Man City banks on Thai owner having enough to go round

The former premier skips bail, seeks exile in Britain and boasts of millions to spare
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The Independent Online

Thaksin Shinawatra has never spared much expense when it comes to two of the loves of his life: beef noodles and designer labels. Whenever word reached him of a reputable new noodle joint in his native Thailand, the former prime minister would pay a visit. His penchant for the brands was just the same: some of his advisers winced when he once showed up at a poor village in north-west Thailand with an Italian Fendi towel on show.

Bangkok's beef noodle outlets are off-limits for the foreseeable future, though, after Thaksin's decision to skip bail and seek exile in Britain last Sunday with the corruption case against him going pear-shaped (from his point of view, at least). What Manchester City football fans – and their manager Mark Hughes – want to know, on the weekend of a new Premier League season, is whether he'll also be tightening his belt at their club, which he bought for £81.6m last summer in a wave of euphoria and promises that City were destined to be the next Manchester United.

Thaksin had been reckoning on his acquittal freeing up what he would call the family silver: £800m of tax-free profits earned on the sale of the Shin Corp telecoms group – which he had built up – to a Singapore company two and a half years ago. He won't be getting the money soon, and the jitters about what that means for City were not helped when two of the clubs's stars – Croatian defender Vedran Corluka and Irish midfielder Stephen Ireland – were rumoured to be leaving.

They were only rumours, but there is no doubt that the apparently permanent loss of the Shin Corp money seriously depletes the money Thaksin was anticipating when he said, a year ago, that he would lay out a fortune on players for City. Though Thaksin is widely described as a "Thai billionaire", he is anything but, once the frozen assets are removed from the equation. Though once worth £2.2bn, Forbes's latest estimate puts his wealth at around £213m. That leaves Thaksin with half the estimated worth of the Warburton family, who are behind Bolton Wanderers, and only slightly more than Wigan Athletic's proprietor, Dave Whelan – hardly the kind of clubs City aspire to be.

What's left in the kitty has had some serious demands on it too. Thaksin is known to have spent heavily to rehabilitate his image since returning to East Asia, in the hope of winning his case. It is thought that his attempts to engineer a rapprochement with the politically influential Thai Crown Prince have including serious investment in the fashion career of his daughter, Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana.

That said, last week's £15m bid for Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz proves that the picture is more complex than it seems, and it is difficult to ascertain whether the Forbes figure is valid. A figure of around £215m was put to Thaksin by one interviewer recently, but he insisted he was worth more – though he would not say how much more. Thaksin's biographer, Chris Baker, believes there could still be enough money to sustain continued ownership of the club. "He clearly had money to play with when he came back to Thailand and it could be that the football club becomes more of a focus now he's out of Thailand," Baker says. "He is a serious entrepreneur and not impoverished."

The former Prime Minister will not live a life of penury in Britain. His Companies House entry reveals a mansion at Weybridge, Surrey, and there is also believed to be a flat in Kensington. But the way Thaksin has structured the deals to buy players at Manchester City also leaves him with another serious financial problem. The initial down-payments on transfer fees were small last summer, leaving Thaksin with an estimated liability of £50m on players purchased. Those instalments tend to be repayable in short periods.

It's hardly what Hughes – one of the brightest managers in the game – had in mind when he arrived at City this summer with the prospect of Barcelona's Ronaldinho being signed on a weekly wage of £100,000. But City have a state-of-the-art stadium, key to most clubs' business plans. And though they carry a £60m debt, just look at United. The Glazer family have Old Trafford in hock to a figure of £764m. In the crazy, financial world of Premier League football everyone's living on the edge.