Ever pondered over this question? Whether money can really buy happiness or if it is truly the root of all evil? Apply this thought to the wonderful world of football as a fan of the beautiful game and ask yourself whether you would be happy with your club turning rich over night by a billionaire’s takeover. This may, of course, have already happened to some fans of English clubs who have been taken over by rich businessmen who are looking to increase their fortunes and follow in the growing trend set by a certain Roman Abramovich in 2003 when he bought Chelsea FC for a reported £140m ($233m).
Four years, two league titles, two league cups, one FA cup, a dozen talented (expensive) international players and one self proclaimed “special one” later and Chelsea are finding themselves in a bit of mess this year. Having got off to their worst start since the Russian oligarch’s arrival in West London, Chelsea have now parted company with Jose Mourinho and face an uphill task this season to reclaim the authority they had over English football. At the time of writing Chelsea are perched worryingly for them in seventh place. The honeymoon period, it seems, is now over.
American tycoons have also jumped on the bandwagon. The Glazer family have seized control at Manchester Utd, George Gillet and Tom Hicks have taken over Liverpool, and Randy Lerner now owns Aston Villa. West Ham also have a new foreign billionaire chairman in the former Icelandic owner of a bread and biscuit manufacturing company, Eggert Magnusson. Each have pumped considerable amounts of money into the teams this summer, allowing the managers to spend as much as they like on who they want. Transfer spending this summer by English clubs reached an all new record, exceeding £500m, around two thirds higher than the previous record of £300m in the summer of 2006. One of the busiest sides in the transfer market this summer, were Manchester City.
The sky blue half of Manchester underwent a complete makeover before the start of this season. The club was bought by the controversial ex-prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra. He faces allegations from his country for presiding over the reported killings of some 2,500 people over the space of three months in 2003 during the tarnished “war on drugs”. He is also reported to have told the Thai military to use any means to suppress an insurgency in the south of Thailand as well as suppressing the Thai media. If convicted, the Thai government could well seek his extradition from the UK.
In the meantime Stuart Pearce was sacked as the club’s manager and replaced by none other than ex-England boss Sven-Göran Eriksson. Set to earn £2m a year plus bonuses in a three year deal, he has suddenly, just as quickly as the club found themselves rich, transformed from the nations disgraced England manager to miracle working hero at Eastlands. City ended the campaign last year in 14th with a shameful new record of lowest amount of goals scored at home, just 10 goals. This season however, has seen a collection of stars fall into the City starting line up and scoring goals is a thing of the past now.
Eight new arrivals came to don the baby blue shirts and conjure up magical football that you’d expect from the Brazil national team. Sven suddenly a tactical genius for uniting a brand new squad to play, not just together but “well” together or simply buying your way to the top? As well as interesting signings in Elano, Martin Petrov and Geovanni, Sven has also seemed to bring out the best in talented youngsters Micah Richards, Martin Johnson and Stephen Ireland as well as veterans Richard Dunne and Dietmar Hamann. Money talks it seems. Currently Manchester City sit proudly in third spot, unfamiliar territory to them. Shouldn’t City and Chelsea be the other way round in the table? It’s a funny old game! Just one point behind their bitter rivals Manchester Utd, who they’ve already beaten this season and three behind Arsenal.
Top of the table for Arsenal has also been unfamiliar territory for them in recent seasons, as they have fought hard to remain among the top four and book themselves among the elite of Europe by qualifying for the Champions League. After their legendary record goalscorer and captain Thierry Henry left in the summer to join the world class strike force at Barcelona many people wrote Arsenal off. However they’ve surprised everyone so far with their attractive football and unity. As well as being on top of the league at the moment, two points above Man Utd, they also have a game in hand. The most surprising thing however is that they are doing this with a talented team of youngsters; the average age of Arsenal’s starting line-up is 22. Still not surprised enough….then how about the fact that they still haven’t been taken over by a billionaire tycoon and yet they have recently been revealed to be the second richest club in the world behind Real Madrid!
The Gunners’ move to the Emirates stadium has seen them generate a whopping 50% increase in business to leapfrog both Manchester Utd and Chelsea in terms of income. Arsenal’s turnover for their first year at their new home is estimated to be around £190m, not far behind Real Madrid’s £202m. Over the same period, United’s total income was £167.8m whilst Chelsea’s was £152.8m. In comparison to their final year at Highbury, which saw them reach the financial-boosting champions league final, their turnover was £132m. The main reason behind the massive increase in turnover is the expanded 60,000 seat capacity at the Emirates, which is almost sold out nearly every game. This has earned the club an estimated £3.45m per game! Who needs a rich businessman when you can develop your own rich business…thanks to the loyalty of the committed fans of course!
However, an Arsenal takeover could still be on the horizon as Uzbek-born oligarch Alisher Usmanov’s company Red & White Holdings have recently bought 23% of the stakes in the clubs shares. This makes Usmanov the second highest shareholder behind Danny Fiszman, who owns 24%. In April, Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein sensationally quit on the basis of “irreconcilable differences” between himself and the rest of the board. This was down to Dein wanting Arsenal to be taken over by Stan Kroenke, American owner of the Colorado Rapids, in order to not be left behind in the growing trend. Despite the American’s current stake at 12.2% Dein has since befriended Usmanov, a Man Utd fan, and was appointed chairman of the Red & White holding company. Both tycoons have been met with firm resistance from the Arsenal board, who want to protect the clubs heritage and honour their history. Besides, what a story it would make come what May if Arsenal are still sitting pretty at the end of the season and capture the crown from the clutches of the other ‘big three’ who’s philosophy in recent years has become spend, spend, spend.
Arsene Wenger, who formed a strong bond with the influential David Dein, is rumoured to be receiving £70m worth of transfer kitty in the new year when the ‘January sales’ begin. Will he touch any of it? Probably not as he recently said in an interview that he was happy with his match-winning team at present and that he doesn’t really believe there any “special players” out there at the moment worth spending a large part of the budget on. Over dinner apparently Danny Fiszman asked Wenger what he would do if he were given £100m kitty. The response was simple, “I’d hand it back,” he is said to have replied. Wenger is renowned for his development of talent rather than buying it, quite often bringing in unknown names for small fees and guiding them into their full potential to become world class professionals.
With all this in mind there is only one certainty; it’s going to be an extremely interesting season as ever. With Chelsea’s stumbling start seeing them fall further behind the team’s in front it remains to be seen whether they will simply try and ‘buy’ their way out of trouble come January. Especially now they have new management in Avram Grant and Henk ten Cate who will no doubt both be looking to bolster their troops and reshape their own ‘dream team’. Manchester Utd, Liverpool and Manchester City could well all look to keep up the pressure in the new-year by bringing in more talent. Keep an eye on Wenger though to see whether he will actually get tempted to dip his fingers into the mighty war chest he has in front of him or whether Arsenal entirely will come under the looming shadow within the horizon if Dein, Usmanov or Kroenke get their way. Only time will tell whether money really will buy happiness or whether sheer hard work and raw, young talent will pay off.