What the people of Manchester think of the Kaka transfer saga

Should a football club in the depths of a recession spend £100m on a player?
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The Independent Online

For a few delicious days the front page of the Manchester Evening News has sparkled with the tantalising prospect of football's biggest transfer ever. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahya, the oil billionaire owner of Manchester City football club, has offered to pay £100m-plus for the Brazilian superstar Kaka. And he is prepared to pay him £500,000 a week in wages.

But if you turn to the business pages of the newspaper the mood becomes much more gloomy. There, the reports of closures, sales slumps and redundancies portray a region contracting at a faster rate even than the UK average. A survey by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce showed that a quarter of manufacturers expect to axe staff over the next three months.

So this week I contacted half a dozen of the people featured on the business pages to ask them what they felt about Kaka – and how such footballing über-confidence squares with a nation in recession.

At Eighth Day, a health food shop and café, which was in the news for turning a small workers' co-operative into a thriving business with a £1.5m turnover, the verdict on the transfer was scathing. "It points up something absurd about the values of modern Britain," said Brenda Smith.

"We're a workers' co-op where everyone earns the same [£7.75 an hour] whether they are a fully-qualified nutritionist or someone who does the washing up. There are parts of Manchester which are among the poorest places in the country. The only upside is that he might pay lots of tax, though it'll probably all get tied up in offshore trusts. This is indicative of what's wrong with this country today. I say boo to the whole business."

In the Trafford Park industrial zone, hard by the home ground of City's major rivals, Manchester United, the GMB union's local organiser, Eddie Gaudie, was doing battle to save 415 jobs at the logistics firm Wincanton. He was also looking askance at plans by the retail chain Argos to axe 200 workers at its nearby distribution centre, which is, in the bitterest of ironies, to be turned into a "museum of industrial heritage".

"By all means pay people for their skills," the union man said, "but it's utterly ridiculous to pay a man half a million a week in a city where the average wage is between £13-15,000 a year, not a week, and where some people are struggling just to put food on the table."

But others take a rather different view. The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce acknowledged that the club's offer might, "further reinforce the view that Premier League players are paid excessive sums of money". But its spokesman, Paul Kirkham, pointed out that the sporting economy also brings a significant amount of income to Manchester. The proposed transfer of a world-class player like Kaka could only be good news for the city as a whole.

"He's a world-class player for a world-class city," said David Potts, the retail and logistics director of the supermarket chain Tesco, which was in the Evening News announcing a £65m investment in Greater Manchester which should create 1,700 jobs over the next12 months. Mr Potts is biased. He joined a Manchester branch of Tesco aged 16 and has worked his way up to board level and a £500,000 salary. He is also a City season ticket holder.

"What a great front four," he said. "Kaka, Robinho, Wright-Philips and Sturridge, who is a local lad who came up through the club's academy". Manchester City is famous for nurturing local talent through its youth academy.

"Those who keep investing through bad times as well as good will reap rewards," said Mr Potts, speaking of his football club – though the sentiment was just as apt for his day-job. Tesco has just opened a big new store down the road from the City ground, in Cheetham Hill, a regeneration area where 179 of the 380 staff have been taken from the long-term unemployed register – and where local people were trained by Tesco in social skills and shopwork to the level where they could successfully apply for the jobs they have secured.

Success breeds success, he might well say. Which is probably why those at the centre of the few other "good news" stories in the newspaper were also upbeat about the Kaka offer.

"At the end of the day you have to pay the going rate," said Lee Shuell, who in March was one of 800 people made redundant by the sub-prime lender GMAC. He bought into a property rental franchise with Belvoir Lettings, where business is now booming in the ill wind of recession as tenants hold back from buying and many home-owners are becoming landlords, renting out the houses they could only sell now for a much diminished price.

"£100m is not a mad amount of money in a world where Cristiano Ronaldo can write off a £200,000 Ferrari and then drive home in his Bentley. It's all good for Manchester. Of course City are paying an inflated fee, but the market is inflated already, with other clubs asking City more for the players they want than other clubs would countenance."

Might that fantasy feel-good factor manage to trickle its way down through the region?

There's only the slimmest chance, said Paul Chadwick, the managing director of Chadwick Family's Emporium of Fine Foods, at Standish, near Wigan, which has seen sales soar since it won a major national food award recently. "It doesn't really reflect on the local economy; football is a globalised business. It's a ridiculous amount of money, but then again football has always involved ridiculous amounts since the days when Tom Finney [the Fifties footballing legend] was paid £9 a week.

"At the end of the day the fans will vote with their feet, which is what people do in my shop. The important thing is to keep buoyant and confident and keep the customers happy." As for Kaka? "We'll just have to hope he comes here to buy his meat."