Thursday, October 9, 2008


AS YOU may already know, the English and the French are not exactly bosom buddies.

So when a Frenchman claims that English football is losing its identity, it’s not exactly going to endear him to fans across The Channel.

But do you know what? Michel Platini, president of Uefa – the governing body for European football – is spot on in his criticism.

Platini is concerned by the influx of foreign owners and players to the Premier League and believes it has gone too far.

Manchester City is the latest club to be sold to “Johnny Foreigner,” the Abu Dhabi United Group, which is back by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, buying out previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand.

“I think it is not good. I think the Qataris should invest in Qatar,” said Platini. “If you bring people from Qatar and there is no one from Liverpool or Manchester, where is Liverpool or Manchester?

“They should develop the football in each country. Can we (Uefa) do something about it? I will try to.”

Manchester United owned by an American

No fewer than nine of the current 20 English Premier League clubs have overseas owners.

They are led by Manchester United, who were bought out by American Malcolm Glazer in May, 2005.

At the time, United fans campaigned vociferously against Glazer, who also owns NFL franchise the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But their protests soon died down when Glazer pumped millions of pounds into buying some of the world’s best players, helping the Red Devils win the Champions League – the top club competition in Europe – in May of this year.

Tom Hicks of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and George Gillett of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, are joint owners of Liverpool, although their relationship has recently shown signs of breaking down.

Randy Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns, is chairman of Aston Villa while Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich has pumped billions into London club Chelsea.

There’s hardly an Englishman in sight

The foreign invasion is not limited to the boardroom. Five of the teams have foreign managers.

Former Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari returned to club management with Chelsea in July while Gianfranco Zola, the ex-Italian international, took the reins at West Ham United last month.

Frenchman Arsene Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal for the last 12 years while Liverpool (Rafael Benitez) and Tottenham (Juande Ramos) are managed by Spaniards.

The team squads/rosters are packed with international footballers. Only three of Arsenal’s 27-man first-team squad were actually born in Britain.

The net result is probably the best league in the world and the most exciting football. But the only thing English about it is the grass the games are played on and, of course, the fans.

“You have to have identity; that is where football’s popularity lies,” adds Platini, who may push for Uefa to put a limit on the number of foreign players each club can sign.

The influx of foreign owners, managers and players is also hurting the England national team, which, by the way, is now managed by an Italian, Fabio Capello!

England failed to qualify for the finals of the 2008 European Championships and has not won a trophy since 1966.

Uefa is a powerful organization and Platini an influential man. But, football is no longer the working man’s game. It’s big business.

The Premier League clubs generate total revenues close to two billion pounds sterling each year and you can be sure those who run them won’t appreciate a Frenchman sticking his nose into their business.

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