Manchester City’s Trumpian tactics are highlighting the autocratic creep in football

<span>Khaldoon al-Mubarak (right), the <a klasse=Manchester Citychairman congratulates Pep Guardiola on his fourth league title in a row.Photo: Martin Rickett/PA” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 06414346bbd” data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 4346bbd”/>

Here we are finally. The doll finally hatched. What was always going to be the thing has now become the thing. Welcome to a coup that is quintessential to the Premier League.

When news emerged of Manchester City’s potentially devastating lawsuit against the top tier of English football, it was tempting to see some sort of similarity. Here we have a league created out of greed, for the sake of the future of greed, now threatened with internal explosion by – yes – greed. Invite a tiger for tea and the tiger can be fun. But it’s still a tiger. And eventually it will eat you too.

However, this is not the whole story. Greed may have opened the door. Greed made ushering an ambitious nation-state into your inner sanctum seem like a great idea with no potential downsides. But it’s not greed that pulls the trigger. This is about control, hard power and a quarter century of Wild West governance and supervision.

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Allow hyper-ambitious nation-states to buy up your sporting institutions, and you might end up with an unhappy hyper-ambitious nation-state. Not to mention the feeling that no one at this point has any control over how this turns out.

Looking through the public details of City’s legal claim, it is more immediately difficult to decide what the most sickening aspect of the whole case is. Perhaps it is the clutter of populism and the vehement shouting being stirred up by City’s lawyers and mouthpieces.

See, for example, the deeply cynical Trumpian framework, the idea that this is a battle waged against “the elites.” Here we have a richer-than-God inherited monarchy, owners of the most powerful football club in the world, who somehow present themselves as outsiders. When will the infinitely wealthy kings and princes of the overclass finally be allowed to take a seat at the top table? Different than now, and forever, in every area of ​​life?

But perhaps the most sickening part is the libertarian nonsense about the free market, the “commercial freedom” stuff that is often parroted around this issue by people who don’t understand what a free market is. This is related to the absurd suggestion that allowing a propaganda entity to release whatever it wants for non-commercial reasons somehow “allows the market to function.”

In reality it is the opposite, a distortion of the market through state subsidies and PR objectives that have nothing to do with value or competition, that leads us to such horrible non-market results, with Neymar being sold for 220 million euros. The spirit of Milton Friedman says: This is not capitalism. It is closer to the command economy.

Then there is the terrible expression “tyranny of the majority”, used here to describe the most tyrannical thing of all: democracy. In the right context, John Stuart Mill’s quote is supposed to describe a state of mob rule, where no institution regulates the drives of the herd. Not so much the richest man at the table who fails to get his way in a vote in the boardroom.

But this is also the lens of the autocratic billionaire. L’etat c’est nous. And nothing may infringe on the exercise of power. Does that really sound like sport?

It’s important to remember that none of this is meant in good faith. It’s just public relations, a way to stir up useful anger. Nor is it really ‘Manchester City’ that is pursuing these ends, but the entity that owns and controls it, a government with a very clear policy agenda.

There are no good owners of elite football. Hedge funds and leveraged buyouts are their own kind of evil. But the fundamental question here seems increasingly profound. Why, apart from blind, stupid greed, would anyone want a government to own a football club?

Governments are not benevolent corporations. The British government is selling weapons and killing people to protect its own interests. The US government is an imperialist machine. What exactly did we expect Abu Dhabi to do here? Play nice?

The direct analogy would be that the British government, say Royal Antwerp, would waste billions of pounds of its GDP on winning the Belgian league, while the Antwerp fans say this is all great, and Antwerp thanks Grant Shapps, before finally the Belgian competition in oblivion complains. for refusing to allow us, the British government, to rewrite its rules.

And yet this kind of ownership has been implemented at City and Newcastle United, and is explicitly retained in the Football Governance Bill. Despite the fact that the potential consequences of all this could be disastrous for English football.

A key point in City’s claim, the abolition of associated party transaction rules, would remove any cap on how much money a state owner can pump into a club. This would destabilize every part of the game and destroy any leverage that is not pure hard money. What’s the point of building a team, or grooming players for anything other than selling to the overlords of your nation state? Once an entity with a bottomless pocket is allowed to deploy that wealth as it pleases, it effectively owns the stage.

There are theoretically two things that can be done to counter this. The first is that the Premier League is threatening to expel City. The league has the democratic right (sorry guys, that word again) to expel any member who threatens its stability, for example by taking legal action and seeking damages for setting its own rules.

The fact that there is no chance of this happening is just as telling. Essentially, the league can’t afford it. The product would collapse. Freed from the yoke of membership, City would let it bleed through the high courts. What you have here is a club that can ultimately do whatever it wants, because the budget will always be bigger, because it is not a commercial entity, but a state. Has anyone ever really thought about this?

The other thing that could happen, but won’t happen, is that the government could show interest. We must again ask ourselves why it is considered unacceptable for a PR-hungry state to own the Daily Telegraph, but it is a fine for a PR-hungry state to own a Premier League club.

It can be argued that Manchester City is a much more important broadcaster than the Telegraph. They have 22 million followers on X, five times as many as De Telegraaf. They have a global reach and a cult of loyalty. They will use that to get a message across, while also taking steps to destabilize an important British industry.

And yet, given the potential trade problems, there will obviously be no interest in regulation. English football’s top brass could be flushed through the courts by an overseas state, a clear tactic to reduce its ability to resist, and analogous to the Slapp lawsuits the government is currently fighting.

Related: Premier League reveals wait time for VAR decisions soared last season

But there are so many structural elements that seem irreversible. This isn’t just City and Abu Dhabi. The Premier League could soon be attacked from all sides by everyone from hapless shipping magnates, to hapless American hedge funds, to soft power-hungry states. Invite a whole pack of tigers over for tea, and things might not end so happily.

In a broader sense, the most depressing aspect is the wider issue of this whole public circus, highlighted by the willingness of football supporters to get involved, the vulnerability of people to this level of manipulated tribalism, the sense that all you really have is the choice from which you can choose. elite” at the back, a failure of basic concepts, meaning, agency.

Football’s vulnerability to this is merely a bellwether for the wider swirls of digital rage, manipulation and post-truth politics. Fare well, brave, sky-blue underdog as you enter the establishment, concerned only with fair competition and fighting for the little guy. For the first time it is possible to see a final match of the Premier League here, and that is not very nice.

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