Manchester City's owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, has offered to resign as a director, the club's executive chairman has said. In a wide-ranging and frank interview Garry Cook also confirmed that the former Thai Prime Minister is close to selling part of his stake to raise funds for transfer deals.
However, Cook maintained that City "is not for sale" but admitted that both he and Thaksin were "embarrassed" after his £800m assets were frozen and the owner was forced to flee corruption charges in Thailand. It has raised questions about Thaksin's suitability and whether he can still pass the League's "fit and proper persons test". "There aren't many football clubs in the world who have their owner under political jurisdiction," Cook conceded.
However, in outlining his ambitions Cook, a former president of Nike's Brand Jordan, boldly claimed that City will become bigger than Manchester United. And, despite losing out on signing Ronaldinho, he was confident that a world "superstar" would be bought. The 45-year-old, who has spent much of his career in the United States, also proposed that the Premier League should be reduced, possibly to just 10 clubs, "and I wouldn't like to have promotion and relegation".
It was the scrutiny and speculation over City's financial future that prompted Cook to speak. He talked about how "frustrated" he is at the way the club have been portrayed, suggested there may be a "vendetta" and insisted "there is no cash crisis". However, City are looking for investors. "We've talked about selling part of his [Thaksin's] stake to a partner who would take a little bit of the pressure away," Cook said, although he insisted that the owner did not want to "give up the majority stakeholding". "We are not looking at institutions," he said. "It's a friend of a friend."
That friend is likely to be from the Far East. Cook revealed that the "second richest man in China" – Forbes magazine estimates that to be Zhang Jindong, who is worth $4.5bn – had offered to buy the club at a dinner in Beijing last week while there has been interest from Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Cook said there are advanced talks with investors which "will be resolved in the next 10 days". He added: "We have five or six options. The reasons we want to do that is because we need three or four players."
That would suggest there are indeed financial problems? "Because the assets are frozen he cannot be deemed to be spending any of his money," said Cook, who insisted the club could go to its bankers, Standard Bank, to raise funds. And what of the claims that money was borrowed from former chairman John Wardle? "We've never borrowed money to pay the wages," Cook said. "We run our business on a cashflow basis. We get into situations which can change within 24 hours. We've got offers out on players which, if all of them jump, we have to go to resources to get the cash in. All clubs are doing it."
Cook met the Premier League chairman, Sir Dave Richards, on Tuesday to discuss Thaksin's case. "I asked Sir Dave to give me a list of the things that would create us meeting the fit and proper jurisdiction and he said, 'Great, I will send that to you'," Cook said. "I think it is a very loose term. It is almost a tongue-in-cheek term that you would use for Premier League football over the last 10 years. There are plenty of unfit and improper individuals. Dr Thaksin has been really open about this. He has said to me: 'If you need me to resign as a director, because it would serve the needs of the Premier League, then I'm fine with that as long as that doesn't change any other thing'."
Does Cook not have any personal qualms? "I worked at a company – Nike – where we were accused of child labour rights issues. I managed to have a career there for 15 years and I believed we were innocent of most of the issues. So, morally, I felt confident. Morally, I feel comfortable in this environment," he said. "I mean is he [Thaksin] a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Has he got the finances to run a football club? Yes. I really care about those things. Whether he is guilty of something over there [Thailand] I can't worry too much about that."
There are also no regrets over the fruitless pursuit of Ronaldinho. "I am remorseful because we need a superstar," Cook said. "A global franchise entity – Mark [Hughes] and I talk about this a lot and he sort of understands it. In the intellectual property world of running a football club – when you have 3.7 billion people a year looking at you – you have to move away from football the way it is. I know people are going to say, 'Here we go again, another guy from America telling us how it should be'. It's true. China and India – 30 per cent of the world's population – don't have any football content. We are going to try and tell them that Manchester City is their content.
"To do that you need a superstar. No disrespect to any player we have but Richard Dunne doesn't roll off the tongue in Beijing. I love Richard, he is a key member of our team. But we need a superstar. Ronaldinho – what he does is bring players to the club. He brings access from major sponsors and financial reward."
But how does that square with a manager such as Hughes? "We told Mark not to come if he thought we didn't need a superstar," Cook said. "It was very much that. Mark's comment was, 'We all should all challenge ourselves, because that's what makes a difference'. Had he not wanted [Ronaldinho] we would have had a very heated debate and it would have been Mark's decision. I can't tell you who the next one will be, but we have one."
It is all part of a plan which includes winning the Premier League, Champions League – and overtaking United. "If I didn't have that goal, I wouldn't be here," Cook said. "Growing up at Nike, you don't sit around saying, 'Can we?' You say, 'We will.' I've got to change that here."