Friday 9 December 2016

Foreign notions are relegated by best of British scare tactics

Dion Fanning

Published 23/10/2011 | 05:00

One man was quite insistent when asked about it. If they want to come over here, he said, they have to play by our rules. He was talking about foreigners, naturally, but this time it was the foreign owners of English football clubs who, according to Richard Bevan, head of the bastion of Britishness, the League Managers' Association, plan to do away with relegation sometime soon when nobody is looking.

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Bevan issued his warning and English football mobilised, by which I mean they organised a series of vox pops. The people couldn't have been more adamant: don't come over here and mess with our clubs.

Bevan claimed that a series of informal talks had taken place between American owners and "some of the Asian owners as well".

When Bevan said this, nobody thought he was talking about Sheikh Mansour or Tony Fernandes. Perhaps because he added that "if I was an American owner and owned a football club, or if I was an Indian owner, I might be thinking that I would like to get rid of promotion and relegation because my shares would go up."

All eyes turned to the Venky's -- the only Indians in the Premier League -- who, by a startling coincidence, had sacked a leading light in the LMA, in fact a leading light in world affairs, Sam Allardyce.

The Venky's have been ridiculed since their arrival, in part because they arrived knowing nothing about football (and were reportedly surprised to learn that Blackburn could be relegated) and in part because they have made their money in the processed chicken market.

English football's old money, the mill-owners and butchers, look upon these new arrivals as the aristocrats of England once looked upon the mill-owners. They were men, like Michael Heseltine, who had bought their own furniture. The Venky's, again like Heseltine, also look like they would comb their luxuriant hair in public, although maybe not all at the same time.

Perhaps the only thing the Venky's have going for them is their appointment of a homegrown manager to succeed Big Sam. Unfortunately, that manager was Steve Kean.

Kean has had to contend with mutterings about his supposed betrayal of Allardyce, mutterings about his evidence in his drink-driving case, mutterings from supporters of Blackburn who will again protest and call for his dismissal today and mutterings in the direction of a Sky reporter he encountered in a Munich bar. The Venky's have been telling anyone who cares to listen that Kean is a "brilliant manager" and their ambitions haven't been diminished by his startlingly bad record.

"On the whole the goal of playing in Europe over the next four to five years is a realistic one," Balaji Rao, the co-owner said, mindful of how Birmingham City's achievement of European football and relegation in the same season has been, as these people like to say, a "game-changer" for clubs like Blackburn.

Bevan was able to make a point that was then denied by everyone, but in the heated battle to look like a protector of the game, he had made his mark.

The FA quickly let it be known that they would never allow it. Some of the reports also pointed out that it was Phil Gartside, chairman of Bolton Wanderers, a Lancastrian and a man who would not need to be instructed in how things are done in Albion, who had called for a two-tier Premier League a couple of years ago and the introduction of Rangers and Celtic into that league.

Yet it fed into that idea that the game had been destroyed by foreigners, on the field and in the boardroom, that an Isle of Avalon where all was magically produced by itself was destroyed when foreign players and then foreign money arrived.

When England failed to qualify for successive World Cups in the 1970s, there must have been something wrong but people got over it as they couldn't blame foreigners.

There are those who still call for an English manager of the England team, forgetting how well it worked out with Steve McClaren.

Stuart Pearce ruled himself out as Fabio Capello's successor a few weeks ago in an interview in which he also stated that he would be taking no part in the peer-review process evaluating CERN's conclusions about neutrinos and the speed of light. Pearce, a good old-fashioned Englishman which could be a synonym for a bad manager, will instead manage the Great Britain football team at the Olympics.

This isn't going to end well. Alex Ferguson already laughed uproariously at the idea that Wayne Rooney could be available while the other federations don't want their players taking part under the British umbrella as they fear it will undermine their independence with FIFA.

Pearce, a natural diplomat, is the man for this job. He was a spirited footballer in a simpler time but playing football is always simpler than managing.

English football's problems have nothing to do with foreigners, no matter how they try to play it. English football improved with managers like Arsene Wenger and players like Cantona, Zola and Henry improved standards. Of course there have been owners like Tom Hicks and George Gillett but David Moores was the incompetent who sold to them and Peter Ridsdale was never confused with a ragged-trousered philanthropist.

Bevan warned that all it would take was for a few more clubs to fall into foreign hands and suddenly the Premier League would no longer be the altruistic, charitable body it is today. Instead they would become a rabid pack of dogs, eating their young or those in the Championship.

This was the latest in a trend of warning that football clubs act in their own self-interest, an observation that falls into the 'Pope is a Catholic' or 'Martin McGuinness lies' category of the bleeding obvious.

There was no danger of anyone abolishing relegation last week. The Venky's stated they aren't in favour of removing it which is simply another act of self interest. Soon they may be in need of promotion.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport

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