Asian owners of European football clubs have been in the news on an increasingly regular basis for both the right and the wrong reasons. The majority of Manchester City fans thank their lucky stars every day for the decision by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in their club to turn them into the champions of England.
Bankrolled from the Middle East, City, who have spent decades in the shadows of the north-western city, watching as Manchester United won title after title and became a global brand, pipped their neighbours to the title last May on a thrilling Sunday afternoon. No longer can the Reds laugh at the Blues. Now, they are serious rivals as a look at the top of the current Premier League table confirms. City fans don’t care how much has been spent; they are just enjoying the ride.
Other supporters, such as those at Blackburn Rovers, rue the day when they ever heard of Venky’s, their Indian owners. When the poultry producers bought the club in 2010, Blackburn were a solid mid-table Premier League team and regarded as one of the best run clubs in the country. Two years later, the club has been relegated, lost half of a once-loyal fan base and Venky’s have been named as the worst-owners in football by a poll carried out by the respected Sporting Intelligence website. They are also almost universally hated by supporters and regarded as a laughing-stock in English football in general.
And there are those in-between. Cardiff City are owned by Malaysians and despite the unrest at the changing of the club colours from blue to red, a big deal at any club, especially one that is nicknamed ‘The Bluebirds’. But with the club looking set for promotion to the English Premier League on the back of the investment, complaints are receding in volume by the day.
Already, 2013 has been a fantastic year for QPR, though 2012 was full of downs with an occasional up. The English Premier League’s bottom team travelled the short distance across West London to defeat European Champions Chelsea. Club Chairman Tony Fernandes has been active on Twitter all season, often defending the team and coach after another dismal result.
Even Chelsea fans could surely not begrudge a delighted AirAsia CEO the right to a series of happy tweets. “To all QPR fans. Happy New Year. Enjoy 2013. 5 am in the morning in KL. Big smile,” went one and then he later added “…After all the attacks on me this is sweet. Long long way to go. Much to do. Long long way from safety but keep believing and enjoy the moment.”
For years, Malaysia has loved English football and the Premier League, even going as far as to call it the British Premier League –something that sounds very strange to English ears – but only recently has the country started to become involved. Fernandes is a high-profile Chairman with his fingers in a lot of pies in the aviation and motor racing industries.
The club, which returned to the Premier League in 2011 after a gap of 15 years, has spent lots of money. The problem seems to be that it was on buying too many players of the wrong kind and not enough of what was needed. A truly dreadful start to the season cost Mark Hughes his job. Under new coach Harry Redknapp, matters have improved, though even with the shock win at Chelsea, the R’s still sit at the bottom on the Premier League with a measly 13 points from 21 games.
But there is hope now, not much, but there is hope. With new players set to arrive in January, though QPR’s squad is far from thin, and a relatively new manager in charge, QPR have given themselves a shot at survival. Safety is five points away, not small but with 17 games remaining, a couple of wins can make a huge difference.
Ultimately, if events on the pitch are going pretty well, then fans will overlook much of what happens off it. If new owners means a new start with better players, better results and prospects, most supporters will happily ignore the rest – it is a simple point that owners from Asia and elsewhere would do well to keep in mind. But with the rise of Asia in all fields, there are only going to be more businessmen and tycoons heading to Europe to take over teams both big and small. Some will succeed, others will fail.
John Duerden (twitter id:@JohnnyDuerden) has been called ‘The Voice of Asian Football’ by the BBC and writes for ESPN, New York Times, The Guardian, Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, 442 and various Asian media.Published 05 Jan 2013, 21:25 IST