Manchester City's fans will be happy for change after new ownership and new hope at the club.
A new dawn for the Blues
A pondering Noel Gallagher, a good northern lad and ardent Manchester City fan if ever there was one, once sung "we're all part of the masterplan" in one of the finest pieces of music he penned in a period of songwriting that was probably too mature for the crassness of the Britpop scene of the mid-1990s.
Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand, could not escape from a pit of crassness after delving into ownership of the English Premier League club in June 2007, apparently brandishing £80million (Dh 528m) of his reserves. In light of his recent personal unravelling in which he has sought asylum in the UK, it is little wonder that his money was not packed in suitcases. Thaksin bailed out yesterday with the same level of vulgarity that has illustrated his tenure at City after apparently skipping bail from courts in Thailand.
A stream of financial irregularities seem to have hit Thaksin as hard as a Frannie Lee howitzer from the 1960s. He is wanted in Thailand, but unwanted in Manchester. Thaksin has been accused by authorities of "hurting" the Thai people over five years of running the country. He managed to hurt City supporters in 14 months. This odd, murky figure, who appeared yesterday to offload his ownership of the club to an organisation going by the moniker of the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment, had finance to fund his purchase of the club, but also lacked maturity.
As the Gallagher brothers, Noel and his kid brother Liam, or the boxer Ricky Hatton might have put it, Thaksin was "mad for it". There is a fine line between genius and madness, as they say, but Thaksin just appeared mad. He was dubbed "Frank" after the crooner Frank Sinatra by the fans early on, but his way was the wrong way. Or even the ill-advised way. The treatment of Sven-Goran Eriksson verged on lunacy. Rich, bloated men without peers usually soil their relationships, and Thaksin cut his relationship with the fans with such eccentricities. Not so much blue moon as moody blues.
Eriksson carried City to ninth place in the Premier League last season and into the Uefa Cup, but was still dismissed. Noel Gallagher was not happy. "For a club that's been going nowhere fast for the last 25 years, with a manager who's the best out there bar Jose Mourino, he turned it around and gave us a bit of style and dignity and grace. "He bought some great players. The fans have got pride back in the club. I just think it's beyond a joke."
City supporters, buffeted and bruised after sailing along on the good ship Thaksin, will hope that the intention of what has been branded a private holding company with extensive investments in Abu Dhabi, is a plan for the better. The Abu Dhabi purchase of the club and £40m to spend on new faces will be given short shrift if this apparently emboldened organisation toy with the emotions of fans. Owning a football club is about more than owning a company, it is about being a custodian. It is about holding the trust, dreams and hope of thousands of fans close to their bosom. In such a respect, Thaksin let City down despite investing in players.
City appear to be indicative of a changing face of football, and the changing faces of the people who want to buy clubs caught in the glare of TV cameras and burgeoning cheques. Names such as Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen were touted as possible signings yesterday as websites and TV channels in the UK subscribed to some feverish speculation. The Abu Dhabi group may have a strategy in place. It appears talks to bring the England winger Shaun Wright-Phllips back to City started when the player visited Abu Dhabi as a part of a Chelsea training camp in June, when he conducted a frank interview with this organ.
Wright-Phillips found the net twice in a 3-0 win over Sunderland on his debut, and yesterday sources close to the player confirmed he "loved" Abu Dhabi and was hoping to return to the UAE soon. Was he courted on his visit, perhaps with the permission of Chelsea? Investment in players is like Manna from heaven for football supporters, but at the moment the Abu Dhabi group represent another faceless organisation owning a football club, like Thaksin, borne out of self-interest.
Running a football club must surely be out about more than the aim of outing the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in a tourism venture. This is the uneasy situation we have reached in football, where the English Premier League is content to tot up its revenue without much consideration. Selling your soul to the highest bidder does not make it right. It seems difficult to think the Gallagher brothers, the bedrock of the group Oasis, once wanted to bring it on and own their club. No longer is it good Manc lads who want to live some sort of childhood dream, but instead groups in the Middle East, illuminated by money if you consider the recent Dubai links to Liverpool, who seek to promise they will be more than just an oasis in the desert.
It is a deal that was struck in the Emirates Palace, but will it lead to the Palace of wisdom? City fall into a category of club in the England, who seem to have been forever tailed by underachievement. Being part of the same city as the dominant Manchester United has not assisted them. Many City fans will, of course, inform you that they are the only club from Manchester that resides within the city.
They have had little else to cling to with United conquering England and Europe over the past 22 years. Apart from rejoicing in derby wins over United, last season they managed the unique double, frailties have been exposed. Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison oversaw some success in the 1960s and 1970s with Lee appearing to bleed sky blue. Denis Law condemned his old club United to relegation as a City player with a famous backheel, but Lee was also not a fantastic success during his time as chairman for five years in the 1990s.
There were originally founded in 1880 as St Marks, but in recent times their supporters have looked to St Jude. The club has twice won the league in England. They also have a gathering of FA Cups, League Cups and the old European Cup Winners's Cup, but have not picked up any form of a competent trophy since 1976. They found themselves transported to the third level of the English leagues in the 1990s, but they bounced back to the Premier League at the start of this decade.
Goodness knows what the present manager Mark Hughes must make of all this. Perhaps the most pertinent advice to offer Hughes at the present time of uncertainty and the impending arrival of projected wise men from the Middle East, to quote another Gallagher anthem, would be to roll with it. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org