James Lawton: League is to blame for club owners acting like headless chickens


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The Independent Online

Having lamented the absence of the Uefa president, Michel Platini, from last week's show of wealth and power at the Etihad Stadium, the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, might now want to tell us how much he regretted the Frenchman's non-appearance at Ewood Park this week.

Or then, when you think about it, perhaps not.

According to Scudamore, below, Platini's argument that Financial Fair Play regulations provide the light of impending football sanity would have been pummelled by first-hand evidence of the effects of Sheikh Mansour's £1bn-plus investment in the champions-elect Manchester City.

Apparently caught in a rush of corporate pride, he declared: "It would have been nice for Platini to have been there. It is a strong point to put to him: this is what you get when you welcome inward investment."

No doubt the devastated supporters of Blackburn Rovers might have made a point or two of their own. They might also have asked a question that has rarely been far from their minds from the start to the finish of a season of ravaged hopes.

It would have asked how it was that if the Premier League was indeed the best-run, most spectacular league in the football world, it allowed a bunch of Indian chicken suppliers to get their hands on one of the nation's proudest clubs, sack an established, proven football man like Sam Allardyce on the doolally basis that the club should have finished in seventh rather than ninth place, appoint a complete tyro in his place and then provide him with an embarrassingly small budget?

Even those only casually acquainted with the recent history of the Premier League could reach for the answer. It is because the Premier League's Fit and Proper Person ownership test has once again proved itself not a vital administrative arm but a rather sinister joke.

Even before Venky's put their maladroit hands on the club, the Premier League had assembled a cast list of owners who might have raised eyebrows even in the murkier corners of polite society.

Before City received their desert windfall, they had Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai politician described by Human Rights Watch advisers as "a human rights abuser of the worst kind". Across town, United acquired the Glazers, whose tortuous efforts to turn one of the most successful sporting institutions into the family cash cow included putting a lean on Old Trafford. Birmingham City's saviour Carson Yeung had the small embarrassment of money-laundering charges in Hong Kong and we all know the long-term impact of Alexandre Gaydamak on the affairs of Portsmouth.

This is the other side of what you get when you wave on "inward investment". In Blackburn's case it has been mostly the grossest ineptitude, a cycle of failure which became so alarming the club's deputy chief executive Paul Hunt made desperate, mid-season entreaties to club owner Anuradha Desai that she come down from the unworldly place where she had persuaded herself that Ronaldinho could be conjured at no greater cost than £4m.

In America, the National Football League has regulations over ownership that would not have allowed the Glazers to step inside the front door of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had they presented the kind of business plan which allowed them to take over United.

There are vigorously enforced rules against the stockpiling of debt, and disbelief that a league with the global range of the Premier League should operate with such light restrictions on the financial activities of its members. In the stringent world of major league American sport, the scandals of Blackburn and Portsmouth simply could not have happened – nor the debt loading of United.

Blackburn has happened before our eyes on a slow reel of dysfunctional horrors. Eastern promise turned into Occidental meltdown. Some fans have screamed their anger while others have been overcome by a numbing tide of disbelief.

All of them have seen something they held very dear, a club Alan Shearer once chose before Manchester United and his hometown Newcastle and one for whom some of its finest days were seized by the brilliant, laconic little Lancastrian Bryan Douglas, first stolen from them, then turned into an object of ridicule.

A pity that Platini didn't show his face in the Etihad Stadium? It's a thousand more, surely, that he didn't happen to see the wreckage of a great club on the night they became the latest victims of what passes for football governance.