Archive for the ‘Football Finance’ Category

Manchester City's owner Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan waves with chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak ahead of their English Premier League soccer match at the City of Manchester stadium in Manchester

Yesterday Manchester City released their annual financial results, which you can read for yourself here. The takeaway from all this is that City posted losses of £51.6m for the 2012-13 season, down from £97.9m the previous season. The release of course raised questions over City’s ability to meet Financial Fair Play requirements, which require clubs to break even if they want to receive their UEFA license allowing them to participate in European competitions like the Champions League.

Now, I’m not going to lie. Talking about Financial Fair Play is very complicated. If I make a slight error here, please let me know as soon as possible and I’ll clear it up.

Anyway, City contend they are not likely to fall foul of UEFA’s FFP’s provisions, and they may not. There are five main reasons for this.

The first involves UEFA’s ‘acceptable deviation’ rule, which will help grandfather in FFP in order for certain clubs to get their books in order. This allows teams to post aggregate losses over two seasons (switching to 3 for the next reporting period), so long as the owners make equity payments to cover them, which shouldn’t be a big problem for City. The excellent Swiss Ramble blog has a handy chart to illustrate how it works here. Jake Cohen also produced this handy chart to break it down in Euro amounts by season:

The second involves exceptions to FFP’s calculation of club spending, in order to promote “good” investments. Again, Swiss Ramble, whose work I have to once again stress is invaluable in understanding how all this works, explains what those exceptions include:

However, there are two major adjustments that need to be made to a club’s statutory accounts to get to UEFA’s break-even template: (a) remove any exceptional items from [the preceding reporting period], as they should not re-occur (by definition); (b) exclude expenses incurred for “healthy” investment, such as improving the stadium, training facilities or academy, which would lead to losses in the short-term, but will be beneficial for the club in the long-term.

Third, City have also (ingeniously or evilly, depending on your worldview) further reduced their losses through the sale of ‘intellectual property’ to the tune of £42m. The Independent fills in the details on how that amount is broken down:

The first is the sale of the club’s image rights to an external company, which has reaped City £24.5m. The second is the sale of City’s services to the other clubs which it owns – the New York FC franchise which it launched last year, along with the new Melbourne Heart franchise and Manchester City Ladies FC. That “sale of intellectual property to related parties” brought the club another £22.45m and is vital to City getting anywhere near complying with Uefa’s regime.

No doubt UEFA will want to calculate “fair value” based on the market for these sales, but it’s not clear whether City are in the wrong here even though these deals include mutually owned assets. This one is pretty damn murky though.

Fourth, only for this first ever reporting period, UEFA will exclude pre-2010 player wages from the calculation if the clubs are reducing their losses over time. (Daniel Geey explains it all here). This could, according to at least one estimate, reduce expenses for City by a full £80 million in the first FFP reporting period.

Finally, despite all these rules UEFA notes it will make exceptions for clubs that are clearly working to reduce their losses. Despite the creative accounting here, City are clearly working to stay on the very generous ‘safe’ side of FFP.

I know. All this is enough to make anyone skeptical about the efficacy of the break even rules if clubs like City are given such a wide berth to meet them. But some things to keep in mind. First, the acceptable deviation for losses is going to shrink gradually over time, dipping somewhere below £30m by 2018-2019. Perhaps UEFA should set a very low amount now in order to further pressure clubs to reduce their losses.

Second, that pre-2010 wage exclusion thing only applies to the first reporting period, so City can’t do that again next time. So what appears to be a work-around is in fact only a temporary reprieve.

Third, with regard to those sponsorship deals, often involving companies with close ties to club owners (or owned by club owners), FFP lives and dies on the ability of UEFA to make a judgment call on what deals constitute ‘fair value’ based on the market and are free from ‘significant influence,’ which they define as “the power to participate in the financial and operating policy decisions of an entity.” If FFP can’t enforce this rule, than it may as well not exist.

Yet while City’s £400 million (in 2011 pounds) sponsorship deal with Etihad over 10 years may seem astronomically high, Arsenal signed a £150 million deal with Puma through 2019, which so far seems not to have a strong whiff of ‘significant influence.’ The same goes for Nike and Adidas’ competition for a deal with Man United. It’s not always as clear as cynical fans think it is when it comes to clubs exploiting their brand.

My advice therefore when talking about FFP is to think not only of this season and next season and the one after that, but ten seasons from now.

MLS: SuperDraft

Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley stunned world football in coming to Toronto FC in MLS. It’s like, totally happening guys! MLS has “arrived” (no it hasn’t, that doesn’t mean anything).

Except whenever things go relatively well (at least in appearances) for MLS in terms of big name(ish) transfers, an old, smelly debate resurfaces: should MLS go mental and blow up single-entity so that clubs can’t spend whatever the hell they want to attract the world’s best players? Not only that, should it introduce promotion and relegation to North American soccer to punish the weak and reward the strong?

The problem with this kind of “debate” (beyond the endless time consuming and soul-immolating back and forth) is that it rarely follows a coherent framework, on both sides of the divide.

For example, some backers of the current single-entity model in MLS (it’s too exhausting to explain single-entity again, so just read this and come back after) attack promotion and relegation as a system in its own right, rather than focusing on whether it would work in America. This is absurd: you don’t need to crap on a model that has served the vast majority of football-playing nations decades in order to argue against it working in a North American context.

Additionally, boosters will often argue pro/rel’s merits without explaining just how exactly it would be realistically implemented in the US, in 2014 (or 2015, or whenever)—just in the same way it’s easy to keep yelling “public healthcare!” in the United States, but nearly impossible to get it past a House of Reps painted red Republican. The legal problems alone are staggering—what happens to the players’ unions? Does the USSF just ignore MLS and go ahead and set up a separate league pyramid?

At the same time though, backers of single-entity often conflate arguments against the practicality of implementing promotion and relegation in the US with arguments against promotion and relegation per se. Despite the braying (and boring) presence of the Westerveltians on-line, it isn’t necessarily obvious that pro/rel in US soccer would be the unmitigated disaster we all smugly assume it will be.

How, therefore, should we go about this?

To begin, I hate pie-in-the-sky arguments, so I think it’s best to only argue for a pro/rel scenario that has a hope in hell of getting approved one day. So it makes sense to get word on the subject from those with the power to implement it.

So, here’s MLS commish Don Garber in 2012:

The topic of promotion and relegation is something I am asked about regularly, along with the league moving to a single table and possibly changing to a European calendar. While I personally think promotion and relegation would be very exciting, the professional soccer landscape in the United States and Canada is not mature enough to support this type of system, and therefore it is not something we are contemplating.

And here’s the head of the United States Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati in 2009:

I used this analogy with [FIFA president] Blatter: He said the U.S. played two different halves against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final. I said that I was turning 50, facing the second half of my life. U.S. soccer is still in the first half of its life. Twenty-five years ago, in 1984, we had big attendance at the Olympics the eventually led to 1994 and the World Cup. For us, 2009 is still the first half. Questions about promotion/relegation, schedule — they are second-half issues. We will need to be more mature. Maybe 10 years down the road with a couple more southern teams, maybe one dome, more passionate fans. Is it the next year or two? No.

Now, maybe there’s some sort of diplomatic reason for this “someday, maybe” view here (certainly FIFA would like it), but I’m going to take them on their word. So it seems both Garber and Gulati sort of form of pro/rel one day, but not yet.

I also think we can agree that you can’t introduce pro/rel without also dispensing with single-entity, for obvious reasons—a league can’t co-own a team which can theoretically drop out of said league.

Using this framework to guide us, over the next few weeks I want to explore in a little more detail the kind of questions I posed rhetorically in this post from last year (last year!) on this subject. I’m not a fan of projections (Black swans), but I think it’s reasonable to look at the status quo and make some straightforward inferences, of the kind I couldn’t be bothered to six months ago. Until next week…

Leaders Sport Summit 2013

The BBC’s Ben Smith provided the latest homage to Southampton FC executive chairman Nicola Cortese for his radical transformation of the club ever since Markus Liebherr’s firm bought the club in the summer of 2009. Appointed by the now late Liebherr to run the club on his behalf, the Swiss and English educated Italian banker Cortese has since helped the club through two successive promotions under Nigel Adkins and their incredible run of form this season under Mauricio Pochettino, a manager who has helped players like Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert flourish. Here’s Smith:

Southampton focus on themselves, they play the same way whether they are playing Manchester United away or Hull City at home. They train that way, from the academy through to the first team. Formations are not discussed. Numbers are not used. It is about shape, structure not 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. Under Cortese, this is a slick operation where no detail is overlooked.

Smith is not the first person to remark on Cortese’s incredible influence on the club’s success. The Daily Mail ran a widely circulated article on Cortese’s approach at the club in late November:

The attention to detail is frightening. At Cortese’s insistence, every club car has just been fitted with winter tyres in anticipation of the chilly spell.

There is a modern-day corporate culture, with staff encouraged to mix in a break-out area and share a mid-morning coffee rather than sit at their desks and spill it all over their Macs.

On each desktop screen the club’s forthcoming fixtures are displayed, a reminder that every member of staff shares the same vision. Southampton’s players are thriving here.

What was interesting from that piece was the Mail’s attempt to portray Cortese as some sort of eccentric madman. Birthday cards for the players’ wives?! Daily fitness exams for the players!? It sounds CRAZY, but it WORKS!

Southampton’s achievements are indeed remarkable, but we should be careful here to avoid confirmation bias in assessing Cortese’s methods as a sure-fire formula for success in the Premier League. I’m certain Cortese himself would acknowledge the influence of luck and the importance of risk mitigation in any major decision involving the team, including that to sack Nigel Adkins and hire the Espanyol manager to take his place. Despite all the plaudits, Saints have crashed to earth a bit in the last five games against some very difficult opposition.

That said however, it is very telling that practices which would be fairly routine in other areas of the sporting world are perceived as radical in English football.

If club revenues are so intimately tied with on-pitch success (particularly qualification for Europe), why would you NOT want to build the best training facilities for your players? Why would you NOT want to ensure players and staff feel welcome at the club through small but important gestures like cards and winter tires? Why would you NOT want to ensure that all levels of the club are on the same page regarding playing philosophy and tactical outlook? Why would NOT want to use your resources to ensure that each and every player acquisition is both cost-effective and appropriate for the club? Why would you NOT want to use the latest and best technology available to ensure your players don’t put themselves at risk of fatigue or injury?

Cortese is enacting these measures in a soccer culture that still firmly believes that spending as much money as possible is the only means to sustained success. And yet Southampton are a point behind Man United in the table.

If we move away from Cortese the man and look instead what he’s actually implemented at Southampton, you see something far more important: a consistent, top-down approach that involves the entire club. A sane transfer strategy which relies heavily on information-gathering and data analysis. An emphasis on ensuring players feel valued, and that they don’t overtrain and put themselves at risk. This is not about one radical chairman; this is about what should be the status quo in a league as moneyed as the Premier League.

It might soon have to be the status quo. As the culture of Financial Fair Play settles in, smaller clubs who hope to remain in the Premier League will need to consider long-term measures like these in order to overcome revenue disparity with the traditional big teams. Unable to spend beyond their means, they simply won’t have a choice. And the margins between good and bad in the Premier League will shrink even more. Bad for chairman like Cortese perhaps, but great for the rest of us.

Liverpool v Norwich City - Barclays Premier League

I’ve been kicking this article from Business Insider around a bit, and while I think it’s slightly misleading (TV isn’t dying, rather it’s moving to the Internet on a much less saleable platform for marketers), it’s a good indication that the old model is in decline.

Decline, not death. TV may reflect the slow, awkward transition of the newspaper into whatever newspapers are now (on that end, listen to David Carr’s excellent Dalton Camp lecture if you have an hour).

Anyway, you don’t click here because you want to know about TV, you click here because you want to tangentially read about the football. But football has so enmeshed itself with the TV model that what happens to the one will surely affect the other. And there is reason to think that the pat answer of some in the football world to the threat of traditional TV/cable decline—that networks will pay the same amount for rights no matter the platform—is misguided. Perhaps dangerously so.

Let’s look at the BI piece. There’s one interesting subsection that I think indicates a potentially big problem for leagues like the Premier League. Here’s the author Jim Edwards:

Ad revenue increases are masking the macro decline of TV.

The collapse of TV is having a counter-intuitive effect on TV ad sales: prices are going up, even though the number of commercials is going down.

The reason? It’s still really, really difficult to gather a large, mass audience in any kind of media, mobile or otherwise. The Super Bowl — on TV — is the only media property than can reach more than 100 million people in a three-hour stretch. That scarcity of large audiences makes TV’s dwindling-but-still-big audience increasingly valuable.

There’s something else in this little snippet: advertisers still value live television, which is an indication they’re still a long way off from diving into mobile and desktop video ads. That’s because the reach just isn’t the same as live TV, and perhaps the user analytics aren’t quite good enough to sell a specific (and valuable) demographic to advertisers, so the idea that ad revenue will be even remotely close on broadband sports as it currently is on cable is, well, wrong.

Could user subscription fees make up the difference?

Well, remember that cable is prix fixe, and there is not an insignificant number of viewers for live sports events who, faced with the choice of watching the event “cause it’s on TV” and watching it “only after you enter your credit card information”, will take the former. And of course that smaller subsection means fewer eyeballs, and less ad revenue. It just can’t match the TV model. Here’s Amadou Diallo for Forbes on that subject:

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that for all its acknowledged long-term problems, the existing content distribution model is today a very lucrative one for both content companies and pay TV providers. With no current alternative that comes anywhere close to this revenue stream, “Media companies want the MSO (multi-system operator) system to stay intact,” says SNL Kagan Senior Analyst, Robin Flynn. Streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, when combined with hardware like a Roku box or Apple TV can offer an increasingly attractive range of viewing options. Yet while these are growing in popularity, a majority of users are employing them in addition to a pay TV service.

For now, yes. But as broadband improves and TV and broadband merge, the economics of keeping cable just aren’t going to add up anymore. And cable cannot survive on sports alone. At some point, with subscribers dwindling, the ROI on these giant, aggressive rights bids from BT Sport and Sky and NBC isn’t going to make it worth it.

Moreover, expecting a phone slash cable slash broadband company, or a digital slash tech company like google or Apple, to bid the same amount of money on live sports without nearly the same ad dollars, or the same subscriber base, or the same need to get cable into people’s homes? It ain’t going to happen.

None of this screams to me “perpetually increasing broadcast rights deals.” It screams “significant correction on its way.” I could be wrong, but I do know that TV is in decline, and live sports isn’t going to save it.

Gateshead v Oxford United - FA Cup First Round Replay

Whenever finance is discussed in football, it often comes down to the reasonable question “Which clubs get the most cash?”

That’s the heart of the matter. How much does each club get for being promoted to the top flight? For being in the Premier League? For finishing higher up the table? For qualifying for Europe? For being on television more often? For commercial sponsorships?

Is the distribution of this money fair? Unfair? Does it promote competitive parity? Or does it serve the interests of a small, wealthy few?

Tacitly implied of course in all this is that money–well, spending–equals wins, success, Premier League points. To which anyone who’s ever watched or talked about sport will say, “Um yeah.” And, in truth, there are very reliable models which reasonably correlate points totals with club spending on player wages and transfer fees in European football.

Yet I think too many of us assume that football clubs spend this money efficiently. Meaning, they neither under or over pay on transfer fees and wages in order to acquire the best talent on offer which perfectly suits both manager and the team. The assumption seems to be that, across all possible worlds, more money equals more quality, both in terms of individual players and the team as a whole.

Except Ted Knutson got me thinking today that many clubs, particularly in the Premier League, have barely scratched the surface in exploring efficient player recruitment. Writing in response to a recent column I wrote for 21st Club, Knutson touched on some interesting points. A sample:

Regardless of how much money they bring in, teams must become more efficient in how they operate, and in particular they have to become more efficient in getting the most out of their transfer budget and wage spending. Smaller teams that are trying to become more competitive almost can’t afford not to do this.

  • Diversify the responsibility within a football club to actual subject matter experts.
  • Spend more money on the staff that finds new players (by adding a statistical scouting and analysis
    department), and also money on the staff that develops new players. If spending on players is the greatest cost in your organization, you MUST make sure the money is used as efficiently as possible.
  • Start using numbers across your organization to provide data points that put everyone on the same page.

I’m going to be touching on some of these points for a future column, but the main thing I want to get across here is that, as I’ve mentioned before, the wealthy status quo, particularly in England, has led to some very lazy decision making on the part of club owners, executives and managers. The current TV rights deal in the Premier League for example simply dumps tens of millions of pounds into club coffers for simply turning up–there is nothing compelling them (ie market forces) to spend this money intelligently to compete, and so there is little stopping them from curtailing clearly inefficient spending practices (“He scored a ton of goals? Buy that guy”).

Anyone who’s ever read the Daily Mail knows this. For every stud in the transfer market, there is a dud. For every Gareth Bale there’s a Djemba-Djemba. Wages are markedly more more efficient (good players have higher wages than bad players) than transfer fees, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Wages are augmented based on performance to retain good players. That’s not ‘efficiency,’ that’s just the invisible hand at work after the fact.

So what would happen if suddenly every club in the English top flight (or England for that matter) did away with the old play book in which long-term financial decisions were left to a manager who would likely be sacked in two seasons’ time–if they’re lucky? What would happen if clubs embraced standard business practices like risk management, exploitation of market inefficiencies, long-term financial and organizational planning etc?

Forget all the cultural red herrings about the “Americanization” of the game that would come with better run football clubs. Would the correlation between club spending and points totals remain the same? Or would better run football clubs help close the gap between rich and poor in the league table?

Remember, we’re not talking about producing and selling widgets, but winning football matches. In theory, a well-run club with specific player targets and a top-down collaborative approach may be able to achieve feats beyond their wage and transfer bill. If that’s the case, league competition would not necessarily be between rich and poor clubs, but well and poorly run clubs. And should one of those well-run clubs manage to make the Champions League one year and progress a little, while an erstwhile champion struggles to make the Europa League, well, football might have achieved something vaguely resembling parity.

Would it bridge the gap entirely? No. There will always be a Boston Red Sox and a New York Yankees, but perhaps there will be more wide-spread cost efficiency in line with ball clubs like Tampa Bay and Oakland. That may not be enough to shake up the existing order altogether, but at least to introduce a little more variance.

Anchor Doyle rugby presenter Dawson  and rugby expert Bayfield discuss rugby during the BT Sport channel launch program at the BT Sport studio in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in east London

This was the major news in football finance this week, and it deserves a few words. In case you missed it:

BT Sport has announced an exclusive £897m three-year deal to broadcast live Champions League and Europa League football matches.

The broadcaster has won the rights to show all 350 fixtures each season from 2015 after talks with European governing body Uefa.

A BT spokesman said it had “shaken up the UK TV market” and would make some matches, including finals, free to air.

If that £897m price seems excessively high, remember it’s not really live sports that BT is after, but rather live sports as part of BT Sport’s attempt to compete with BSkyB in the UK, using football as a “battering ram” to get football-loving subscribers to buy into “triple pay” packages which include phone, television, and the lucrative growth industry of broadband television.

Why is this domestic UK deal important for global football?

Well, for UEFA and the elite clubs in the Champions League, it will mean an even greater windfall from the competition and more money into players’ pockets:

It will also prompt more questions over the effectiveness of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play which prevents clubs from spending beyond their means. After all, the theory goes, how is it fair to prevent smaller clubs from spending above what earn to compete with the elite Champions League teams when the latter get higher and higher revenues from European competition?

I would only answer briefly that revenue disparities between rich and poor clubs have a limit–there are only so many players an elite team can pack into the squad, and there are also as-yet-unexplored ways smaller clubs can mitigate revenue disparity to compete there way into the upper part of the table to get a rare slice of the European pie, including smarter player recruitment strategies.

That however is not what I want to focus on. Instead I want to speak to these comments from media analyst Claire Enders, quoted in the Guardian a few days ago:

[Enders] described BT’s deal as an attempted “death strike” on Sky, that could come back to bite it. BT’s Premier League deal last year had already inflated the cost of sports rights. There was a real risk of “mutually assured destruction” for the industry, Enders said.

“Sports rights will continue to spiral upwards … the view that consumers can absorb these massive increases is wrong.

“Exactly what signal are you sending that you have so much money to burn to your customers that face an increase [in their bills] again this year?”

Remember, live sports has always been the telecom provider’s means to get into consumer’s homes. This is what has inflated the massive rights bids in the last few years for the Premier League. But both Sky and BT Sport have banked on the UK’s love of football to sustain the increasing cost of cable subscriptions in the near-term, which will face a major test as the economy continues its plodding recovery and on-line and on-demand options become more and more attractive.

I’m not convinced however that either BT or Sky are naive about the future of television in the age of on-line and on-demand viewing and improvements in live-streaming over broadband internet.

Here’s BT Sport’s chief executive Gavin Patterson for example explaining the company’s strategy in making a play for the Champions League rights:

“I don’t define our strategy based on Sky or any competitor per se. We sense there is an opportunity to grow into in this market. The key to us is a competitive broadband proposition and triple play. Sport is just one aspect of that,” he told the Guardian.

BT Sport spent most of the first decade of the 21st century preparing a foray into the broadband market, only to lose subscribers to Sky on the back of their own “triple pay” deals. Patterson’s strategy is BT’s way of fighting back, a recognition perhaps that the lure of live sports is still the best means into consumers homes.

Yet this may also be an elaborate game of musical chairs ahead of what could be a major shift in the market from television to broadband. As cable subscription fees hit a price ceiling, many customers will want to cancel their cable and keep their broadband for on-demand and live-stream viewing instead. When they do so, the will likely be happy to just stay with their existing “triple pay” provider. As more and more viewers cut their cords and demand for broadband increases, the price of internet access will rise in part too to make up for loss of cable subscribers. It makes sense for companies to gobble up any broadband customer they can now ahead of the shift.

That’s good for cable and internet providers, but will this possible future be good for football?

That is far from certain. Remember, the massive cost of rights bids don’t just reflect consumer demand for football, but also the desire of cable companies to use football as a means to get into consumers’ homes. Would that strategy still be important in a broadband world in which any on-line customer with a Internet connection could theoretically subscribe to an on-line package deal either BT Sport or Sky (or indeed Google or Apple) to watch live football (assuming net neutrality still exists ten years from now, an admittedly big ‘if’)?

The fact is the cost of rights to live football is inflated as part of an aggressive strategy on the part of cable companies trying to shore up their customer base before the fall of traditional TV, what one analyst called “an armageddon scenario.” If and when that strategy ends, so too could the salad days of wildly inflated rights fees for live football, and with it, the enormous pay day for big clubs and elite players. It’s not certain whether UEFA, the Premier League, or individual clubs will have seen it coming.

Cardiff City v Swansea City - Barclays Premier League

A man with a pile of cash and seemingly limitless desire to spend agrees to purchase your club. You don’t know much about him or her, their business interests or even their prior affiliation with the club. You don’t care though! Money equals good players equals success! Pop the corks and ride that crazy roller-coaster right to the bitter/triumphant end!

A couple of weeks ago I made the argument that while rich people buy football clubs for a number of reasons, we (supporters) can never know what they are. Which is precisely the problem. I tried to get the point across that the “unknowing” itself is the problem, not whether an individual owner is beneficent/malicious in intent.

I suppose in retrospect the point seems quite a bit…duh. But I think in light of the recent paranoia in some quarters over American owner Stan Kroenke’s designs over Arsenal’s giant, useless cash heap, it’s worth talking a little today about Mr. Vincent Tan, the Malaysian billionaire who owns a controlling stake in Cardiff City Football Club, in order to point out that not all owners are in it for “the business.”

According to Wikipedia (deep research here), Tan “is the Chairman and Chief Executive of Berjaya Corporation Berhad, which is in a wide array of businesses which includes golfing, property, resorts, and gambling in a group known as the Berjaya Group.” So, the fun industry.

Tan was convinced by then Cardiff chairman Dato Chan Tien Ghee to invest in the club in May of 2010 to revive its fortunes following Peter Ridsdale’s decision to sell after he courted the Malaysian businessman to help cover the club’s expanding bills. Ghee, known by Cardiff supporters as TG, resigned as chairman in March of this year leaving his partner to steer the ship.

Tan, you’ll recall, also made headlines at the time over a controversial rumours that the club would be renamed the “Cardiff Dragons.” Instead, he settled with just changing the club’s historic colours from blue to red (which is particularly weird as Cardiff’s nickname is “the Bluebirds”) and stuffed a dragon in the crest.

Okay, so that wasn’t so bad, right? Billions at your disposal to win everything, change of colour and crest? A good deal right? Well, except for these things which transpired in recent weeks:

…last month [Tan] sacked the club’s head of recruitment, Iain Moody, so depriving manager Malky Mackay — regarded as one of the brightest young British coaches — the counsel of the man he most valued at the club.

Bizarrely, Tan replaced Moody with a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan called Alisher Apsalyamov, who had no previous employment in football but is a friend of one of his sons. Late last week, the Apsalyamov Affair took another farcical twist when the Home Office ordered him to step down until his application for a work permit had been processed.

Cardiff fans fear Mackay could be further unsettled if, as alleged, Tan has employed his unlimited power beyond the boardroom. According to reports last week, at least one player, Slovenian striker Etien Velikonja, who has not made an appearance in the match-day squad this season, was brought to the club for £1.7m without the approval of Mackay.

So now we have an even odder picture of Tan’s ambitions for the club. Are these actions the result of insane hubris? Or is Tan desperately concerned about the prospect of relegation and so has decided to take matters in his own hands?

Again, the lesson here is clear: there is absolutely no way for anyone to know this who is not Vincent Tan. And so the financial engine of English (in the sense this is the Premier League—Cardiff is in Wales) football is driven by allowing clubs to be purchased by billionaires with their own multitude of agendas which may or may not be in the best long-term interests of the club.

It is, to be frank, a ridiculous system. And with break even provisions now both in the Premier League and in UEFA, it’s likely on the way out.