Last night the Guardian published a damning article quoting Portsmouth’s new owner, Ali Al Faraj, as saying that he had bought the club on borrowed money, that he wasn’t a billionaire, that he knew nothing about football and that he planned to sell on the club in six months after he had stabilised it.
Fast forward to today and the article is long gone, pulled (presumably) because the work placement guy who picked up the story from an unauthenticated source ballsed it all up. Or maybe Faraj’s lawyers (or Portsmouth’s lawyers for that matter) got in touch and threatened legal action over unsubstantiated accusations.
Whatever the case, Marina Hyde’s column on NBA’s strict vetting process that all prospective team owners must go through, offers the bleeding obvious and necessary solution to future (and current) club ownership problems – proper and thorough background checks and a peer-based vote.
But the Premier League, like any organisation, is resistant to change. Since it’s a ‘clubs’ association you’ll definitely see a resistance against regulation – why bother putting the house in order when it’s easier to hide behind non-existent rules.
A 5-step Ownership test
Let’s keep things simple here – the Premier League need to do the following for every existing and future owner:
- Financial background checks to ensure that the owners have the money AND have access to it.
- Political / criminal background checks to ensure that football does not become a laundering operation to ‘clean’ money, or that those convicted of cheating aren’t allowed back into sport.
- Investigate financial history (especially in terms of previous bankruptcies).
- Require a legal commitment to invest and stay at the club for a minimum period of time (with the appropriate get-out clauses in case of emergencies, etc).
- Require full disclosure of owner identity (and identities of shareholders if it’s a fund / trust).
This isn’t rocket science. We haven’t even begun to talk about preventing certain types of takeovers (I’m looking at you, Glazers) or holding owners to their initial promises (G & H).
Why can’t the Premier League ensure that anyone taking over a club is a) not a criminal and b) has the money to do what’s he’s proposed to and c) is in it for the long haul?
Are the Premier League so desperate for money, or so blase about the lack of regulatory oversight, that anyone, money or not, criminal or not, can buy a football club?