As the sun sets on another Chelsea manager’s tenure at Stamford Bridge, a new wave of apprehension concerning the Premier League and its future must be confronted.
Roman Abramovich’s decision to prematurely end the Di Matteo era at Chelsea has left Blues fans with a sour taste in their mouths and yet again, illustrates the power of foreign owners at English clubs. Like a frustrated child, unwilling to share their most precious toy, Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner has catapulted a popular managerial figure and a club legend out of the door, holding it open for none other than Rafa Benitez to take temporary charge.
The worry for the many football purists in this country is that 12 of the current Premier League clubs are majority owned by foreign bigwigs who have implemented new structures and demands on their respective teams in order to achieve instant success, a near impossible task in England’s top flight.
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While the financial benefits of foreign ownership are clear for all to see, long term ambitions and historical traditions are put on the back burner. Tom Hicks and George Gillett are perfect examples of how foreign ownership can nearly destroy a national institution like Liverpool. With complete disregard for fan opinion, the two Americans made false promises and derisory financial decisions for personal gain, failing to see the thousands of fans who spend their hard earned money to watch the club they love.
The Glazer family, while having more success than the Anfield American duo, have disconnected themselves from the fans at Old Trafford, by treating the team as a business venture, lacking passion and desire for the club’s history and traditions.
These examples are comparable with the current turbulence at Stamford Bridge in the fact that owners are failing to listen to the fans’ desires. It also seems that the manager no longer makes the decisions at a club like Chelsea. Granted, Abramovich funds much of the transfer activity at the club but he has no right to overrule a manager who is qualified for the job and knows the game inside and out. It is highly unlikely that the current uproar at Chelsea will turn into a catastrophic mess a la Hicks and Gillett, but what is fairly obvious however, is that this power shift could rip out the foundations of football from its very core.
Take a look at Wigan Athletic and Dave Whelan. The club are now an established Premier League side, whose fans are relatively satisfied and whose manager is now highly rated. Whelan does not interfere with what he doesn’t know. He has a phenomenal relationship with both the manager and fans and runs the club in a certain way because he genuinely cares; he has Wigan in his heart. Despite his occasional ill-thought media outbursts, Whelan is a perfect example of how a club should be run and why owners like this have been successful for decades.
Concerns from established Premier League managers regarding foreign owners have been prevalent in the media for the last two years. In 2011 Spurs manager at the time Harry Redknapp spoke of his worries:
“With more foreign owners coming in, it’s going to be scary. Teams are looking to sell their clubs. Everton are looking to sell. The bloke from the local butcher’s ain’t going to buy it any more, is he? That’s the way the game’s gone now.
“English people don’t have the money. The money is in Russia, the Arab countries, America. When they get control, they will do what they want with our game. Anything can happen.”
With the Chelsea saga validating Redknapp’s comments, the future of the Premier League looks worryingly bleak. Globalisation may reign in the next few years as the race to catch up commercially with American Sports begins.
Will Abramovich’s impatience be the start of a domino effect of owners taking full control over their clubs? At the moment, it seems like anything is possible.