Is fourth good enough? Well it depends on what you mean by fourth.
There was a time a couple of years back when Liverpool came fourth and I remember looking at the table with interest at the time and realising that they were so far behind the top that they were closer (in number of points) to being relegated than they were to winning the league.
OK a bit of a nerdie thing to figure out, and I wouldn’t have remembered it but that it happened twice.
Compare that with Arsenal’s fourth – obviously we are not winning the EPL but the distance is not impossible, and we all remember the period just 18 months ago when we were top. It is funny how things like that get set aside – fourth becomes an absolute concept, and anyone who says “well just how fourth is this fourth you’ve got?” is considered a loonie, who immediately loses himself readers.
But it is one of those valid little points that lurks around and makes me think, not only do I see a real flowing young team on the pitch that I enjoy watching, even the stats show we are not that far off.
There’s no doubt that how we do (and this applies to the other clubs at the top) relates to how well the others do. It didn’t matter how good Manchester IOU were in the Unbeaten Season, we had the season of all seasons, and no one was going to beat that.
The same point can be made about the efforts of Everton “Ignore the Law”, Aston “Hold your head” Villa and the Tiny Totts. They might have a bloody good season by their standards (and the Villa just have) but still not get into the top four because not only do they have to have a season of a lifetime, one of the top four has to slip up very badly to let them in.
Which leads to the question – will Manchester IOU, Liverpool Insolvents, or the KGB in Fulham slip up badly? It is a question that was raised in the correspondence column recently, and one that needs a moment’s examination.
Manchester IOU could be sold tomorrow. If the new owner took on all the debts and guaranteed them then the current owner could just walk away. Anything he gets is a profit, since the club cost him nothing. Same with Liverpool.
But the new guarantors of the debts that are guaranteed have to be acceptable to the people owed the money. So that’s one question: who would be able to impress the people owed all this money in the guaranteed loans that they could pay it back?
And add to that, who wants to get into a business like this where there is never any chance of earning enough money to pay back the loan. (As I have mentioned before, Manchester are bankrupt because they cannot pay the interest on their loans, and so roll that money over into more loans. Liverpool are uncertain of being able to refinance their loan this summer).
No one would do this for income because there is none – they do it either for glory or to sell the club on.
The problem is that very few people could afford to and would want to buy the club – the sell on market is dead. Only a handful of billionaires have the dosh, and they have realised that buying football clubs is not what they used to think it would be because…
a) Even with the chance to buy every Karlos Kickaball KGB Fulham end up universally derided, having flaming public rows with their managers, having out of control players (on and off the pitch) and are currently just a handful of points above the Arsenal Children’s team who cost an icecream and cream bun each.
b) Even with the trillions that Manchester Arab have, the club ends up a laughing stock as it meanders the globe trying to buy Kaka’s auntie, has managed to buy a £3 trillion flop who doesn’t seem to want to play, and can’t even get into Europe.
c) There is the risk of utter humiliation if you get bored with it and let the club go under. The supporters will hound you for ever.
Which is why the super rich buy horses, because as a horse owner no one shouts obsenities at you from the stands.
I have only watched a handful of games in Arabic countries but what I did notice was that the top dogs would sit in something akin to large armchairs with body guards all around. I think the penalty for insulting the owner is having your right hand chopped off.
So the megarich don’t want to know about European and S American football. Their first move when they realised that the big clubs were not worth it was to try and buy a little club. QPR was bought – and… well they are a laughing stock in their dealings with managers. Charlton were going to be bought, and the Arabs pulled out at the last moment. Liverpool were about to be bought and then it all goes very quiet.
Thus when I argue that one of the big clubs is going to fall it is not just because of the insane debt levels and the utter inability ever to make a profit, it is also because those who could buy the club simply don’t want the agro from the rest of the footballing world. Buy an F1 team – its safer.
The fact that clubs continue to go into liquidation (remember playing Southampton in the cup final?) shows that the rot is moving upwards. Although I doubt any reader here worries much about Darlington, the fact is they are not only liquidated – they can’t even find someone to buy from the liquidators, and are about to go out of business. They are going out of business because no one wants to buy a football club even for 50p.
West Ham are about to be owned by the banks to whom they owe their owner owes millions.
That is how it is, and the bubble at the top is already bursting. There will be shock and horror, but then, as with the collapse of Leeds and Nottingham Forest, everyone will turn to the next day’s news, until someone says, “hey – what happened to Liverpool? I can remember when they were in the EPL.”
Arsenal are not immune, but their position is much better. There is a multiplicity of rich owners (not as many as I’d like, but there’s a number of them) and the shares are traded. (Shares in the other top 3 are never traded). The mortgage on the ground is paid with crowds of 50,000 and Champs League games once every four years. The scouting system is so firmly grounded that it will long survive the departure of the Lord Wenger. The sale of the flats which will show up in next year’s figures will be a bonus. The sale of the business premises which will come in 2011 or so will be another bonus.
And as was pointed out in correspondence by Terence McGovern the other day on this site next season we will have Mr Usmanov as our new defensive midfielder. “I may be tough,” said Mr U, “but I have not personally killed any footballer for at least two weeks.”
Be very scared Manchester IOU, Liverpool Insolvency, KGB Fulham. There’s a man in our stand who could eat you for breakfast.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009
PS: I don’t of course mean that Mr Usmanov (who is I am sure a very nice chap) is actually guitly of doing anything nasty to anyone ever. Of course not. Not at all. I’d be very happy to buy him a beer at the Auld Triangle (as long as he fights his way to the bar to get the drinks.) And I don’t mean fight literally. Of course not. Not at all. No. Really. No.
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