Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The transfer market for the big Clubs has gone mad this summer as we all know. Ronaldo and Kaka’s moves to Real Madrid and Man City’s desire to try and buy their way to the Premiership title have dominated the headlines. The gulf between the big and the small clubs seems to be wider than ever before.

In the UK, Man City’s spending power seems unrivalled. Or so I thought. That was until I accidentally stumbled across the fact that City’s owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan was only listed at number 104 in Forbes Magazine’s Top Billionaire list for 2009 that was published in March - the list of the richest people in the world today.

Now finishing 104th out of 793 billionaires listed isn’t a bad feat and neither is the estimated net worth of $4.9 billion for someone aged 39 years old.

But this got me thinking. If Man City’s Sheikh doesn’t even fall into the top 100, then who does and how many of them actually have an active interest in football teams around world?

Well as it turns out not a lot of them.

Let’s start our countdown by looking at the man tied at 98th in the list - American Philip Anschutz. With a net worth of $5 billion, the Anschutz Entertainment Group has stakes in MLS sides LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo and Swedish club Hammarby. There is also stakes in various ice hockey and lacrosse sides and arenas across the world including the MEN in Manchester and the O2 in London. He also played a big role in securing David Beckham’s move to the States.

Coming in at number 70 on the list is the enigma that is Italian Prime Minister, and owner of AC Milan, Silvio Berlusconi and his net worth of $6.5 billion. The amount of Berlusconi’s wealth certainly surprised me but it is still a fair bit behind that of another owner of a European football powerhouse, Roman Abramovic.

The Chelsea owner is listed as being the 51st richest person in the world, with a net worth of $8.5 billion, with the global financial crisis having seemingly cost the Russian over $3 billion. Abramovic’s ownership of the Stamford Bridge club has caused a lot of consternation in the European game and many believe he is mainly responsible for the inflated transfer fees we are currently seeing. I personally believe we’d have seen these anyway at some point and it’s hard to argue about the man’s commitment when it is thought that he has spent over 600 million pounds on the club in his six year tenure to date.

Abramovic has also indirectly given money to CSKA Moscow through company sponsorhship and another billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov (tied 40th on the list with $9.5 billion) also gives money to the club. Most Clubs would kill to have one such person giving money to them, let alone two!

New MLS side Seattle Sounders are in a sound financial situation with co-owner Paul Allan coming in at number 30 on the list. His $10.5 billion fortune was made as co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates and their Xbox 360 gaming machine sponsor the Sounders strip and pitch. You don’t really have to worry about your team’s future too much with that kind of backing. Allan also owns a number of other major league sports teams in the area.

Swedish magnate Stefan Persson comes in at 18th in the list with a net worth of $14.5 billion. He doesn’t own a football club but is a lifelong supporter of Stockholm side Djurgardens IF and is in the process of setting up a foundation for them. I’m sure the fans might prefer his money to go on signings though as they haven’t won anything since 2005!

Top of the list of billionaire football owners is Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, the 8th richest man at the world. His net worth of $19.3 billion has to be spent on something and in his case it includes a 20% stake in Championship side Queens Park Rangers, having previously been linked with buying Wigan and Everton.

A number of other names in the top 100 have been linked with buying a variety of clubs including Liverpool, Everton and Portsmouth and AS Roma. Whether any of these will actually come to anything, no one knows, but someone else that may be joining all of the above pretty soon is the joint 62nd person on Forbes’ list - Ananda Krishnan. The Malaysian has a net worth of $7 billion and has been linked recently with possibly buying Newcastle United. Maybe that will finally put a smile on what seems to be the forever furrowed brows of the Geordie fans.

Let’s not even begin to look at the Clubs whose owners are "just" millionaires.

As you can see from that list, having a rich owner does not guarantee success on the football pitch. Some of these Clubs may have won the odd thing here and there but still struggle to take a dominate foothold on the game and for that we must be thankful.

At the end of the day you can buy all the top players you like but it’s what they do on the pitch that matters. Teamwork and confidence and not money can still bring the victories and championships and that’s the solace and straw that all the fans of the vast majority of other clubs without rich owners can clutch with all their hopes and dreams.


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