The greed is not so good League

Published : Oct 20, 2011 00:00 IST

You could almost believe that money isn't everything. Not least at Manchester City. But who, now, will insist that the Greed is Good League is the best of them all? Over to Brian Glanville.

When the so called Premier League was suddenly and abruptly formed, I immediately christened it The Greed Is Good League and alas have never had any incentive to change the classification. Less than ever now. It was alarming enough when Chelsea, with the limitless millions of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, suddenly metamorphosed from a deeply indebted club to one knee deep in millions. Worse was however to come when the billionaires of Abu Dhabi acquired Manchester City and Sheikh Mansour and his family with an endless source of wealth, began to spend on a scale which dwarfed even the transaction of Chelsea.

The formation of this Premier League seemed to me at the time and still seems now a betrayal by the Football Association and its chief executive, Graham Kelly, of its historic trust. In brief, the FA was always considered to be the guardian and mentor of English football at every level, from the elite clubs of the Football League's 1st Division Championship, right down to the grass roots level of little amateur clubs. But suddenly, at a stroke, the FA had turned its back on its mission. Perhaps the more surprising is that Kelly's previous role had been as chief executive of the Football League, with its multiplicity of clubs.

Now, however, the FA was making common cause with the Titans of the First Division; and money would flow in abundance from B Sky B's satellite television. Where, in previous years, the Football League's and the FA's senior figures had virtually co-conspired to refuse any realistic TV payment to the clubs, now you might say the B Sky B was the limit.

But clubs in the lower divisions of the League could by and large look on only in misery and despair. So called parachute payments made to clubs relegated from the Premiership did something to provide a very limited balance. But overall, you might say that the situation was that of a wealthy football aristocracy and a virtual peasantry.

However, even the majority of clubs in the Premiership, where the lesser players too could rejoice in wages of a million pounds a year, would in time be left hopelessly behind financially by Chelsea and, still more, by Manchester City.

Manchester United were a slightly different case. Their immense, enlarged Old Trafford ground regularly holds 75,000 spectators, but the American Glazer family, detested and resented by United's fans, proceeded, once they'd bought United, to pile enormous sums of debt on the club so that for all its continued domestic success, it could not hope to rival Chelsea and their eternal local rivals, Manchester City; who have recently done an immensely lucrative deal, by selling the name of their ground to the Abu Dhabi Airline, owned, to no surprise, by a relative of Sheikh Mansour who of course presides over the club; and allows it to spend astronomically.

And yet, after a disastrous European week for the English clubs, in the senior European Cup competition, the mountain seems to have parturated mere mice. Manchester City, in recent months, have acquired at enormous expense, Samir Nasri, that gifted attacker, from Arsenal who feared they'd lose him for nothing if they didn't let him go before the next close season, Sergio Aguero, the prolific Argentine striker, Maradona's son in law, from Atletico Madrid, that wily winger David Silva from Valencia, and last season, the powerful, free scoring Edin Dzeko, from Wolfsburg. Having previously cast out as costly a striker as Emmanuel Adebayor, bought from Arsenal and now on loan at Spurs, and, Craig Bellamy, surely one of the outstanding and incisive British attackers of this day.

Bellamy, it is true, has always been something of a stormy petrel, but handled sympathetically, he can do great things for Wales and his several clubs. But there was a deadlock between him and the Italian manager, Roberto Mancini, who dashed with Bellamy over both training and tactics, and froze him out, despite his lively form. But this was nothing by comparison with the explosive scandal of Carlos Tevez and his evident refusal — he denies it and has some support from his teammates — not to mention Paul Scholes, a hero of Manchester United, who confessed that he himself had once refused to play for United in a Football League Cup tie, after being dropped from the previous game. An enraged Mancini would have none of that.

He was insistent that Tevez — constantly demanding then, rescinding transfer requests — had bluntly refused to take the field as a substitute when the team was 2-0 down and struggling against Bayern Munich. The match was largely a humiliation for a City team whose parts were embarrassingly inferior to the whole. Tevez's failure to take the field was for whatever reason, a major blow. Yet that famous German word chadenfreude — delight in the misfortunes of others — seems embarrassingly apt in the circumstances. For on the night, City were anaemic. Had it not been for the defiant goalkeeping of Joe Hart, the margin of defeat would have been much greater.

And why, people wondered, did Mancini omit his usual centre back Joleon Lescott in favour of a Kolo Toure who'd only just ended a long suspension for alleged substance taking. Inevitably he would struggle through the game. And why such scant use of Tevez?

Meanwhile, what of the supposedly mighty Manchester United, expected to make the merest mouthful of the unfashionable Swiss team, Basel? When United went two goals up, all seemed done and dusted. But between them the two Freis managed three goals and reduced United to a breathless and desperate last gasp headed equaliser by Ashley Young, their supposedly competent defence in tatters.

At the Emirates, I watched Arsenal — deprived, we know, both of Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, and now without the young playmaker Jack Wilshere for five months — make heavy weather of beating another unfancied team in Olympiakos, 2-0, all but undone when a late, curling left footer by the visiting right back bounced off the bar.

Chelsea did rather better than the others, with a draw in Valencia, yet the Spaniards have lately lost three of their stars, one of them, in Juan Mata, to Chelsea themselves. You could almost believe that money isn't everything. Not least at Manchester City. But who, now, will insist that the Greed is Good League is the best of them all?

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