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Malcolm Glazer and the Top 10 Most Controversial Club Owners in World Football

Vince SiuFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Malcolm Glazer and the Top 10 Most Controversial Club Owners in World Football

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The breaking news on Thursday was that Malcolm Glazer, the American billionaire and former owner of Premier League club Manchester United, had passed away (per BBC Sport).

    Glazer led a controversial £790 million takeover of the Red Devils in May 2005, which saddled the club with debt and ensured that his family never enjoyed extensive popularity among United fans.

    While Glazer’s sons Joel and Avram took over the running of the club after he suffered a stroke in April 2006, he will be remembered as an aloof owner who never even set foot inside Old Trafford, leading to accusations that he was only ever in football for the money.

    He was far from the most controversial club owner in modern football, though.

    Here are 10 of the most outrageous—Glazer included.

10. Qatar Sports Investments, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Since their takeover of Paris Saint-Germain, Qatar Sports Investments have made headlines with their extravagant spending, bringing an impressive number of world-class stars to Paris—including Edinson Cavani (€64.5 million), Lucas Moura (€45 million), Thiago Silva (€42 million), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (€20 million) and David Beckham—who have led driven the club to consecutive Ligue 1 titles.

    What initially seemed to have been an ambitious plan to grow PSG into a footballing superpower, a la Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City in England, has been met with increasing protestations. Their considerable investment has attracted the attention of UEFA, who recently slapped a €60 million fine on the club for falling foul of its Financial Fair Play regulations.

    President Nasser Al-Khelaifi has since hit out strongly against the ruling, claiming (per ESPNFC):

    The players that I want, I will have. This changes nothing of the project, the motivation of the club and the players. We have already invested a lot in the last three years and we will continue.

    The ambition is admirable, but the way QSI has gone about things in Paris has been nothing short of controversial. Their bullish talk and claims that money will still win the day won’t go down well with football purists.

9. Maurizio Zamparini, Palermo

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    When will I sack [Gennaro Gattuso]? He’s going to bring me a fish tomorrow and cook it for me. He’s got a shop in Gallarate near my office and of course I’ll sign the papers for his dismissal before I employ him.

    Said Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini, per ESPNFC, just after hiring Gattuso as their manager.

    Palermo fans won’t begrudge Zamparini much for taking their club from Serie B back to Serie A and challenging for the Champions League—Walter Sabatini and Delio Rossi formed an admirable partnership and developed an exciting team from young talent.

    But that was just a golden period for the club. Zamparini had overseen 15 managers before Rossi arrived in 2009. In September 2013, Gattuso became the 20th manager to be sacked by Zamparini and the club is now best known for its instability.

    Having dropped down to Serie B for the 2013/14 campaign, they regained promotion and will be contesting Serie A once again next season. Expect more fireworks to come at the Stadio Renzo Barbera.

8. The Glazers, Manchester United

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    It’s been nine years since Malcolm Glazer led a debt-laden takeover of Manchester United. May 2005 also marked a drastic change in the fortunes of the club, from having a strong focus on footballing success to constantly minding their financial situation.

    The nature of the Glazer takeover has never gone down well with United supporters, despite the club winning five Premier League trophies and a Champions League title during their reign.

    After the takeover was completed, a group of disillusioned fans broke away to form FC United of Manchester, while the "green and gold" movement was initiated among fans in 2010 to protest the Glazers’ decision to issue a £500 million bond to ease the club’s debt burden.

    While the club has since been floated on the New York Stock Exchange to raise funds, it has spent almost £700 million on interest payments and financial costs connected to the debt, according to the Telegraph.

    Instead of providing funds for Sir Alex Ferguson’s use, the club’s commercial and off-field successes were essentially used to repay its debts.

    Imagine if the Red Devils had spent that £700 million on player transfers and wages instead.

7. Vincent Tan, Cardiff City

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    Premier League fans will remember Vincent Tan for his high-profile sacking of Malky Mackay, his subsequent failed appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Cardiff City’s relegation from the Premier League at the end of their first season in England’s top flight.

    Yet Tan’s list of atrocities goes back further—just witness the wave of blue shirts at the Cardiff City Stadium every home match, in protest of Tan’s decision to change the team colors from their traditional blue to red in 2012, while also changing the club badge to increase the prominence of the red dragon at the expense of the famous blue bird.

    A club statement said at the time that the controversial changes would be introduced “with a view to exploiting and maximizing its brand and commercial revenues in international markets, which it is hoped in turn will bring success to the club locally, while also attracting new partners and investors.” (per the BBC)

    Before Mackay was sacked earlier this season, though, there was the case of director of recruitment Iain Moody, who was replaced in favour of 23-year-old Kazakh Aliser Apsalyamov, a friend of Tan’s son. Having to deal with the fallout of the Moody case, the popular manager was himself dispensed of and replaced by Solskjaer.

    It’s not a good time to be a Cardiff fan.

6. Venky’s, Blackburn Rovers

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    But at least Cardiff fans had the chance to taste an unprecedented promotion to the Premier League. By contrast, Blackburn Rovers have become a joke for English football fans since the takeover of Indian poultry company Venky’s in 2010.

    At first, Venky’s appeared to be the miraculous saviors of the Ewood Park club: Their bullish statements on signing the likes of David Beckham and Ronaldinho in the January 2011 transfer window (per the Telegraph) left Rovers fans dreaming about what they could achieve in the future.

    Unfortunately, those moves never materialised and Steve Kean proved to be far from adept at the Premier League level—contrasting predecessor Sam Allardyce’s achievements—and Blackburn quickly fell down the Premier League table and were relegated in 2012.

    At the end of the 2013/14 season in the Championship, Venky’s issued a report in which they apologised for failing to bring success to the club, and admitted to having made costly mistakes during their tenure (per Sky Sports).

5. Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Liverpool

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    In 2005, Liverpool won the Champions League. In 2006, they won the FA Cup. Both were deemed historic matches and results because of the nature in which the Reds won the competitions.

    Yet, arguably, the most pivotal moment in the club's illustrious history took place the year after.

    Tom Hicks and George Gillett had a joint offer for Liverpool valuing the club at £218.9 million accepted in February 2007. They made bullish statements about the club's future and even promised that work on a new stadium at Stanley Park would begin work almost right away.

    Sadly, they never delivered on their stadium plans, and they never allayed the fans' fears that they would heap debt on the club, much like the Glazers did at Manchester United. In 2010, the Royal Bank of Scotland considered Hicks' debt to be toxic and the threat of administration became a very real prospect at Anfield before John W. Henry and New England Sports Ventures (now Fenway Sports Group) swooped in.

    It wasn't just the financial side, either: Hicks and Gillett found themselves out of depth in English football, failing to engage the Liverpool fans and doing nothing to modernise the club's structure. Their public falling out with chief executive Rick Parry and popular manager Rafael Benitez didn't go down well with the Anfield faithful, while their falling out with each other made for an embarrassing soap opera.

    In Hicks and Gillett's time at Liverpool, the club failed to win a single trophy—even their closest Premier League title challenge in many years was beset with public spats. They left the club with Roy Hodgson in charge and the club in the relegation zone.

    A truly dark period for one of England's most storied football clubs.

4. Kjell Inge Rokke and Bjorn Rune Gjelsten, Wimbledon

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    There was a time in the 1990s when Wimbledon FC were a fixture in the English top flight, contesting domestic trophies and even challenging for the European places. Then came Norwegian businessmen Kjell Inge Rokke and Bjorn Rune Gjelsten, who forever changed the club's fate.

    It didn't help that Wimbledon were relegated from the Premier League after spending 14 years in the top flight in May 2000. But in August 2001, the club's decision to relocate to Milton Keynes was approved despite opposition from Wimbledon fans, the Football League and the English Football Association.

    Much like the disillusioned Manchester United fans who started their own breakaway team, Wimbledon fans founded AFC Wimbledon. All the while, the "franchising" of English football was met with severe protestations from fans up and down the country, and rules were subsequently tightened to prevent such a drastic move from happening again.

    Attendances dropped significantly and the club went into administration in June 2003 before being rebranded as Milton Keynes Dons in 2004.

    Wimbledon FC, previously one of the most well-known clubs in English football, exists no more. MK Dons currently play in the English League One and AFC Wimbledon are just a division below them, in League Two.

3. Suleyman Kerimov, Anzhi Makhachkala

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    Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

    The majority of the world—not even Russians—hadn't heard of FC Anzhi Makhachkala before Dagestani billionaire Suleyman Kerimov bough the club in January 2011. 

    Upon taking over the outfit, Kerimov set about on one of the most remarkable brand-building exercises the football world has ever known.

    In his first few weeks at the club, Kerimov promised to invest in a new stadium and announced the signing of Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos. That summer, Anzhi made even more significant transfers, bringing in Balazs Dzsudzsak, Yuri Zhirkov and—the most controversial of all—Samuel Eto'o on a world-record salary.

    Guus Hiddink was lured to the project and joined the club as manager in February 2012, with Carlos becoming club director following his retirement a month later. However, in the first two years of Kerimov's reign, Anzhi failed to win a single trophy, despite having invested £300 million in players (per the Guardian).

    Then, it seemed, he lost interest—and he found himself in financial difficulty. In August 2013, he slashed the club's budget by two-thirds and started disposing of its highest earners. After the highs of previous seasons, Anzhi finished the 2013/14 league season in last place and were relegated back to the National Football League.

    An alarming example of how quickly fortunes can change at a club entirely dependent on a mega-rich owner.

2. Vladimir Romanov, Heart of Midlothian

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    The Scottish Premier League, long dominated by the duopoly of Celtic and Rangers, had been crying out for a new challenger. Little did they know that it would all come to an end with a bitter taste in everyone's mouths.

    When Vladimir Romanov initially took over at Heart of Midlothian FC, the Russian-born Lithuanian was at first welcomed by Hearts fans. After he increased his majority share in the club in 2005, they won their first eight league matches as George Burley led them to the top of the SPL.

    It seemed as if a new dawn for Scottish football had arrived.

    Then Romanov decided to sack Burley and lapse into frequent hiring and firing of managers. He interfered with team affairs and set up high-profile links with Lithuanian club FBK Kaunas, bringing over Lithuanian players in a bid to prove that they could do well at a higher level of European football.

    What at first appeared to be a golden age in Hearts history quickly became a nightmare, as he failed to pay his players on time. In June 2013, Hearts went to administration and a year later were relegated from the Scottish Premier League.

    As for Romanov, he was arrested in Moscow earlier this year and is to stand trial in Lithuania for misappropriation and embezzlement (per the Mail).

1. Bulat Chagaev, Neuchatel Xamax

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    But the undisputed No. 1 in our list is Bulat Chagaev, the Chechen businessman who took over Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax in May 2011.

    Just seven months after his takeover, his antics at the helm of Neuchatel were enough for CNN to do a profile on his background and the state of the club. He "fired four coaches, removed every local sponsor involved with the club from the previous season and dismissed his entire administrative staff, resulting in Xamax being unable to print any tickets for the opening match of the 2011-12 Swiss Super League campaign."

    hagaev's ambiguous status as a resident in Switzerland meant that he was frequently the subject of investigations and reports, all the while creating high-profile trouble. He even managed to alienate two of Neuchatel's biggest supporters' groups, depriving the club of valuable revenue in the process.

    In January 2012, just eight months after Chagaev's takeover, Neuchatel declared bankruptcy and were excluded from the Swiss Super League, consigned to start over in the fifth-tier amateur league.

    It will be a long journey back to the top.

     

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