MARTIN SAMUEL: The real Premier League fitness test... show us your money
05 October 2009 02:54
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The process of identifying a fit and proper person does not include a means test. So when the Premier League considered the takeover at Portsmouth by Sulaiman Al Fahim, the newest member of the Potless Millionaires Club that seems to be running football these days, their frame of reference was very limited.
Is he allowed to own a company? Is he involved with another football club? Has he a history of insolvency? Has he convictions for fraud or theft? Nobody asked if he had any money. Perhaps it is time they should.
The economic policy of English football remains laissez faire, while each week brings fresh questions about who controls what and, worryingly, how. Fahim, said to have mounted a £60million takeover of Portsmouth - although mention of that figure is increasingly met by raised eyebrows or snorts of derision - did not have the funds to pay the wage bill this month.
Carson Yeung, who will soon assume control at Birmingham City, will do so through a conglomerate called Grandtop International, of which he owns a mere 16 per cent as executive chairman.
Who controls the other 84 per cent? Who knows? The stock market in Hong Kong values Grandtop at £39m and Birmingham City is valued at £81m. So Yeung, like Fahim, will quickly need to find money, honey.
Things are hardly better in the Football League. Notts County's owners have not been disclosed so much as outed and 10 fairly standard questions posed by a national newspaper about their business background were met with nine replies of 'no comment'.
Meanwhile, according to statements sworn in a Jersey court by Leeds United chairman Ken Bates, his club are owned by the unidentified holders of 10,000 shares in the Forward Sports Fund, registered in the Cayman Islands.
Bates may be successfully turning Leeds around, but none of these cases sits comfortably with transparency issues. The impending disaster on the South Coast makes Portsmouth the most pressing concern, though, so how could it have been prevented?
Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, will argue that once an owner has passed the fit and proper persons test it is not the job of the governing body to tell him what to do with his money.
If you buy a Ferrari but cannot afford to put petrol in it, that is your foolishness. Your mortgage company does not demand you sort out the damp in the window sills. If you want to let your investment crumble around your ears, it is up to you. Just make sure the bills get paid on time.
And this is where that logic falls down, because Portsmouth's new owner could not cover the most basic running cost of a company: their wages. We hear a lot about the fans, but the first duty of care is to the employees and that is why a means test in the form of a bond should now form part of being declared a fit and proper person.
It could be straightforward. Place 12 times the monthly wage bill in a special account and lodge it with the Premier League, therefore guaranteeing all commitments to employees for a year after any takeover. Portsmouth had to borrow £5m to meet their obligations this month so, as a ballpark figure, that would mean Fahim would have had to place a bond of £60m in advance with the Premier League to secure the deal. If he is unable to, he should not be there anyway.
It sounds a lot, but then it takes a lot to run a club. If a man does not have £60m to manage the company efficiently, he should not be involved in the first place. And, remaining true to the league's ethos of economic freedom, nobody is telling the owner how he should spend his money: just making sure that he has some, which is the entry level of being fit and proper, surely?