Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Political football

No sooner had my own footballing heart been ripped out by Southampton beating Derby on the night only to lose on penalties in the CCC play offs, then The Nation Thailand reports that Thaksin Shiniwat is closing in on a take over of Manchester City football club. Reports state Thaksin enjoyed a VIP tour of the club and 'due diligence' is close to being completed.

On the face of it, this is just another rich man taking over a football club for fun. Certainly that's what most City fans will see anyway. However, dig a little deeper and a few questions present themselves.

1) Thaksin knows nothing about football and has never shown much interest. Why does he want to do this?

Whilst other tycoons have shown willingness to lose millions, they have been keen supporters of the sport. A few years ago when Thaksin displayed a strong interest in Liverpool FC, he was asked to name his favourite players. Thaksin responded "Owen and Gerrard, but I admire many others". In other words, he could only name two England players, he had no idea of the names of any other players of a team he professed to support and was interested in buying. He couldn't name the goalkeepers (Reyna and Dudek) the other strikers (I think it was Cisse at the time?) or any defenders (Hypia for one).

Likewise, when rumours of a purchase of Fulham were widespread, Thaksin told the press: "I don't want to buy them anymore, they lost again last week" This is the sort of flippant remark one expects from someone who knows nothing about football. The fact that his supposed friend and fellow dubious tycoon Muhammed Al Fayed resisted the bid was not mentioned.

So the purchase of an -admittedly big - club in debt that is facing internal problems by a business man with no interest in football seems a little strange to say the least. It's worth noting that Thaksin's two previous attempts to buy football clubs happened to coincide with negative issues in his government. His blatant lies concerning bird flu were quickly forgotten when the issue of Liverpool purchase came up.

2) Why was Thaksin consulted on team affairs?

It is a pet hate of virtually any football fan when the chairman or owner of the club interferes in first team affairs. Credible reports from England have stated that Thaksin was consulted on the sacking of manager Stuart Pearce from Manchester City, and that Thaksin has stated he "wants a foreign manager". Now, given the facts we have already established regarding Thaksin's utter lack of footballing knowledge - how will the City fans react to his obstreperous comments on first team matters?

From the vantage point of an English fan who is also experienced in Thai politics , I can see an issue here already. Thaksin's remarks are designed to make him look a hero. He is probably aware of the City board looking for a big name foreign manager and he feels that few comments made on "wanting a foreign manager" will ensure that when the big name does arrive, he will be perceived as the hero who bought him in. It's the same tactic the won him so much support in Thailand's impoverished north east.

However, theres a potential culture clash on the horizon. Thaksin is used to making a big show of face and being seen as the man who pulls all the strings. English football fans however, are only too weary of businessmen trying to act like they know more than the manager. If Thaksin opens his mouth too much he will not be seen as the hero or the big boss, he will be seen as meddling in first team affairs, and he will draw strong rebuttals and antagonism from the fans. What's more, he won't be able to manipulate the press like he is used to.

3) How will the CNS react?

However much they try and play it off as "It's not our business " or "we don't care" , make no mistake , the CNS will not be happy about this. When the CNS staged its illegal coup, it justified itself by citing Thaksin's corruption and abuse of power and it very quickly gained the backing of HM The King. So strained have the ancient soldiers been that they were almost too busy to elect themselves as executives at various lucrative companies, award themselves a pay rise of double the permitted rate and censor any website or broadcast that was critical of them.

The junta have attempted to copy Thaksin's every step, such as hiring lobbying groups, launching populist schemes to win favour from the poor and running press campaigns all to no avail. Public approval is dropping daily and Thaksin Shiniwat being welcomes by locals in one of the world's trendiest cities (and in a nation with good relations with Thailand) will have them furrowing at the brow, however petty it may seem. And on that thought.........

4) What happens if Thaksin is sent to jail?

From this side of the world it's been hard for me to gauge just how aware and concerned the city fans are with Thaksin's dubious business dealings and forthcoming charges. The former is unlikely to bother them, Roman Abromvich was so popular with his money at Chelsea that few bothered to ask how the Russian businessmen with several close associates in jail or under charges came by his wealth.

However, it's probably no coincidence that the Assets Scrutiny Committee (see my previous blogs on these guys) confirmed they will press for charges against Thaksin for abuse of power concerning a land purchase while he was PM just a couple of days after the City purchase was disclosed. It's now distinctly possible that Thaksin could be sentenced to jail. What would happen then? Would he be allowed to remain owner of City under English or Thai law? What would the City fans make of it? How much would it cost him to buy his way out?

City fans - the real football fans of Manchester - if you're reading this, these are questions you need to be asking your board. What seems to be another tycoon looking to take a team to the top just for fun is probably too good to be true. Thaksin Shiniwat is not a football fan, he's a politician in exile, and he's currently using City in the mid game of political chess against his own country's military. What's more, the military have the backing of HM The King, they are unlikely to lose.


Phil said...

He is doing it to get publicity and wind up the CNS (not difficult). What ever his faults Thaksin is an accomplished politician who can work over the naive coup leaders with his little finger.

What happens if he is charged: the obvious move is to appeal for political asylum in the UK. On the grounds of oppression from the military dictatorship who ilegally deposed him, risk to his life, unable to obtain fair trial etc etc. Result massive own goal for CNS and more bad publicity for Thailand.

I reckon he is buying Man City to raise his profile in the UK and thus give himself more leverage if he has to resist extradition.

Fonzi said...

I think Thaksin is a clever politician, but I don't agree with the conspiracy theories about him buying a football club just to poke the junta in the eye.

I hate to say it, but I think Thaksin actually has more depth than just seeking revenge.

He likes his pet projects. Before becoming a multi-billionaire with Shin Corp, he was a Police Colonel.

Did he know anything about telecommunication before taking the big plunge into that complicated industry? Nope

And he made a successful business out of it.

Before Thai Rak Thai, he was just a dude with a lot of money, who hooked his star to Chamlong Srimuang during the 90's.

However, after dumping Palang Dharm, he created Thai Rak Thai from scratch, which was the most dominant party ever to take hold in Thai politics. That is a notable feat in itself.

Regardless of what one may think of Thaksin personally, there is no doubt, at least to me, that he has interests and capabilities that go beyond Thai politics.

I am not saying one shouldn't be skeptical of Thaksin, but I think it borders on paranoia to frame everything he does as if he has ulterior political motives.

Seriously, I think he is finished. I think he knows that he can never made a come back.

hobby said...

I think he's a more clever businessman than he is politician, but he also has a huge ego.

Possible motives:
1. Get money out of Thailand
2. Massage his ego
3. Hassle junta & keep in the public eye
4. Divert attention away the investigations/upcoming court cases

Lucky I'm not a Man City fan, or I would be really pissed off if he buys it.

Fonzi said "Seriously, I think he is finished. I think he knows that he can never made a come back."

He's certainly up to something, otherwise why ring 3 radio stations?