Should City be smiling?

Image: 'As I was saying Arsene...'

Alex Dunn urges Arsene Wenger not to worry about all that's gone on at Manchester City.

The changing face of English football under foreign ownership

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is." Oscar Wilde "It doesn't look like they (ADUG) are there to make any money. So if they are not there to make money out of it, then are they buying it out of love? I am not sure these people are supporters of Manchester City from a young age." Arsene Wenger When a philosopher meets a professor what often occurs is a clash of currency as one deals in ideas, the other fact, but what binds messrs Wilde and Wenger is a cynicism that runs even deeper than the romanticism they share. It takes not a great leap of imagination to envisage the pair sharing a nip of port in the marbled halls of Highbury; offering their musings on the art deco surrounds, while simultaneously lamenting a beautiful game sullied by foreign monies. In 1989 another sharp-tongued bard sung of the last of the international playboys but Morrissey's vision of the future has proved less than prophetic, for rather than die out in sun-kissed Marbella hideaways the modern day player buys a football club. It would appear any right-minded billionaire concerns himself not with fast cars and faster woman but rather football, where possession is ninth tenths of the kudos. Why buy the admiration of a model when for an admittedly handsome price, a whole fan-base can be the puppet at the end of your string? Roman Abramovich started the trend with his odd blend of formal shirts and no tie, which suggested 'I'm too rich to care about protocol' and 'I'm a man that means business but I like yachts more than boardrooms'. This is of course a physical euphemism for 'I employ short bald men to do my sacking' but let us not digress. The advent of new money in the Premier League and the ostentatious pursuit of silverware heralded the arrival of the likeable but financially ruinous Egghead at West Ham, Liverpool's warring Yanks, the mysterious South Coast Gaydamaks, the surprisingly sane Randy chap at Villa, United's Glazers (two years - two titles - not so many protests now), Flavio and pals at QPR and now....cue Arsene's scorn...the Abu Dhabi United Group at Manchester City. The blue side of a city that has always, contrary to the song, stood united and not alone is understandably over the moon. When Manchester City fan Noel Gallagher penned Cast no Shadow he was clearly not referring to his football, for United's dominance of the Premier League years has been played out against a backdrop of arrested development for their neighbours. Relegation to the third tier of English football, Alan Kernaghan, Franny Lee, Peter Swailes, trips to Moss Rose, Alan Ball and Lee Bradbury were pitted against 10 titles, Eric Cantona, the European Cup, twice, Ryan Giggs, the Cup Winners' Cup, Paul Scholes. The only thing City had that United craved was a papier-mache fan and even Frank Sidebottom's not what he used to be. So amid this infectious mood of optimism just why is Arsene so unhappy? Well for starters, he was less than enamoured by Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim's exclamation of intent to sign Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo upon the news of his buyout on transfer deadline day. The good doctor burst into the Eastlands boardroom, shoved aside old Thaksin (braver man than me) before halting Mark Hughes' bid to bring in the type of honest pros he relied on at Blackburn. Sustainable progress is for squares; sod David Tennant, the new doctor wants glamour, Billy Piper, Madonna, Freddy Mercury - cue outlandish offers for every other club's 'Shiny' player. Oh how we all laughed; City have a new mental owner. The fans arrived in swarms, pale faced Mancunians in Arab headwear outside the ground. Offices across the region looked like a scene from 28 Days Later as workers dropped their pens and announced: "Sorry boss got to go, City have been bought by Arabs - I need to buy a tea-towel." And then they signed Robinho. And the laughter track stopped. City supporters and indeed Hughes have been dismissive of Wenger's scepticism and it is easy to label the Frenchman's sentiments more sour grapes than grave concern. However, given Wenger eschewed his board's offer of signing any number of big name-big fee players over the summer, his words perhaps carry more credence and echo a wider held concern. The Frenchman has always spent Arsenal's money like it's his own and while Gunners fans have often said 'spend it like it's Daniel Levy's', Wenger's stoicism in an economical climate of uncertainty is reassuring. When black can easily turn to red, it's to his credit that he's not been playing roulette with one of football's longest-standing and classiest institutions. That's not to suggest City are on course for financial ruin. Wenger has stated his concern over what remains of a club's carcass when the bones have been picked and a playboy has had his fill, but today's Premier League owners are not the charlatan rogues of Michael Knighton yesteryear but billionaires. Not millionaires, it's billionaire or bust these days. Why enter a relationship where success and failure is judged on a weekly basis - in front of 40,000/50,000/60,000 supporters who invest not just time and money but soul - if you're not in it for the long haul? There are plenty of ways to make a fast buck: football isn't one of them. Ego trips are a powerful phenomenon but surely that's what Ferraris are for. And gyms. However, let us be warned that money does not always equate to smiles from dugouts to stands, grassroots to the boardroom. What is going on at QPR with regards hiking ticket prices in Shepherds Bush is frankly disgraceful and illuminates what can happen if a football club becomes the chihuahua to its owners. The gentrification of a club steeped in working class tradition might bring success on the pitch but if the stands are filled with Naomi Campbell and Flavio's flunkies rather than aged supporters, then the birth of football's first 'boutique' club will be forever synonymous with the death of a real one. As for Mike Ashley, as Dave Whelan succinctly put it, he's a little bit odd. Less said about that one the better. That said, while of course there is something slightly gaudy about City's spending and Robinho's signature is perhaps only the aperitif to what will follow in January, isn't that all part of the fun? After all, is there anything more depressing than those that win the lottery and announce they'll be back at work come Monday morning, enduring the daily grind that forced them to buy the ticket in the first place? Why not let the Abu Dhabi United Group have their day? The City supporters I know have never been so delighted - come next week they'll be moaning - but as they're always so keen to tell us, that's what being a Blue is all about. Anyone that has even thumbed through a copy of the club's history will be well aware that the only certainty in football is that every up is followed by a down. Even billionaires can't defy gravity and in any case, if it all goes belly up, is a trip to Moss Rose really so bad?

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