The bank that has signed the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in football history, with Liverpool, has sought reassurances that the conduct of players will not cause it any embarrassment.
Standard Chartered’s chief executive Peter Sands sought undertakings with his Liverpool opposite number about the club’s likely action against offending players and also had sight of the club’s code of conduct before signing the £20m a season deal, last year. Standard’s Group Head of Corporate Affairs, Gavin Laws, insisted, in a week when England manager Fabio Capello said striker Andy Carroll should drink less, that the bank was relaxed about the £35m signing. In a candid discussion of the bank’s new relationship with the club, Mr Laws also said that Standard would like Liverpool to recruit Asian players to capitalize on their marketability in that continent, where Standard have a huge market. He also said he hoped Liverpool appoint Kenny Dalglish as manager and stated the merits of the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group refurbishing Anfield rather than building a new stadium. The bank’s Asian customers apparently love Anfield's quintissential football character.
Responding to Capello’s comments on Carroll – “he need to improve, to drink less” - Dalglish yesterday insisted that the 22-year-old was perfectly capable of managing himself. “Well he’s never bought me a drink. I’ve been with him at Boyzone concerts and he’s still never bought me a drink,” Dalglish joked. “Andy Carroll knows what is required of Andy Carroll. He is the most important part of all this. [He] cannot be criticised in any way, for what he has done since he has been here.”
But speaking at Manchester's Soccerex conference, Mr Laws said the bank had been aware of the risk attached to the sponsorship deal. “They [the players] are young men and they play hard and party hard. Reputationally, what is important to us is that the club has the right set of responsibilities and guidelines for their players. We will never stop some players going to excess on of the issues we had to consider what would we do if certain things happened at the football club.” The return to economic growth of its markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East were vital to Standard's 19% rise in profits and it is the success of Ji-Sung Park in promoting Manchester United’s sponsors in the Far East which has whetted Standard's appetite for a Liverpool Asian player. “We would love the club to have players of nationalities from the markets in which we operate,” Mr Laws said. “They are not going to get them from all 75 but if they could sign some – if they could get a Korean, Indian, Chinese player - look what Park has done for United in terms of coverage in Korea.”
Though Thaksin Shinawatra is remembered for foisting woefully incapable Thai players on Sven Goran Eriksson at Manchester City, Mr Laws was expressing only a hope. “It can’t be us dictating this. He’s got to be good enough to be playing, because it’s no good having someone in the reserve team,” he said. But Mr Laws said Liverpool knew from their “first conversation” with the bank – at which Dalglish was present – that the bank coveted a player from Asia. “Liverpool are more aware than most other clubs we’ve spoken to of the commercial opportunity for them,” Mr Laws added. “If they can sell a million shirts with another Mr Park on the back, why wouldn’t you?”
Dalglish’s presence with the new Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre at the London meeting which began sponsorship discussions was critical, Mr Laws said. “It showed from the very first moment that they realised we needed a bit of the bling, a bit of the celebrity, a bit of the excitement. He [Dalglish] is almost a Bobby Charlton.” Mr Ayre told yesterday's conference that Liverpol did not need to be in the Champions League to break even financially.
Standard’s obvious desire to see Dalglish installed permanently is another reason for Fenway Sports Group to do that. “Kenny is doing a great job,” Mr Laws said. “We think he is an iconic manager From a sponsors’ view point I have no power to make Liverpool chose Kenny as manager, but I would love him to be the manager.”
On Fenway’s deliberations about whether to stay at Anfield – which they seem to be swaying towards – Mr Laws said: “Anfield is not as developed as some other clubs and that makes it very exciting for our guests from Asia. They love it. They love the fact that it’s… well, not exactly dirty and small because it isn’t – but because it’s a football club. We had customers from Hong Kong with us for the [win over Manchester] United [last month].They couldn’t believe the noise, the atmosphere, the passion. For a corporate client on a day out for us – fantastic.”