Manchester City may be at the beginning of embarking upon a financial crisis that has never before been seen in English football, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not full of imaginative ideas for the future of the game. City’s “Executive Chairman” (yes, I know, I don’t know what an “Executive Chairman” is either) Gary Cook has come up with a plan that will “basically share the wealth”. In an amazingly wrong-headed interview with The Times, Cook proposes a closed shop, fourteen club Premier League with no Premier League, with no promotion or relegation. It is, of course, a massive coincidence that fourteen clubs would be exactly the right number to just about guarantee Manchester City’s inclusion in it, safeguarding their future against inconveniences such as being completely bloody useless and getting relegated, which is, let’s be honest, something that Manchester City are prone to doing every once in a while.
It is a fairly timely reminder of how the minds of those running the Premier League work. Cook is blithely dismissive of the interests of fans, stating that, “the sport will change and the fans will find a way to get passionate about a piece of it”. Oh we will, will we? We’ll like it because you tell us to? When questioned about whether this new look league will be of less interest to sponsors, he states that, “you would create that excitement in another way, wouldn’t you?”, although he fails to elucidate on how this would be. The Lord alone knows that the Premier League is dull enough anyway these days, so what benefits would there be for anyone other than the fortunate fourteen themselves?
This is, if you hadn’t already guessed, a trick question. What Cook wants to do is two-fold: Firstly, he wants to guarantee that City will never get relegated again and, on the evidence of their performance at Villa Park last weekend, he can’t guarantee that through the traditional method of winning enough matches on the pitch. Secondly, He wants a bigger slice of the pie, and by cutting the number of clubs from twenty to fourteen, he will achieve this too. Never mind “tradition”. That doesn’t matter to Cook. Never mind, even, meritocracy. I’ll be a pound to a penny that if City finish fifteenth in the Premier League this season, he’ll resubmit his proposal with the number of clubs included quietly increased to sixteen. He also, magnificently, manages to set City up for several massive, massive falls this season by saying, “do Saudi Arabians want to buy – and no disrespect to these clubs – Stoke City or Derby County?”. Of course, the phrase “no disrespect” is one of those ways of being enormously rude in badly-cloaked way. Such is the nature if the passive-aggressive world in which we live. To say something this crass, this early in a season that has started disastrously for his own club, however, reeks of stupidity so immense that it is almost unimaginable.
City need to get their financial house in order. We know that much for certain. They are, according to Forbes’ 2008 list, the twenty-third wealthiest football club in the world. They play in the richest football league in the world, at a time when the richest league in the world is bringing in more money than it ever has done so before. Yet they stand on the verge of a meltdown because they have followed a financial model that is, frankly insane. Get taken over by a fugitive former leader of Far Eastern country. Hire ridiculously expensive coach who gets you into UEFA Cup. Fire coach after a year. New owner has assets frozen over fraud claims in home country. You know what? I think I’ll pass on taking instruction on how to how “to become a multi-multi-billion-pound empire” from somebody that has been in charge of the running Manchester City over the last year or so, in the same way that I wouldn’t take advice on ship-building from the captain of the Titanic.
Of course, we shouldn’t take too much notice of this proposal. We know that they don’t give a tu’penny damn about us. However, it is always worth reminding onself of how their minds work, and this interview was a very timely one. The rest of the board of Manchester City should, in the light of comments such as these, be considering Gary Cook’s position as “Executive Chairman”. They’ll do no such thing, though, because for these people, it stopped being about the football a very long time ago indeed.