MARTIN SAMUEL: Bringing in an independent regulator is difficult

MARTIN SAMUEL: Bringing in an independent regulator to rid football of rogue chiefs is much more difficult than it sounds… you can stop bent rule-breaking owners, but not the stupid ones!

  • There are some bent owners in football, but also some clever stupid people too
  • The malaise at Oldham is that of stupidity, but it is not the same as malpractice 
  • Introducing an independent regulator to rid the rogues will be a difficult process
  • The main problem with idiocy in the sport is that there is no accounting for it 

Let’s start with Oldham. It is close to impossible to regulate against incompetence. That is the problem there.

Nobody is crooked, nobody is corrupt, integrity as always will be in the eye of the beholder. The malaise at Oldham is that of stupidity, foolishness and poor practice. That is not the same as malpractice. Football clubs have got to be allowed to fail, too. That is how movement occurs.

Oldham were founder members of the Premier League, blew it and have ended up contemplating fixtures with Boreham Wood and Eastleigh next season. Brighton, Fulham, Burnley, Huddersfield and Bournemouth were all in tier three in 1992-93 and may be in the Premier League next season.

Oldham’s malaise is that of stupidity and foolishness – but that is not the same as malpractice (pictured: owner Abdallah Lemsagam)

That’s the beauty of the pyramid. We could make all owners take an IQ test, but that wouldn’t solve it either. There’s a lot of stupid clever people too when it comes to the business of football.

Abdallah Lemsagam is the most useless of the useless Oldham owners because he has taken the club out of the league, which no custodian had managed since they were elected into the Second Division in 1907.

Yet it is not as if the time before his arrival was notable for its high standards of governance. Between 1996-97 and 2017-18, the club burned through 24 managers to remain in exactly the same division — tier three — for 21 years.

Their fans staged protests on Saturday as they saw their club drop out of the Football League

As Lemsagam was only in charge for the last five months of that he can hardly be held responsible. Not that this excuses him. He has gone through a further 11 managers in little more than four years to get relegated twice.

Again, regulate that. Lemsagam brought local hero Paul Scholes to the club and then interfered in team selection, causing him to quit after 31 days. He appointed his brother, Mohamed, as sporting director and the pair proved so insightful that two of their summer signings, Jayson Leutwiler and Harrison McGahey, were initially unable to play because their recruitment contravened the terms of Oldham’s EFL loan arrangement.

But nothing was underhand. The existing rules were applied to Oldham and the players sat out. It was the seventh game of the season when Leutwiler made his debut and 14 matches were missed by McGahey.

Could a regulator have prevented this idiocy? Not unless the regulatory team is going to oversee the day-to-day running of 92 football clubs, in which case what is the point of ownership? In all likelihood, the process would be the same as it is now. There would be rules, Oldham would have failed to adhere to them and consequences would result.

The Saudi-led consortium (left, Amanda Staveley) replaced Mike Ashley (right) at Newcastle

As for whether Mohamed Lemsagam is qualified to be sporting director, that’s a matter for the owner. If Abdallah says this is the man he trusts with his money and there is no one he would rather protect his interests in the world of player recruitment and development, then who is a regulator to intervene? Sir Alex Ferguson had his brother Martin on his scouting staff and Manchester United didn’t do too badly.

Early reports on the Government review into football suggest a fudge. There are some easy wins around fan presence on boards and protection of club colours, badges, name and location, and some vague notion of integrity becoming part of the owner and directors test, now that Saudi Arabia are ensconced within the Premier League having back-channelled with their friends in Government.

Yet, from here, who judges integrity? To many of us integrity might involve a guy who makes the rules standing down from his job if he is found to have broken them.

A fan-led review was carried out after the collapse of Bury in 2019 and other football crises

Yet, apparently, some in Government find that quite an extreme take. Put it another way – if Boris Johnson is confirmed to have lied or misled Parliament would Tracey Crouch believe he possesses the necessary integrity to run a football club under the proposed new regulations? Could he be Prime Minister but not chairman of Bristol Rovers?

Someone should ask her. Actually I did. I also asked fellow Conservative MP Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS Committee and another firm supporter of regulation. So far, neither has replied. Then again, we were never close.

Johnson made sure he was in Bury, though – this being the club whose financial downfall has in part facilitated Government intervention – to bask in the reflected glory of saving football.

Maybe he thinks this affiliation with fans will get him re-elected; maybe he’s right. It’s a populist call and that’s what he does. Rogue ownership is a slippery beast. Who decides whether Mike Ashley possessed integrity as owner of Newcastle? He was certainly less popular than the Saudis.


Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries (left) brought in management consultants Oxera to help improve the fiscal resilience of clubs – after a review was conducted by Tracey Crouch (right)

They look as if they could be splendid, a real boon to the club and the area. Then again, Ashley was less allied to bone-sawing murdered journalists and public executions than the current incumbents, so it depends where you draw that integrity line.

The demand for sustainability is easier to get behind, at least if viewed simplistically. Living within your means: good. Running up enormous costs: bad. Yet what of those that took a gamble with owner investment but married it to becoming an efficient, ambitious, progressive club?

What about Leicester, Wolves, Bournemouth and Aston Villa? The EFL are hot on sustainability but it amounts to mountains of rules and punishments for owners who put money into their club, aim high but fail and nothing for those starving clubs of funds and heading south. Sustainability sounds wonderful but it can be a glass ceiling – it can also translate to simply knowing your place.

What is not being tackled is wealth distribution. ‘It is the Government’s view that this should be solved by the football authorities in the first instance,’ read a statement.

Administrators brought in to run Derby properly spent £339,000 on a points penalty appeal that was shelved

So owner investment may be heavily regulated but other means of diverting money to smaller clubs or through the lower divisions have not been found. No regulator is going to look at that great corrupter, the UEFA money from Champions League participation, and think what use could be made there.

And you will be surprised how many supporters of top-six clubs sound very keen on extending support right down the pyramid, until it is suggested Manchester United should donate more than Norwich, or UEFA’s largesse should be used to promote healthier domestic competition, rather than simply feathering the nests of the elite. That is communism, apparently.

Want to know how to really waste football’s money? Get the professionals in… no one can spaff it up the wall quite like a Government department.

This week Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary who thinks we downstream movies and play tennis on pitches, brought in management consultants Oxera to help improve the fiscal resilience of clubs. One presumes they don’t come cheap. Nor do Oliver Wyman, the consultants she already had working on the case.

One job, two consultants. Wasn’t James Corden in that?

Also this week, administrators brought in to run Derby properly spent £339,000 on a points penalty appeal that was shelved. Again, no rules were broken. But that’s the problem with stupidity. There’s no accounting for it.   

Useless train firms letting down fans 

This is not an FA Cup semi-final weekend, but Chelsea fans trying to get to Everton for their 2pm kick-off on Sunday will get a taste of how it felt.

Works have closed the north-west line again, so the only rail option that arrives a reasonable time before the match involves a departure from London Marylebone at 8am, an all-stations rattler to Birmingham Moor Street, a walk across town to Birmingham New Street and another train to Liverpool. 

Reversing the route after the game will get a passenger back to Marylebone at 11.16pm.

Useless train firms are letting fans down weekend after weekend with their timetable changes

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An alternate route involves two trains, a bus between Milton Keynes and Bedford and a nine-stop Thameslink into St Pancras.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, my 9.17am to Liverpool was showing as a 9.17am to Manchester. My booking said 9.17am Liverpool, my ticket said 9.17am Liverpool. A station employee confirmed they had changed the schedules. I could get the 8.52am on platform 12. It was 8.50am. If I’m not a travel nerd who gets to stations unnecessarily early, I’m late.

You don’t need to know my adventures, but you need to know this: it is not the work of the FA, the Premier League, broadcasters, or the clubs when you are stranded trying to get to a match.

It’s the work of companies like Avanti West Coast. They’re useless. And, by the way, they’ve got a Government regulator.

Liverpool are a great team whether they win the big two or not

Jurgen Klopp says his Liverpool team will not be respected unless they win at least one of the two biggest trophies they are aiming for this season.

Certainly, it will be viewed as an opportunity missed, but respect? They’ve definitely got that.

His Liverpool team garnered tremendous respect when they lost the Premier League title by a point to Manchester City in 2018-19. Everyone said they would have been worthy champions in just about any other season. They were also respected in defeat by Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final. Respected, too, for their dismissal of a brilliant Manchester City team at the quarter-final stage.

Jurgen Klopp has it wrong – his team have already cemented their place among the greatest

‘The world is obsessed with first place,’ said Klopp, but sports people are too.

Klopp wants more than just kudos this season, yet there is also room for nuance. Sir Bobby Robson was revered for an Ipswich team that did not quite win the league. Tottenham fans of a certain age will acknowledge David Pleat’s 1986-87 side as one of the best they have seen, even though in attempting to win the treble they ended up with nothing. And the 1982 Brazilians are still revered by some as that country’s greatest ever, despite exiting the World Cup at the second group stage.

Liverpool may end up with everything, they may end up with nothing. Either way, this is certainly a great team and we know it.   

Bruno Fernandes is stuck in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow   

Bruno Fernandes was a fabulous penalty taker for Manchester United. He scored his first 10, missed one against Newcastle on October 17, 2020, got straight back on the horse three days later and nailed another 11 straight. 

At which point Cristiano Ronaldo arrived, since when Fernandes has taken two penalties and missed them both.

Could it be imposter syndrome? That, in Portugal, Ronaldo is such an iconic figure that Fernandes suddenly feels uncomfortable collecting the ball ahead of him? Certainly, they have not enjoyed the partnership many imagined. This has been a poor season for Fernandes, which is strange.

As for Ronaldo, it is hard to see how he can continue being blamed for United’s frailty, when he is one of the few players keeping his end up. He has 22 goals this season, not his best but United’s next highest goalscorer isn’t even in double figures. Neither is Lionel Messi in 29 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain.

It hasn’t worked out as hoped but Ronaldo has done his job. Others at the club cannot say the same.

Bruno Fernandes appears to have developed imposter syndrome at Manchester United

United’s current interim is not assured of his advisory role

Ralf Rangnick may not even be at Manchester United next season, with his advisory role less certain than first imagined. 

That means, in the coming weeks, he is uncomfortably free to tell the truth – about the club, about their players, about what is needed for progress and how long it will take. After all, what are they going to do? Sack him?

One report at the weekend suggested Rangnick thinks United need a right back, two central defenders, an entirely new midfield and at least one striker. Another had Erik ten Hag’s budget at around £120million.

Yet if that is the rebuild, United are looking at four times that spend. In their bid to be a title-winning club again, they are sitting on the starting grid marginally ahead of Newcastle. Their name is the sole advantage.

Ralf Rangnick believes Manchester United need ‘open heart surgery’ to fix their problems

Rudiger will be a loss but Chelsea can recover

Antonio Rudiger is a loss for Chelsea, but it’s not as if they are missing peak John Terry.

It cannot be forgotten that Rudiger could not get in the team under Frank Lampard and it’s not as if Lampard can’t spot a player. He had no trouble identifying the talent in Mason Mount and Reece James and saw the worth in Thiago Silva’s experience, so something happened behind the scenes.

Then Thomas Tuchel came along and Rudiger was a changed man. It’s a look we’ve seen before at Chelsea. Eden Hazard also blew hot and cold with managers, then signed for Real Madrid. At least Rudiger comes free.

Antonio Rudiger will be a loss for Chelsea but it is not as if they are missing peak John Terry

Irony over Everton chief Barrett-Baxendale 

There is great irony that the Premier League representative on Tracey Crouch’s review panel should be Denise Barrett-Baxendale of Everton. 

Quite where the spending at her club fits in with the demand for sustainability is a mystery to most. 

Certainly, a club with Everton’s figures would enjoy trying to make the numbers balance in the Championship, where giant points deductions for over-spenders are an occupational hazard. She may now be happier about those evil parachute payments, too.




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