Poor Ownership Spells Disaster For English Clubs

Appleton the latest manager to get the sack (Image from Reuters)The only word to describe what is going on at Blackburn is farcical. For the third time this season, the struggling championship side is looking for a new manager after sacking Michael Appleton early last week. Blackburn sit in the bottom half of the table, four points clear of the drop zone but heading in the wrong direction. Their remaining fixtures offer little hope as they face teams fighting for the coveted automatic and playoff spots. Sacking Appleton at this time is merely a desperate attempt to avoid the drop but it may be too late for the troubled club. It follows a trend that is starting to worry League Manager Association boss, Richard Bevan who has seen the number of dismissals in England’s four leagues grow dramatically season over season. This year, with two months of the season left, a total of 103 managers and coaches have already lost their jobs, compared to 94 in total last year. The principle reason behind these dismissals is a heightened needed for quick success at the clubs, with less time given for change by ruthless owners. There is no longer a grace period given to managers and their staff, its sink or swim in what is becoming an ever-increasing stressful job.

Worrying times for Richard Bevan (Image from Getty)
Worrying times for Richard Bevan
(Image from Getty)

The pressure placed on these managers and coaches has been gradually growing over the past two decades as football clubs evolve from sporting organizations to companies in their own right. Clubs are run as a business with every aspect analysised and within any company, profits and results often determine the success of its employees. Whilst it may make sense to run a club in such a way, especially in the recent years of financial insecurity, it’s important to remember that it is still a sporting organization. Understanding the history and foundations the club are built on as well as the guiding principles behind running any such sports franchise, requires the knowledge to do so.  The worrying trend in football across the world is the influx of outsiders who understand little about the game and even less about the clubs. This group of new owners has come in, not to build upon what has gone before but instead nine times out of ten, for self profit. 

Bad management - Venky's (Image from Getty)
Bad management – Venky’s
(Image from Getty)

Blackburn owners, the Venky’s have managed to drive awareness of their Indian based chicken firm across European football, not through advertising but through the calamitous ownership of Blackburn. After all there is no such thing as bad press. Their hands off approach and lack of understanding about the mechanics of British football club have ultimately led to the clubs demise and raised questions with the English FA around their screening process for foreign investors or potential owners buying into an English club.  To go into details around all the disastrous decisions made by the Venky’s would require an extended blog or indeed two and its material that has been covered on more than one occasion by the collective media. But the simple fact remains that the Indian brothers, who promised so much including glamour signings like David Beckham and Ronaldinho when they first arrived, have little concern for the plight of the club and will likely jump ship once their alterative motive has been achieved.

Lofty plans to bring Ronaldinho to Blackburn never materialized (Image from Daily Mail)
Lofty plans to bring Ronaldinho to Blackburn never materialized
(Image from Daily Mail)

The above is not to state that all owners coming into the game have this objective; merely a small group of them but it’s a group that is expanding season after season. There are some owners like Dave Whelan who genuinely care for Wigan and has invested a lot of his time and money into helping the club develop. But Whelan is in a minority as more and more come in looking to profit from the growing reputation of English football. Ultimately it’s the fans that suffer and have a decreasing influence in the decisions made within it and with ticket prices on the rise and their club becoming more commercialized by the day; the fans are slowing losing the connection that they have with their club. The solution for some is to radically overhaul the rules around ownership and adopt a model similar to that of the German Bundesliga, which has adopted the successful 50+1 rule. This states that members of a club must retain at least 51% ownership, so preventing any single entity taking control, stopping an owner with a different agenda than that of the fans from radically changing the club. This means that the fans have a say in every important decision that happens at the club – from every appointment at the club including the players as well as the general day-to-day running. The decision by the German FA to enforce this rule some time ago is reaping the benefits now with the Bundelsiga on the rise and likely to become one of the most economical and attractive leagues in the world, both to players and future investors. Clubs are run properly as businesses but with the fans full support and blessing. 

50+1 rule is working in Germany (Image from Getty)
50+1 rule is working in Germany
(Image from Getty)

The English leagues could adopt a similar solution but it would take a fundamental shift by the FA to make the change and enforce it. But greed and an inability to look long-term will and has prevented this from happening as the FA and Premier League basking in its 15 minutes of fame. Eventually times will change and clubs across England will have to adapt to survive as foreign investor interest dries up. If the fans are in control then the clubs will never have to worry, for as long as they are around, the club will be too. This cannot be said about single owners who are investing for the wrong reasons who will drop their bad investment whenever and wherever they can. The Venky’s are unlikely to stick with Blackburn much longer, especially if they drop down the leagues once more. With the value of their investment dwindling, it won’t be long before they depart Ewood Park just as their managers have done before them. That could offer up the chance for the Blackburn fans to recapture their club and seek control with the single objective of getting Blackburn back on track and eventually back to the Premiership.

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