because his contemporaries in the League Managers Association (LMA) voted him the greatest manager ever in their end of season awards. True, City play attractive winning football, the team packed as it is with the best players money can buy and, as Chelsea have shown, just spending hundreds of millions on players is not in itself sufficient to win stuff, but I find it hard to celebrate the triumph of a club literally owned by a nation state, the UAE, which has big questions to answer.
Lest we forget that the Premier League, rarely seen as a paragon of virtue in terms of finances, long ago opened an investigation into City’s alleged financial malpractice, an investigation City have not exactly engaged with positively. But then, some might say (see what I did there?) why should they? They are innocent until proven guilty, honest toilers scraping by with the bare minimum of assistance from their wholly principled Abu Dhabi benefactors. Of course they are. But here’s a thing. Since the investigation was opened, the club – if you can still call it a club – has won nine major trophies including four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and three League Cups.
Obviously, I am in no position to pronounce guilt on City’s alleged malpractice, for which they have been charged with 115 offences, but I am well aware of the widespread argument that it doesn’t really matter because everyone is at it these days and that clubs should be able to spend what they like pretty well regardless of where it comes from. The old fashioned idea that football clubs should only spend money they’ve actually got is but a distance memory.
Locally, if (perish the thought) I was a Bristol C*ty supporter would I not feel uneasy with the club losing half a million quid a week? Not really, with a billionaire owner covering the losses. To a lesser extent, the same is going on at my old club, Bristol Rovers, the only club I shall ever support, where substantial losses – in fact the entire playing wage bill – is covered by a wealthy Jordanian in order that they too can compete, presumably with other clubs who are living well beyond their means. Yes, everyone’s at it so our club might as well be, too.
Indeed, some folk say that Manchester City are simply being picked on. Why do Newcastle United not come under the same level of scrutiny since they are owned by the head-choppers of Saudi Arabia, Manchester United owned by wealthy Americans by way of a leveraged buy out which put the club in debt for the first time since 1931 or Liverpool who are owned by, it says here, Fenway Sports Group Holdings, LLC, which is an American multinational sports holding conglomerate? “It’s much the same thing,” I hear and maybe it is?
But if there are rules and rules have been broken – and I say here to Messrs Sue Grabbit and Runne, I have no idea whether they have been, so put that libel writ to one side, please – then why not enforce them? Or maybe some businesses have so much money and power that they can do exactly what they like, in which case, let’s forget about a rules-based organisation and let everyone spend what they want? After all, it’s clear that many supporters don’t give a toss where the money comes from as long as it keeps pouring in.
Where we are now is nowhere, or a weird halfway house where we pretend there is some sense of fair play and there still exist for supporters the chance to dream because that dream, surely, is what sustains the supporter, that a better day is possible?
What we have seen at Manchester City, regardless of whether any rules have been broken, is the club with the most money hiring arguably the best coach in the world and what followed was inevitable. If that’s a template for the future – and I see little by way of objection – then why bother with financial fair play rules at all? Spend, spend, spend and let the strongest survive. It’s what Charles Darwin would have wanted when he came up with the fact of evolution, isn’t it?