Football has in fact just become a front for political and economic maneuvering.
By Tony Attwood.
Sometimes in football numbers just don’t add up. Sadly when this happens the politics always does add up, and the result can be rather alarming.
And indeed there is something worth considering which is tucked away in the recent news about Manchester City expanding into China. (And may I pause and point out that Untold has been talking about the Man City group’s plans to expanding into each confederation of Fifa in order to make the movement of players between the City Group’s clubs easier to manage for quite some time now).
City Football Group has announced it has received £265m investment from CMC, a Chinese state-owned investment conglomerate which this year completed a deal with the UK theme park owner Merlin to develop a Legoland resort in Shanghai, after Merlin’s shares collapsed following the terrible accident on a ride at Alton Towers, one of Merlin’s ventures.
So what? Well, two weeks back CMC said that they had paid £862m for the broadcast rights for the Chinese Super League. But the Chinese Super League only earned £13.9m for the whole of 2014 and 2015 seasons combined. So where is the sense in that? At this rate it will take 61 years to get the money back.
It is being argued that CMC needed that deal to get the deal with Man City which in turn is only there in order to help build up their audience base, which is perhaps true, but still there is no financial sense here. Except that the consortium that now has part of Man City includes CITIC Capital, which invests in property around the world. So one wonders, is this about the value of property and not about football?
The CMC fund also exists to make money out of the foreign exchange reserves China holds by buying stakes in growing foreign companies. Suddenly the game is not football, but something quite different.
Taken at face value the deal values City Group at just under £2bn – which is a huge amount, and makes it clear that Man City are now fundamentally part of a global money making operation on behalf of Abu Dhabi.
But there is more, because since the owners of all this footballing stuff are government men from the dictatorships in Abu Dhabi and the People’s Republic of China, they have immediate entrance to the UK government’s offices. Remember, for example, Abu Dhabi holds 9% of the world’s oil reserves and around 5% of the world’s natural gas. China meanwhile is the country charged with building and owning nuclear power stations in the UK and then selling back to those of us living in the UK, our electricity supply at eye watering prices.
That might be a bit worrying for some (actually it terrifies me, but that’s just my politics and sense of economic insanity, so I’ll move on) it gets quite frightening when we come back to that earlier fact that CMC said that they had paid £862m for the broadcast rights for a Chinese Super League that currently earns about £7m a season.
Now mix this with the fact that the City Group already owns clubs in the US, England, Australia and Japan (who are thus outside all local confederation area control for inter-trading) and that they are building an infrastructure of youth development, scouting and broadcasting, and we can see where power and control is going.
As I mentioned, the future of electricity generation in the UK is now in the hands of China. So it is not that difficult to imagine that the morally and financially bankrupt FA is looking over its shoulder at all the money, and suggesting to China that it might like to invest in the FA. Or take it over. One wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Of course in many regards, football is irrelevant in all this. What the owners of Man City and deniers of the validity of basic human rights in Abu Dhabi actually want is to liaise ever more closely with the People’s Republic. This is in fact not about football at all – which is why to the people involved the cost and return on Chinese football broadcasting rights is irrelevant.
Although the Chinese president, Xi Jinping has spoken of making China a force in world football, and although the City Group’s link to China will result in more football academies, this is much more about getting oil into China, and building a political and economic powerbase to the USA.
Thus when the City group said, “the deal will create an unprecedented platform for the growth of City Football Group clubs and companies in China and internationally, borne out of CFG’s ability to provide a wealth of industry expertise and resources to the rapidly developing Chinese football industry,” one could actually remove the word football from that statement and be closer to the truth.
Football has in fact just become a front for political and economic maneuvering. Which is why the potential expansion of City Group into other areas (we’ve mentioned Brazil and South Africa as two others of interest besides China, and let us not forget that City Group also now owns Yokohama F Marinos in the J-League) is a matter of concern for anyone interested in football, because it is not football driven. Meanwhile Man City now have major power bases building up in Japan and Singapore.
If you want to see just how irrelevant football is in all this, consider how the President of Man City Khaldoon Al Mubarak was host to President Xi at the Etihad Stadium on the same day the Chinese former Man City player Sun Jihai, was enrolled in the hall of fame at Manchester’s National Football Museum.
Now, be honest. Do you think Sun Jihai should be enrolled in the hall of fame at the National Football Museum? OK it is a tiny point, but it indicates where we are in this.
Add to the fact that Mubarak has been widely reported as pushing David Cameron, the British PM to take stronger and stronger measures against certain Islamic factions and groups that Abu Dhabi doesn’t like, and we find football has just disappeared over the horizon.
For Manchester City fans it must look wonderful – they are closing the financial gap on Man U. But the rest of us might ask, what the hell has most of what is going on got to do with the game we got interested in? Indeed as I started work on this story, the build up to the vote which has led to an expansion of Britain’s war effort in Syria was going on, and I really started to wonder who was pulling the strings. Abu Dhabi has just agreed to rebuild a run-down part of Manchester at its own expense – which will be wonderful for the people who are moved out of the slums into decent housing. But what was the political cost?
Still I wonder about where the power lies in all this. One detail that almost becomes lost is that Man City were the club whose owner could not believe that Uefa would actually reject its clever accounting deals to get around FFP. But they recovered, and realised that all they needed was an endless stream of money pouring into the City Group in order to by pass every law Uefa wanted to by pass. Selling stuff to China, to a state owned corporation that has already paid for the rights to Chinese football at a rate of at least 100,000 times what it is actually worth, seems a good way of doing it.
What next? City Group buy Uefa? Don’t laugh. It is possible, and ok maybe they couldn’t make a worse mess of football than the present lot have, but even so…
With all this background, the statement on Man City’s website that, “City Football Group today announced a partnership with a consortium of high profile Chinese institutional investors led by China’s leading media, entertainment, sports and internet dedicated investment and operating company CMC (China Media Capital) Holdings. The deal will create an unprecedented platform for the growth of CFG clubs and companies in China and internationally, borne out of CFG’s ability to provide a wealth of industry expertise and resources to the rapidly developing Chinese football industry,” is either screamingly funny or desperately worrying in terms of the way football is being used as a political tool.
And where are the protests?
The strongest I can find is this from shadow sport minister Clive Efford. “I don’t think Sun Jihai’s record justifies his selection for the hall of fame. I think it’s a grubby little fix and I think this sort of thing has gone on around football for far too long, where money has dictated what’s happened and not what goes on, on the football field.”
If any of our politicians or organisers of football have said anything else, I’ve missed it.
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