Friday, 10 January 2014

The 10 Worst Owners in Premier League History

10. Thaksin Shinawatra
(Manchester City, 2007 - 2008)

Thaksin: Called 'Frank' by City fans

In the history of Manchester, the acrimonious era of Thaksin Shinawatra is often overlooked. The infamous Thai businessman, who served as the country's prime minister for five years up until 2006 (when he was overthrown), bought what was a very different Manchester City to the one we know today, in June 2007.He was initially well received and won the fans over with his appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson and his funding the transfers of some highly rated European stars such as Martin Petrov, Valeri Bojinov as well as Brazilians Elano and Geovanni.

His troubled past caught up with him as the season went on and he became embroiled in all sorts of controversy back home facing charges of fraud and money laundering. Several warrants were made for his arrest should he arrive back in Thailand, which to this date he has not. Ironically his younger sister now rules Thailand. His ownership is mostly forgotten thanks to the super-rich Abu Dhabi group who bought the club from him and launched them into stardom.

9. Assem Allam
(Hull City, 2010 - present)

Mauled by the tigers.. Allam

Allam would not have made this list were it not for his actions of last summer. On the whole he's been good for Hull, funding their promotion back to the top flight following relegation in 2010. Upon returning to the Premier League however he announced that the club would be re-branded and re-named as the Hull Tigers from the following season, removing the 110 year old 'City' part of their name which he deemed "irrelevant and common".

A cardinal sin for any owner is to try an alter the identity of the club. Ask Pete Winkelman, considered in league with Hitler and Mussolini by most Wimbledon fans for his part in moving the team to Milton Keynes in 2003. Football clubs in the UK are unique in that they represent part of the culture of a town or city. To mess with something such as their name is to mess with the city itself. Allam should have known this having lived in Britain since 1968. His inviting the fans to "die whenever they want" as a response to vocal protest at his plans was unwise indeed.

8. Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshimi Mittal
(Queens Park Rangers, 2007 - 2011)

Flavio is banned from the sport Bernie runs, yet they owned a team together

OK so they sold QPR five days into their first season back in the Premier League, the mob who ran them for the previous five years were universally unpopular and turned the club into a comedy show and the laughing stock of English football.

Briatore in particular, the head of the Renault Formula One team, ran the day to day operations at Loftus Road and was notoriously impatient with managers. His first boss, Luigi De Canio lasted seven months and 35 matches, which turned out to be the longest reign of any of the ten managers who preceded Neil Warnock in a two and a half year spell. Briatore was also know to text managers instructions mid-match as he deemed it more subtle than a phone call.

Flavio was given a lifetime ban from F1 in 2009 for fixing the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix (he did, though he protests his innocence). This meant that he failed the FA's 'fit and proper persons test' and needed to be bought out. Ecclestone (an even bigger crook) obliged and bought Flav's share. The team won promotion to the Premier League in 2011 and were sold to another F1 boss, Tony Fernandes upon their return. Despite being relegated in 2013, the club is more stable now than it has been since the F1 mob came to town.

7. Tom Hicks and George Gillett
(Liverpool, 2007 - 2010)

Genuinely thought they were the other way around until now

Football fans do not like to be lied to. There's nothing worse than over-promising and under-delivering and that's exactly what these two American businessmen did when they took over at Anfield in 2007. At the forefront of their promises was a new stadium in Stanley Park, a 60,000 seater stadium to match the club's size and ambition. Construction was to begin with two months according to Hicks. It never did and the project has long since been scrapped.

It didn't stop at empty promises though. Hicks and Gillett constantly meddled behind the scenes, mostly concerning the ousting of Rafael Benitez, trying to find a replacement before pulling the trigger. They even fell out with each other and weren't on speaking terms for quite a long while. All this contributed to disrupt events on the pitch with Liverpool falling from 2nd in 2009 to 7th in 2010. Benitez was sacked. Hicks and Gillett were eventually forced to sell the club in October 2010, by then the club was in the relegation zone. They didn't bring the new stadium they promised and brought no trophies in almost four years. The drawn-out saga only ended when they dropped their lawsuit against Liverpool only in January 2013.

6. Mike Ashley
(Newcastle United, 2007 - present)

Ashley in the early days, clad in Newcastle colours

Mike Ashley, a self made billionaire and owner of Sports Direct bought Newcastle United in May 2007. At this point he was a notable businessman but had kept out of the public eye, leading a very private life. When he became involved in the world of football however, this all changed. Ashley attended matches wearing a Newcastle shirt and sitting amongst the fans (he's apparently a Tottenham fan). This served to win them over and made him, seemingly one of the most popular owners around.

His popularity only served to increase with the re-hiring of 'King' Kevin Keegan in January 2008, seen as a messiah among the Geordie faithful. However the bubble burst in September of that year when Keegan, citing intolerable interference from director of football Dennis Wise, resigned from his position as manager. A civil war was at hand and the fans unanimously took the side of Keegan, dubbing Ashley and Wise the 'Cockney Mafia', Londoners, who were not welcome at St James Park. Ashley subsequently stayed away from St James Park and nine days later put the club up for sale.

It's been over five years and he's still in charge. The furore over the boardroom conflict obviously had an effect on the players as Newcastle were relegated in 2008/09. Ashley even brought back another Newcastle legend, Alan Shearer, as manager to try and bail them out but to no avail. Since then Ashley has not done as much to invoke the fury of the fans, sacking Chris Hughton in 2010 was a rash move. Things died down for a while under Pardew and they nearly reached the Champions League in 2011, but bringing back Joe Kinnear as a director of football in the summer of 2013 has once again left fans calling for his head.

5. Randy Lerner
(Aston Villa, 2006 - present)

Anything above 18th place will satisfy Lerner. Not the fans.

The theme of a fall from grace is becoming a common one and this is no exception. The Premier League's second American owner, twelve months after the first, Lerner bought Aston Villa in 2006. The immediate results were good. Led by Martin O'Neill and a team spearheaded by the promising Gabby Agbonlahor, Villa were top 6 regulars for the first few years of the Lerner-era.

I remember so clearly the point at which Villa's downfall began. At home to Stoke in March 2009. John Carew scored with 13 minutes to go and put them 2-0 up. The win would send them 8 clear of Arsenal and virtually ensure Champions League football the following season. Villa failed to see it out and drew the game 2-2. After this they collapsed, lost their next four on the bounce and won only 10 points from the final 33, finishing outside the top 4. That summer, captain Gareth Barry was sold. The following year it was James Milner and when Martin O'Neill was told by Lerner that the £26m windfall created by this would not be available for re-investment he resigned on the eve of the new season.

Lerner essentially gave up on Villa being a Champions League worthy side and was willing to settle for secure Premier League status year after year. A horrendous lack of ambition. He is essentially running a football club as a business, something which simply cannot be done. His hiring of Birmingham boss Alex McLeish in 2011 only further decreased his popularity among the fans. Simply put, the once European Champions are going nowhere but down while this man remains in charge. He has escaped a lot of criticism in the media so far purely because Villa have not been relegated. Yet..

4. Venky's
(Blackburn Rovers, 2010 - present)

Dubbed Cowboys rather than Indians by Rovers fans

Unlike Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers have been relegated from the Premier League and the former champions show no sign of emerging from the doldrums. They went down in 2011/12. The first full season under the ownership of Indian chicken company Venky's.

In 2009/10 Blackburn were minutes away from the League Cup final and finished in the top half of the league. Venky's took over and within a month they had sacked Sam Allardyce to replace him with his inexperienced first team coach Steve Kean, whom they took a liking too. Kean played up to the owners, visiting India to provide reports whenever he was summoned, which seemed to be on a whim at times.

The Steve Kean era lasted abnormally long, he kept the job for almost two years and oversaw a relegation to the Championship before being dismissed in late 2012. Blackburn favourite Henning Berg followed but he was dumped after just two months. Similarly with Michael Appleton. The club now sit in the middle of the Championship with debts of over £50m, huge for a club outside the Premier League.

But the absolute worst thing Venky's did to Blackburn was this cringe-worth chicken ad.

3. Vincent Tan
(Cardiff City, 2010 - present)

Tan has the look of a Bond villain

Some owners take (and in fairness are entitled to) something in return for their bankrolling the club. Allam at Hull wanted the name changed, City owner's use them as a marketing tool for their company Etihad, Mike Ashely changed the name of Newcastle's ground to his own company's. Vincent Tan's price was Cardiff's colours.

The Bluebirds, as of the 2012/13 season, now wear red as their home kit. This was a ploy by Tan to create a more global appeal for his side. Like Allam, he seems to have confused his local football club with a major international franchise. Franchise is a label that in English football would only apply to the likes of Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and now Man City. Club's like Cardiff and Hull belong to their respective cities, they are not brands.

Then there was the whole business with Malky Mackay. Mackay was not totally blameless in the falling out between the two but to publicly pressurise a manager into quitting is deplorable in any business and Tan won himself no friends with that. Mackay didn't buckle but still lost his job which has now passed to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who, tellingly, is 5/1 to be gone before the end of the season. Things are only going to get worse under Tan, who now only wants players with the number 8 in their birthday to play for Cardiff.

2. The Glazer Family
(Manchester United, 2005 - present)

They have faces that enrage every United fan everywhere

Three football clubs in the world generated over £500m in revenue over the past twelve months. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United. Two of these clubs have seemingly limitless budgets with which to but new players year after year. One has an owner with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt to service.

Malcom Glazer borrowed £790m to fund his purchase of Manchester United in 2005. He secured this loan against the assets of the club which was immediately saddled with this debt of which now over £500m of money earned by the club has been use to repay. The fans realised his intentions immediately and mass protests were held outside Old Trafford. In 2010  the green and gold protest movement started and a group of wealthy United fans calling themselves the Red Knights launched a takeover bid were rebuffed by the Glazers. A middle-eastern consortium also made a reported offer around the same time of about £1.5bn which was also refused. Since then no fresh hope has been offered for United fans of some freedom from these money-hungry, immoral Americans.

The Glazers have essentially decided to milk this money making franchise for all it's worth. They see United as a giant cash cow in the long term and the loan repayment years are just a temporary burden to bear. Once the debt is out of the way they will begin to make actual money out of the club. Success for the club is a bonus as it enhances the brand, but all the thing the Glazers care most about is filling their pockets with the vast amounts of money this club can generate year after year.

1. Peter Ridsdale
(Leeds United, 1997 - 2003)

United we fall was his book title, except he jumped the sinking ship in 2003

To be clear Ridsdale was chairman of Leeds, not owner, but answered to no one and handled finances so held the exact same responsibility as head of a PLC. While the Glazers have arguably hindered United's growth into a superclub, this man single handedly destroyed Leeds United. Through a combination of naivety, carelessness, utter stupidity and incompetence, he sent them from Champions League semi-finalists in 2001 down into the third tier of the league in 2007.

What Peter did was borrow £60m to fund investment in new players, guaranteeing this against gate receipts at Leeds over the coming years, essentially betting on them qualifying for the Champions League every single year without fail. This money was used to purchase the likes of Rio Ferdinand for £18m from West Ham,  Robbie Keane from Inter, Mark Viduka from Celtic, Robbie Fowler from Liverpool and £7m on Seth Johnson from Derby.

The story of Seth Johson's contract negotiations is brilliant. He went in asking for £20,000 p/w but hoping for £15,000. Ridsdale's opening offer was £25,000. Mistaking Johnson's shock for disgust, he increased his offer to £35,000 and a deal was done.

Leeds failed to qualify for the Champions League for the second year in a row in 2002 and the bombs went off. Ferdinand was sold. So were Woodgate, Bowyer, Fowler and Keane, the guts of the first team left and were replaced with free transfers but it wasn't enough. They narrowly avoided the drop in 2003 but fell victim the following year. Ridsdale left in April 2003 under overwhelming pressure from supporters so was not around long enough to see them slide further down into League One and a spell in administration which almost killed the club.

The story of Leeds is a tragic one and there is one man at fault for everything. He claimed to be 'living the dream' as Leeds faced off against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan in the 2000/01 Champions League. This dream however soon turned to a nightmare. Fortunately for Ridsdale he was able to wake up and move on. The fans have not enjoyed that luxury.

Ridsdale moved on to Barnsely and took them to the very brink of liquidation before quitting. He moved on to Cardiff who were too heading for extinction under his leadership before being bought out by Vincent Tan. He's now the chairman of Preston, and is banned from being a director at any business until 2020 due to his past discrepancies.

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