Chairmen come in all shapes and sizes, desperate to install success and sustainability in a sport boasting unrivalled riches and fame. Some turn up with a blank cheque book whilst others insist the purse strings remain taut and untouched. There are a few who opt to wade into the heart of the club and get their hands dirty which is stark contrast to those who appear content with pulling the strings from the shadows.
Whatever their philosophy each individual has their own set of good and bad characteristics that influence their subsequent impact on the club and popularity in the stands. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to attempt to categorise these figures into groups so they could be analysed, dissected and graded.
The bankroller is a popular figure amongst the fans; they arrive hand in hand with a bank balance featuring more zeros than the mind can comprehend. They set about flexing their financial muscle in the transfer market with an apparent disregard for the clubs accounts as they look to secure overnight success.
We’ve seen this happen with the likes of Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and more recently with Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. Their unrelenting wealth has allowed both clubs to compete at the very peak of the Premier League but that doesn’t mean they don’t endure their own set of complications. With the vast quantities of money being pumped into the club, instant results come as the standard expectation.
Managers may be blessed with substantial budgets but the timeframe for success is significantly condensed into an unrealistic target. The concept of ‘job security’ may as well be a fairytale notion with each member of staff fearing the next game could be his or her last. Abramovich has dispatched seven managers during his eight year reign and few would be surprised if Mancini was ousted from his position at Manchester City should (or rather when) they fail to snatch Fergie’s crown away from him. The arrival of the Financial Fair Play initiative may see fewer and fewer of these characters in football and it’ll be interesting to see how these existing individuals adapt to a climate where you can no longer solve problems by throwing money at it.
Arguably the most desirable ‘format’ of chairman, they’ve got the supporters interests at heart and the business acumen to deliver the club to the promise land, or should that be ‘profit land’.
It’s the current situation at my beloved Crystal Palace, perhaps our reward for suffering a number of controversial cretins at the helm over the years. We’ve already witnessed many changes during their brief spell, from proposals to alter the club crest to the introduction of our very own brand of Ale. Sadly though mistakes have been made, as the appointment of George Burley will testify, however they haven’t shirked the responsibility of making the big decisions when needed and I can finally be confident that the club is moving in the right direction.
Elsewhere the reign of Mike Ashley is probably the most renowned fan/businessman ownership in the Premier League. His time at the club has been ‘turbulent’ to say the least, with more highs and lows the proverbial rollercoaster. He initially won the adulation of the Toon Army after scrapping large sums of debt inherited from the previous regime and is rarely photographed without his Magpies shirt on. However, his decision to appoint fan favourite’s Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer ultimately backfired as the club slipped into the Championship. After numerous attempts to sell up, the club is now operating in a self-sufficient way and Ashley’s appointment of Alan Pardew has seen the club propel up the table in search of European qualification.
The Silent Type
We know very little about these mysterious figures in football, in fact the only time I see Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke in the news is when he increases his stake at the club. Seemingly content to linger across the pond and let Wenger and Co handle proceedings, Arsenal fans will hope Kroenke continues to back the club with his wallet even if he refuses to do so with his mouth.
Ah yes, the American, he usually arrives with delusions of grandeur before watching his newly built house of cards come crashing down around him (see: Hicks and Gillett). In Villa’s case, Randy Lerner arrived and began instigating a significantly successful period at the club. In 2010 Villa finished sixth (for the third season running) and capped off the year with two appearances at Wembley. The team was thriving under O’Neill’s leadership and had a distinct English essence at its core epitomised by the likes of Downing, Young, Milner and Agbonlahor. However, O’Neill’s departure coupled with the sale of all but Gabby Agbonlahor has seen Villa enter a rapid decline, going from European qualification contenders to relegation candidates.
Liverpool on the other hand are enjoying life (off the pitch at least) under their new and improved American owners. Much like Silent Stan, John W. Henry has been sure to treed carefully during his time at the club, swiftly signing off debt and funding a hefty spending spree without any declarations or boasting in the national press. Their intervention in the whole Suarez affair has perhaps caused murmurs of discontent but at present it appears that the Anfield club have finally found strong leadership.
The Venky’s reign at Blackburn has been shrouded in controversy, mainly stemming from their futile attempts to bring in a number of unrealistic, high-profile names. However, their decision to stick with Steve Kean despite heavy pressure from fans, the media and general passers by, appears to be paying dividends and is highly commendable given the popular sacking culture in football.
Another family making waves in football currently reside at Old Trafford. The Glazer’s debt-laden ownership of Manchester United has sparked fury amongst fans despite continued success on the pitch. Still, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the club has now seen over £500m leave its bank account in repayments whilst the Glazers continue to hide in the background.
The Hands On Approach
There is a lot to be admired about Tottenham’s Daniel Levy, his influence in the transfer market is the equivalent of someone getting all the items on your Christmas list at a knockdown price. His reluctance to disregard the club’s strict wage structure has enabled and will continue to allow Spurs to progress year on year. However, if media reports are to be believed, Levy’s pursuit of the Olympic Stadium was far from respectable and his stubborn approach to the Luka Modric situation has bought criticism from certain sections. However it appears he has done what is necessary to ensure what’s best for the club and few football fans can begrudge him that.
Honourable mentions must go to Wigan’s Dave Whelan and Swansea’s Huw Jenkins for continuing to defy expectations and establishing a reputation for backing their managers to the hilt.
What brand of chairman would you prefer? How would you summarise the reign of your own club’s chairman?