Plus ca change. In June 2007, we expressed our concerns over the new ownership taking over at Manchester City. “The military government in Thailand have already tried to seize all of his assets once”, we said. “I can imagine more stable financial backgrounds that he could have come from”, we said. Did anyone listen? Do they ever? The first danger signs came with the sudden sacking of Sven Goran Eriksson at the end of last season. Eriksson had taken City to ninth place in the Premier League last season, a reasonable performance, all things considered, and into the UEFA Cup via the back door of the Fair Play Awards. Quite what Thaksin was expecting is open to question. If he was expecting a considerable amount more than than, then he’s delusional. Still, the replacement for Eriksson, Mark Hughes, was a solid enough choice, having taken Blackburn to an over-achievement-tastic seventh place in the table last season. Having done this, they forked out £19m on Jo from CSKA Moscow. With thirty goals in fifty-three matches for CSKA and three appearances in a Brazil shirt, it looked like a tidy piece of business.
Then, things started to unravel. First up, they allowed themselves to be led well and truly up the garden path by Ronaldinho, who played City like a banjo in order to secure himself a better deal with Milan. There was never any reasonable expectation that he would leave the Nou Camp for The City Of Manchester Stadium, the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Cup and a battle to finish in the top half of the Premier League. However, the perception of the inevitability of the move may well have added a few Euros to the deal that Milan eventually cut him for it. For those of us that have been watching Ronaldinho’s startling decline with interest over the last couple of years or so it was a narrow escape for City, but it didn’t do much to assist the public perception of them as being, ultimately, a second-class club to be strung along like that.
Then came Thaksin’s little problems back home in Thailand. He has had £800m worth of assets frozen in Thailand, and a warrant is out for his arrest. It is practically impossible that he will be extradited to Thailand (the extradition treaty between Britain and Thailand doesn’t cover Shinawatra doesn’t cover him in an almost bewildering number of ways. His wife has already been tried and convicted in absentia, but it is highly unlikely that the British government would agree to his extradition over something for which he is convicted in his own absence. As it stands, it seems as if the Thai government are trying to get Shinawatra through his wife. Whether they’ll manage it is open to question. Of more pressing concern to City supporters is the freezing of his assets. Whether Shinawatra is still a very wealthy man or not is open to question, and there is every chance that he will have to sell City in order to raise funds.
Regardless of whether this happens or not, he may yet be forced to, at the very least, relinquish his control of City. Under the current Fit and Proper Persons test (used by the Premier League as what passes for an examination of whether someone should be allowed to be the director of a football club), “”any director is automatically disqualified if convicted of one of a number of offences by a ‘competent court’ anywhere in the world”. Ricard Scudamore, therefore, faces a tough decision. Does he apply these rules and run the risk of potentially plunging Manchester City into a financial crisis that may even over-shadow that suffered by Leeds United? Or does he decide to ignore the rules and run the risk of looking as if the Premier League isn’t serious about weeding out corruption in the Premier League? He is currently seeking legal advice.
On the pitch, City couldn’t have had a much worse start to the season. Mark Hughes is said to be very unhappy at rumours that players may be sold without his permission, and City lost their qualifying round match in the UEFA Cup 1-0 at home to the Danish side, FC Midtjylland. Yesterday afternoon, they were poor in losing their first Premier League match of the season against Aston Villa by four goals to two. Of course, a poor start makes it more difficult for Shinawatra to bring in the investors that he deperately needs in order to keep the club’s finances ticking over. It seems likely that Manchester City will pull through. The lure of the Premier League to outside investors is still strong enough for me to believe that the club will be able to find the backing that they need. It could, however, prove to be a long, hard winter for Manchester City’s supporters.