Paying the piper

He who pays the piper calls the tune. A very old familiar saying, and just as true in today’s football as in anywhere else, at any time. By Brian Glanville.

Daniel Levy is not to be challenged. As even, Harry Redknapp found out. Harry, the ultimate cockney character, frequently moving from club to club, a Houdini in court when just as it looked as if he might go down for alleged income tax evasion, through an account in France, in which his dog was allegedly involved, at least by name, the jury cleared him. At that point it still seemed on the cards that he would become the next England manager in succession to Fabio Capello. The public wanted him, voting hugely in his favour when polled. He hesitated to commit himself to Tottenham Hotspur, apparently demanding a greatly increased salary. After all, he must have told himself, he had rejuvenated the team, almost taken them into the European Champions League, and turned Gareth Bale from a useful left back into a superbly effective attacker, who indeed would eventually join Real Madrid for a fortune. But Levy stood firm and Harry was on his way out.

Levy’s next, expensive choice was something of a gamble and hardly a success. The precociously young, Andre Villas-Boas, once such a success in his native Portugal at Porto, had failed at Chelsea across London, where his tactics had been notably unsuccessful. Nor did they work at Tottenham, where before this season was halfway done, Levy dismissed him too. The somewhat unexpected choice of his successor went to Tim Sherwood, once a Tottenham player and by then an assistant coach. So far things seem to be working reasonably well, but we shall see.

Yet the Tottenham affair seems almost a storm in a teacup by comparison with what has been happening in Milan to Inter. For years past the club had been controlled by the Moratti family. Angelo Moratti is known as “il gran petrolifero”, the great oil industry man, and venerated by Milanese press and fans. Not by myself and the Sunday Times however, as from 1974 onwards we conducted a deep investigation into the corruption of European referees under his tutelage.

No such charges could be levelled at his son and successor, Massimo Moratti who, after 18 years in charge, mostly as President, has just sold the club to an Indonesian coal mining group for a reported Euro240 million keeping just 30 percent of the club for himself. But, now there is terrific tension between Asia Resource Minerals and their former director Rosan Roeslani, junior partner to two Indonesian businessmen who have bought the club. Asia Resource are pursuing him for approximately USD173 million, which they say is missing from their stake in another coal company. Where then will the ultimate power at Inter reside and how will it be used by contrast, despite the fact that Inter’s eternal rivals Milan belong to the wealthy, somewhat preposterous and endlessly controversial millionaire politician Silvio Berlusconi, things with the so called Rossoneri, red and black, seems almost serene. Though, Berlusconi, ousted recently as the Italian Prime Minister and condemned, not for the first time, to gaol (somehow it never happens), is deeply on the defensive. While Milan after a disastrous spell have just sacked their own manager. So it goes on and on.

He who pays the piper calls the tune. A very old familiar saying, and just as true in today’s football as in anywhere else, at any time. The present somewhat over dramatised case being that of Southampton football club and its till now dominating chairman, the Italian Nicola Cortese. After what have now been revealed as months of tension, he has abruptly resigned, giving way to Katharina Liebherr, a Swiss billionaire, who had inherited, from her wealthy father Markus, not only vast sums of money but the ownership of Southampton. A club in which she had shown a total lack of interest, hardly ever being seen at a game. The impression is that she retained her ownership of the club out of respect for her late father who had put so much money and commitment into it, and that (though this she denied) she was now prepared to sell it. She remains domiciled in Switzerland and plainly will continue to be anything but hands on Chairman.

Cortese has gone in great bitterness. But for all his authoritarian regime, all his autocratic behaviour — he abruptly and unceremoniously sacked his manager Nigel Adkins, who had taken the Saints all the way up from the third division to the Premier League — he himself was in the last analysis an employee, however an influential one. Then as manager, he appointed to succeed the hapless Adkins, the former Argentina centre back Mauricio Pochettino, who reportedly shed tears when be learned that Cortese was going.

There had earlier this season been much praise for the adventurous way he had Southampton playing, though a recent 3-0 defeat at home by a rampant Chelsea, followed by an edgy FA Cup win there a few days later against second division Burnley, which I saw, suggested that this was not a team to threaten the powers of the Premiership.

Watching the Burnley game, in which the visitors scored three times. I was anything but impressed by the Southampton defence. And for all the reported friendliness between Pochettino and Cortese, the Italian had spoken of him almost dismissively at a conference held some weeks ago. Recalling the words of King Louis XIV of France, “L’etat c’est moi” — “The state is me.” Except that in the last analysis, it wasn’t.

Cortese’s departure certainly didn’t displease one of their most refulgent stars of past years, Matthew Le Tissier, a wonder of transcendent talents. Cortese had virtually told him to mind his own business, when he had elected to criticise how the club was being run. Nor could he hide his satisfaction at Cortese’s going. The fuss about Cortese’s departure had been out of proportion, said Le Tissier. “He was just the chairman at the end of the day, spending the Liebherr family’s money.”

Compare and contrast the situation at Spurs. The famous North London club are owned by the multimillionaire Joe Lewis, who seems to spend most of his time in a warmer climate, sailing on a yacht.

The club is run by a figure equally as dominant but not as overtly autocratic as Cortes, in the shape of Levy. His word is law, subject to the ultimate hegemony of Joe Lewis, who has never been publicly known to interfere. Levy hires and fires with sometimes abrupt celerity.