By Mike Collett
LONDON, Sept 5 - The departures of Newcastle
United manager Kevin Keegan and West Ham United's Alan
Curbishley just three games into the Premier League season had
nothing to do with their teams' results on the field.
They had everything to do with interference off it from the
rich men who own and run their clubs, according to both Keegan
Once, a manager was judged purely on his team's results and
performances. Both West Ham and Newcastle have made decent
starts to the new campaign, currently sitting in fifth and 11th
places respectively in the Premier League.
Many of the businessmen who now own England's top clubs
admit, however, that they are no longer interested only in
results on the field.
They are interested in replica shirt sales, global branding,
awareness of image, developing their other enterprises off the
back of the club they own and maximizing revenue streams.
"If you're looking at an opportunity for branding and
getting yourself out there what better than the Premier League
today?" Mohammed Ali al-Hashimi, executive chairman of Zabeel
Investments, part of the Dubai consortium which tried to buy
Liverpool last year, said.
The big-money owners are, it seems, also interested in
bringing the players they want to their clubs, often regardless
of the manager's opinion.
It is a trend that seems set to continue and the manager's
traditional role of running the club is likely to come under
increasing threat -- as Keegan said when he quit as Newcastle
boss on Thursday. Curbishley said much the same thing when he
left Upton Park on Wednesday.
Rich men owning England's football clubs is nothing new --
they have been doing so since the game turned professional in
For most of the last 125 years they have enjoyed the kudos
and prestige of bankrolling their clubs, basking in the glow of
success when it came. They have also allowed their managers and
coaching staff to choose the players they want, pick the team
and run day-to-day affairs.
It does not work like that at many top-level Premier League
clubs any more.
The billionaires now moving into English football and their
named "Directors of Football" and other apparatchiks decide
which players to buy and sell -- often without consulting the
Keegan says he did not want James Milner to leave St James'
Park last week but the winger was sold to Aston Villa anyway.
Keegan had made it clear that he needed a new left-back to
strengthen his defence but instead the board, led by billionaire
chairman Mike Ashley, brought in Ignacio Gonzalez, a Uruguayan
midfielder, and Xisco, a Spanish striker.
Curbishley did not want Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney
to leave West Ham, but both players were sold to Sunderland. He
wanted to bring in some players on loan but says he was told he
West Ham were bought by an Icelandic consortium in 2006 and
bank chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, one of the country's
richest men, took over as club chairman last year.
The new Arab billionaire owners of Manchester City have
indicated already which players they want to buy when the
transfer window reopens in January.
They want Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United, Cesc
Fabregas from Arsenal and Fernando Torres from Liverpool.
No manager would turn down any of the trio of course but
whether City manager Mark Hughes was consulted about the
shopping list is a moot point.
Those players also happen to be under contract at their
Managers look set to become increasingly isolated as the
Arab princes, or the Icelandic bankers or the Russian oligarchs
try to outdo each other with one goal in mind -- becoming bigger
than Manchester United.
In reality, though, putting together title-winning teams is
a far more complex science than opening up a cheque book and
writing an amount for tens of millions.
Manchester United, where Alex Ferguson has been manager
since 1986, are testimony to that.
Manchester United's football team are controlled by one
footballing man -- Ferguson.
As he said in a Sky Sports television interview this year,
somebody has to run a club and it should only be the manager.
It is a tried and trusted method of success.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)