Thursday, February 07, 2013

Ferdinand VII's Guide To Football Club Ownership

In a country that has not exactly been short of despots during its history, Spain's King Ferdinand VII was one of the best (worst) examples of despotism. Ferdinand was a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work, not just because of his autocratic nature but also because of his appearance in his later years. Bloated and repulsive, he took a leaf out of Henry VIII's book and more or less ate himself to death.

A Ferdinand appellation, as in the coincidence with the brothers Rio and Anton, may seem a contrivance for introducing football into a discussion, but Ferdinand offers something of a template for current-day football, and for current-day football chairmen/owners in particular.

Had Spain in the early nineteenth century been a football club (contemporary Spain is, certainly more so than it is a properly managed country), then Ferdinand would have been the chairman/owner. Having attempted to assert boardroom control in 1808, he was ousted after only a few months by the new money of the French league. The brothers Napoleon and Joseph, the Paris Saint Germain mega-francs imperialists of the time, took over for five years before Ferdinand regained control of the national club. He returned and made all manner of promises: making Spain European champions once more and acknowledging the club's constitution under which team matters were in the hands of ministerial coaches.

Sadly, all the promises that were made as he smiled for the ranks of neoclassicist and romantic painters, brandishing the club scarf that had been tied in regal style around his already expanding midriff, were to come to nought. He interfered in team affairs, sacked ministers at whim, ignored the fans, i.e. the people, scrapped the board of a parliament, transferred anyone who stood in his way to obscure north African prison teams or applied the ultimate club sanction of execution for not sticking to his game plan, and ran the club on his own. Ferdinand was an absolute monarch, an absolute owner. He did it all. He would probably have occupied all eleven positions on the pitch had it been physically possible, though occupying even one position became increasingly difficult on account of his dining habits.

Ferdinand's ownership was to prove to be an unmitigated disaster. Far from propelling the club (country) back to lofty heights in the European premier league of nations, he assisted in a process of condemning it to regular relegation in the years that followed his time in charge. His only achievement was to not saddle the club (country) with unsustainable debts, though this was really only because he put a stop to the playing of internationals on battlefields in the Americas.

On the face of it, Ferdinand should have been successful rather than the loser that he was. Spanish and royal, he passed any fit and proper person's test for assuming ownership. A Spaniard through and through, he would have understood the game and placed the national club above his own personal gain or narcissism. Unfortunately, Ferdinand wasn't a fit and proper person. He was raving mad. There is also some doubt as to whether he was in fact royal. Was he a true product of some patrician Edwards or Moores club dynasty or was he the product of a Mrs Edwards or Mrs Moores having had a dalliance with the local butcher?

The only thing Ferdinand wasn't, apart from being a lunatic and not being a fit and proper person, was foreign. In this respect, he deviates from the popular template for current-day football club ownership, but only in this respect. Even so, he wasn't Spaniard through and through, as he didn't understand what the fans (the people) wanted and he didn't understand the game, that of liberalism and democratisation, i.e. letting the coaches take control. Had he, Spain might well indeed have clambered back to the top echelons, rather than finding itself doomed to perpetual relegation battles.

Football has been taken over by Ferdinands. They may not actually be mad, though some give a reasonable impression of being so, but they operate in their own peculiarly autocratic ways, misunderstanding the game, misunderstanding fans, seeing only potential riches to be harvested from the European battlefields of today, those presided over by UEFA and Sky and other broadcasters. And as a consequence, you end up with a Blackburn Rovers or a Nottingham Forest. Football has become its own Ferdinand VII: bloated and repulsive, deaf to the wishes of the people (fans) and consumed by the avarice and/or narcissism of owners, players, agents, broadcasters and administrators. Despots proliferate, but despots ultimately only bring ruin. Ask Ferdinand. But for God's sake, don't tweet Rio.  

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