SPORT

When Business And Football Match Up And The Fans Win

Hard-nosed business and the emotive world of football come together.

23/08/2017 08:28 BST

Not everyone in football is complaining about the pernicious influence of big business on the beautiful game. Fans of Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig are among those who have good reason to look more kindly on the marriage of finance and football.

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Roman Abramovich’s business career had humble beginnings, selling imported rubber ducks from his Moscow apartment before taking advantage of Russia’s emerging energy market to propel himself to enormous wealth.

By the time he took over Chelsea FC in 2003, they were a top six side, but nothing like the global brand they would become under his stewardship.

Only 15 years earlier they had been in the Second Division and their one and only league title had been 50 years earlier. Since Abramovich took over the club they have won five Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and two European trophies including the Champions League in 2012.

It’s little wonder Chelsea fans have only positive things to say about the man from Saratov who transformed their fortunes, proving that culture, language and background hold no barriers to success.

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In 1999, Manchester City were in the third tier of English football, battling Gillingham for promotion in a play-off final and seemingly destined to remain in the shadows of their neighbours, Manchester United. Now they sit at Europe’s top table, managed by Pep Guardiola, one of the best managers in the world, overseeing a glittering array of stars on the pitch. 

Since their takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, the Sky Blues ended a 44-year major trophy drought and have become the fifth most valuable football club in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

From a turbulent past they suddenly found themselves able to compete for the world’s best players, thanks to the investment of their new owners, a private equity group founded by Sheik Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.

They have won the Premier League twice since then, including in 2014, with one of the most dramatic finales ever. City scored twice in injury time against QPR on the last day of the season to come from behind and snatch the title away from their Manchester rivals with a 94th minute strike from Sergio Agüero.

You won’t hear the blue half of the city complaining about global business investments in sport.

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Paris Saint-Germain were only created in 1970, when Paris FC and Saint-Germain merged. They had their moments in the 80s and 90s and, like Chelsea, had a certain glamour without being considered one of Europe’s top clubs.

That all changed in 2011, when Oryx Qatar Sports Investments (QSi) took over, determined that France should have a club to rival the giants of Spain, Italy, Germany and England.

During their six-year tenure QSi have seen PSG collect 16 trophies, including four consecutive Ligue 1 titles. They are now a force to be reckoned with on the European stage and the most successful club in the history of French football.

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But perhaps the most remarkable story of business and football getting into bed together is at RB Leipzig, a club that was actually founded by the energy drink producer, Red Bull, in 2009.

They bought the playing rights of a fifth division side, SSV Markranstädt, vowing to get the side into the Bundesliga in ten years. They did it in seven and in their eighth season of existence were second only to Bayern Munich in the top flight of German football.

While it’s easy to criticise the club for its lack of history, their rise is still an extraordinary achievement that could not have occurred without expert management, coaching and talent spotting.

Many wealthy patrons have lost millions trying to fulfil their childhood dreams and make their hometown clubs national heroes. Money, however, does not guarantee success in football and Leipzig’s journey is virtually unprecedented. And it is unlikely to have happened without the support of the football fans of Leipzig.

While many German football supporters eye RBL with suspicion, there are 42,000 fans who pack into the Red Bull Arena for home games who are grateful that a soft drinks manufacturer came to Saxony.

They brought success and eventually the Bundesliga; something there was little chance of them ever seeing again in their east German city.