(In the following mock-up conversation, quotes were extracted from a statement given by Abu Dhabi United Group’s representative Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim’s, and from his interview with BBC sport regarding the takeover of Manchester City.)
Dr Ho: So, Doctor, what exactly are your goals and expectations, now that you’re the proud new owner of Manchester City Football Club?
Dr al-Fahim: Well first, to “ensure the qualification of Manchester City to the European Champions League”.
Dr Ho: Easy. That’s nearly guaranteed considering the amount of wealth (about 400 times more than that of Abramovich) you possess and your intent on spending it on big name players for Mark Hughes, City's current manager.
Dr-al-Fahim: Yes, indeed a guarantee. “We will support him by bringing in the best players. We really have deep pockets. By closing a deal with one of the players (Robinho) on Monday people can see we are serious in developing the club into one of the top four."
Dr Ho: An ambitious man, I see. You said Champions League qualification is the first expectation. What's follows it?
Dr al-Fahim: I expect success in the Premier League and at “European and world level”.
Dr Ho: *Shakes head disapprovingly*.
Dr al-Fahim: What?
Dr Ho: That’s not going to be so easy Sulaiman. That’s not guaranteed at all....
Dr al-Fahim: What?! But I’ve got a bottomless well of money that I intend to spend on “bringing the best football players in the world to City!"
Dr Ho: Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you Sulaiman, and this will be especially hard on your fans, but based on previous cases similar to yours my expert diagnosis points to this startling conclusion: money does not guarantee success in football.
Dr al-Fahim: *Jaw drops down the bottomless well of money*.
Dr al-Fahim: That’s impossible! Doesn’t throwing a bucketload of money at something solve anything?!
MONEY ≠ SUCCESS
In fact, I rate Man City’s chance of success, both domestically and in Europe, lower than it was for Chelsea, when Abramovich took over.
When the Roman revolution began, Chelsea were more likely to win the Barclay’s Premiership, than Man City is, simply because of the numbers.
Back then it was Man United, and to a lesser extent Arsenal, who were the only real championship contenders.
A lot has changed since then. Man City entering the fray at this hour means that they won’t just face competition from the aforementioned two. The other massive piggy bank, Chelsea, have not stopped spending, and a team that evolves every passing year, Liverpool, are also realistic contenders for the title.
Let me put it in terms of simple probabilistic math. Chelsea had a 1/3 chance of success domestically, but now Man City have only a 1/5 chance—Man City’s chances are almost half that of which Chelsea faced!
As for the success in Europe? Many great teams have come and gone over the past 20 years but, as of yet, no team has successfully dominated in Europe.
“Why can’t that team be Man City?!”, I hear you say. Well for one, with all the money that they’ve spent, Chelsea have gotten close to winning in Europe, but it's a stretch to say that they've even got close to dominating.
Secondly, to say you've dominated a competition, you have to have won it in consecutive seasons at least once.
Since the founding of the UEFA Champions League back in 1992 not one team has managed to retain the crown.
I don’t expect Man City to break that duck.
MAKE HISTORY? NOT ACCORDING TO HISTORY
Recent history has example after example after example, showing what these non-footballing owners have yet to realise—that spending money on big name players, no matter how good they are, does NOT guarantee your team will be successful.
From 2004-2006 Chelsea experienced major success domestically and got close in Europe. It’s the most successful period in the club’s history so far. Then, in the summer of 2006, they acquired two of the biggest names in world football (at the ‘request’ of owner Roman Abramovich): Andriy Shevchenko, European Footballer of the Year in 2004 and third-highest scorer in the history of European club competition, and Michael Ballack, Germany’s best player in recent times, a colossus midfield player.
Star players added to an already star studded team.
And what happened? Despite adding 30 million pounds worth of talent to their squad (Ballack transferred on a ‘Free') they encountered relative failure for the following two years. In fact, there were some factions that laid the blame of failure upon the two star signings!
The English F.A is another who thinks that money is everything. It’s arguable they’re the guiltiest of believing in that train of thought. First they threw it at Sven-Göran Eriksson, who simply didn’t achieve relative to his pay check, and now at Fabio Capello, who has not had the best of starts so far (although I do think that he’ll disprove his doubters).
And leading into the current, I predict that we’ll see it happen again this season at Liverpool. They’ve just spent a whopping 19 million pounds on hotshot Robbie Keane. The idea was to combine the talent of Keane with their top scorer of last season, Fernando Torres. Alas, so far, it hasn't really worked out.
I'm surprised myself that they haven't sparked into the partnership everyone assumed they would easily form.
But I shouldn't be. Because, more often than not, adding ‘star’ players seem to worsen a team, not improve it.
WHAT MONEY DOES DO
It’s not that I simply don’t rate Torres or Keane. It’s just that I know money has a limited effect in football.
It’s not directly responsible for the real things that bring titles to a club; the intangibles like teamwork, team ethic, and partnerships within teams. Those are the things which, when combined together, fuse into a great team. Money cannot buy that.
Great teams bring titles to a club. Not money.
Well what makes a great team then? Well not always, but more often than not, it’s a great manager.
There’s no denying that Mr. Abramovich’s money kicked off Chelsea’s success. But the key point to remember is that it wasn’t until the genius of José Mourinho took over that they started to win titles.
In fact, the first manager under Abramovich’s rule, Claudio Ranieri, spent more money (£120m) on players than Mourinho did (£90m). Yet Ranieri didn’t end his season holding major trophies in his hand.
It wasn’t until Mourinho took over the reigns the following seasons that they not only won the FA Premier League for the first time in their history and then retained it the following year at their first attempt, they raised the bar for all of the competition by setting a string of Premier League records in the process:
* Most wins in a season—29, (2004-05, 2005-06)
* Most home wins in a season–18, (2005-06)
* Most away wins in a season—15, (2004-05)
* Fewest home losses in a season (joint record)—0, (2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07). The guy never lost a home match in all of his time at Chelsea!
* Fewest goals conceded in a season—15, (2004-05)
* Most clean sheets in a season—25, (2004-05)
And the most impressive record: Most points in a season–95, in 2004-05. It's worth mentioning that that was in a season of 38 games. In 1993-94, Manchester United played a 42 game season and at the time also broke the record of ‘Most points in a season’, but even with 4 extra games they 'only' managed 92.
It really puts what Mourinho achieved into perspective.
Even in the season in which Mourinho’s team came runners up in the league, he set a new record for ‘Most points in a season and not win the title’–85.
Like I said above, it usually takes a great manager to build a great team. And Mourinho, the ‘Special One’, was an outstanding manager.
Ranieri’s key achievement in his one year tenure in the Roman Revolution was reaching the semi-finals in Europe's premier competition for the first time in their history. In other words, what we saw was an instant transformation of a top five club into one capable of standing eye-to-eye with the best in Europe.
The money turned them into contenders.
But it was ultimately the manager who turned them into winners.
WHY MONEY ≠ SUCCESS
I believe the belief that lots of money will lure success to your club stems from everyone’s common experiences outside of football; from life, from reality.
The rich get nice houses; large corporate companies acquire the widest coverage for their advertising, thus reaching more customers than the small startup with no money; at home, if you can’t do something, you hire a professional to do it for you, and expect them to meet your demands since you’re paying them.
Many of us have seen or experienced those kinds of situations, and we’ve learnt that a lot of the time money not only buys successful results but that, sadly, whoever has the most money, wins.
But this is football. And football is the common man’s game. There's no doubt that top level football is becoming more of a business venture every passing day for some rich oil billionaire, but they need to realise that this is still OUR game, not theirs. Football has no allegiance to money, it is greater than that.
One reason why spending money on the best players in the world doesn’t always work out is simply because players are human, and thus fickle.
As a proud owner of a club, you may buy the undisputed best player in the world of last season, but this season he may turn out to be only fifth best. No one can predict who will be the best during a particular season until that season is over.
So, the fact is, you can never guarantee that you’re going to have the best players in the world playing for your team. What’s the old saying? You’re only as good as your last match.
Few players remain at the top of their game for more than a season. The sort of consistency that these people are looking for can only be found in very rare players, the sort of players that come once a generation, not once every year and for every position in your team.
And, whether they know it or not, those super special players aren't even what they really want. What they really want is that same consistency you see in super special players, in a great team.
They want a super team. A team like the great Real Madrid side in the late 1950s, who won the European Cup five years in a row. Back then, competition wasn’t so fierce. It’s simply unrealistic to have those sort of expectations today.
Another reason why football won’t allow money to succeed is because the best players don’t automatically make the best team.
There’s this ubiquitously belief in football, which goes something like this: if you have 11 of your favourite players, your ‘dream’ players, playing for the same team, your ‘Dream Team’, then you’ll automatically have an unstoppable team.
I’ll name it the ‘Dream Team’ myth because, like a myth, it simply isn’t true. It takes more than lumping together the best parts you can find to form your dream car. It would take a skilled engineer who knew how to fit the parts, and which parts fit the best in which department.
The same idea applies to football. It’s down to the manager to mould a team together, to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now credit to Mark Hughes. He’s had a fairly decent managerial career so far, but, similar to Claudio Ranieri, he hasn’t got any experience winning major titles and building great teams. Like Ranieri, I fear the only outcome for Hughes is a sacking. As a massive Sparky fan though, I would like nothing better than for him to prove me wrong! Imagine it: not only would we now have a proper rivalry between City and United but it’d be Hughes vs Ferguson—Student vs Master!
Probably the biggest weapon football has in its armoury against money is it's most crucial restriction: there can only be 11 players from the same team on the pitch at one time.
Football is such a popular game that it’s spawned talented individuals all over the world. And the overall difference between the talent is not as wide as you may think.
Let’s imagine you bought the current ‘best player in the world’ for every position in your team, from goalkeeper right up to striker. There would still be a large number of other great players out there, in every single position you’ve bought for and playing for other teams to compete against yours.
Now maybe they’ll never be as good as the players you purchased. They don’t have to be. Because, as we’ve seen many times before, a great team of 11 good players will nearly always overcome a good team of 11 great players.
That’s why it’s ‘the beautiful game’. That’s why football is genius. That’s why we love it.
THE WINNER HERE IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE
Even as a lifelong Man United fan I welcome the takeover because the real winner here is football, specifically the Premier League.
From the 90s where it was still just the Big Two, Arsenal and Man United, into the new millennia, where two new pretenders came in to form the Big Four, to today, where Man City has joined the premier league superpowers.
In no time at all, there’s now a Big Five: Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City. Neutral fans who turned away because they were bored with the predictability of the Premiership? Well this is an early Christmas present for you. Even for us non-neutral fans we should all be giddy with excitement, and at the same time biting our nails at the prospect of so many great clubs battling it out for the domestic crown.
Every defeat will bear greater consequence. Every victory will be celebrated with greater rejoice.
Now that Man City is part of the Big Five, Dr. al-Fahim will expect them to board the Champions League gravy train every season. When you pay the amount of money that he’s saying he’s going to spend, that’s the least you’d expect.
Four will not seat five, though. Who will be the team to be left standing at the platform? And what will happen to the respective manager? If it’s Arsenal, can you imagine them sacking Arsène Wenger after 13 years at the club, the man responsible for the most successful period in the club’s history? Can you imagine the scenes that would erupt?
For years, not qualifying for the Champions League hasn’t even been a question for the Big Four. Today, the consequences of finishing outside the top four are greater than ever.
I can't wait.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Let’s go back just a short while in time and have a look at the first attempt to create a ‘Dream Team’—‘Los Galácticos’.
At the turn of the millennium, club of the century Real Madrid vowed to start bringing in the best players in the world to the club and build the ultimate dream team.
They spent £38.7m on Luis Figo, the 2000 European Footballer of the Year and 2001 FIFA Footballer of the Year. Furthermore, in Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima and Zinedine Zidane, they purchased, for a combined total of £70m, two of the best players ever to grace this game.
They were successful, sure. ‘Los Galaticos’ lived out the most successful spell in the club’s modern history. Yet the success of the ‘Los Galaticos’ project, the actual winning of the trophies, owed more to the fact that they had a brilliant manager, the unassuming Vicente Del Bosque, than the money President Fiorentino Pérez pumped into the club.
For all the money spent on building their ‘Dream Team’, since Del Bosque left the club in 2003, Real Madrid have failed to reach the heights of living up to their 'Galacticos' name-tag—a tag that they managed to shine with during his time in charge of the same derivative of star quality players.
Real have changed seven coaches in the 4 year period since his departure and did not win any major trophies until they won the La Liga title in 2007, under another renowned coach, Fabio Capello.
So if I was really to have a conversation with Dr al-Fahim, what would my message to him be? Like at Chelsea, like at Real Madrid, the money turned the club into contenders; the manager turned them into winners.
You’re only half the story, mate.
QUESTIONS FOR SUPPORTERS OF OTHER CLUBS
Slightly off the subject here, but I wanted to get a feel for how others feel about this situation.
Do you feel a sense of injustice because the likes of Abramovich and al-Fahim pump their spare cash into their favourite clubs? Is it simply blatant cheating in your eyes? Is it fan-power gone too far?
Do you believe that teams should earn their way to the top, through good football? Has it put you off football a little bit? Or a lot?
Do you feel that now is the time for FIFA to take action, by seriously considering a cap system on transfers and wages? Is this the solution to ensure a fair playing field for everyone?