Belfast Telegraph

Premier League chief praises Manchester City

By Sam Wallace

Richard Scudamore will be at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon, a decision he attributes to geographical convenience, although no one would blame the Premier League chief executive for taking the view that, on the balance of probability, the trophy presentation come 5pm will be in east Manchester.

The league's chairman, Sir Dave Richards, will travel from his Sheffield home to the Stadium of Light just in case Manchester United find themselves crowned champions for the 13th time. Scudamore protests that the choice was made weeks ago, with Manchester being closer than Sunderland to his home in the Cotswolds. It is part of his job to be diplomatic but the truth is that if this is to be Manchester City's first Premier League title it is right that he should be there.

The role of chief executive requires Scudamore to walk a difficult line: managing 20 disputatious clubs with competing interests and also negotiating the most lucrative television contracts in world sport every three years. Tenders have now gone out for the next three-year deal, which will start with the 2013-2014 season.

Yesterday, Scudamore was at the Emirates to present the trophy for the Premier League schools tournament, in which each club nominates a local school to compete, complete with full kit and officiated by Premier League referees. It was good practice in the event of Scudamore handing the trophy to Vincent Kompany on Sunday, a moment that would undoubtedly mark a key moment in English football.

The big questions are: If City do become only the fifth club to win the Premier League in its 20 seasons, will the new Uefa rules on financial fair play mean that they are the last club to benefit from the transformative effect of a billionaire investor? And does Scudamore believe Sheikh Mansour's project, £800m and counting, has been good for English football?

Scudamore says: "It might be the last time it [changing a club] can be done this quickly but it doesn't mean it will be the last time it can be done. We know exactly what FFP [the first monitoring period of which ends next summer] is; what none of us know is what impact it will have. You need one heck of a crystal ball and I can't begin to speculate.

"It might have the impact we hope, which is wage inflation and transfer inflation is capped and limited. We hope it doesn't have a negative impact in terms of willingness of people to invest. It might encourage people to invest; it might lock in the natural order, where the big clubs remain the big clubs and no one can break in.

"[An investor] can still come in and make investments in infrastructure. You could come in and build a fantastic stadium, capitalise on a big fan base and grow your natural revenues. You could make a huge development in youth and get a lot of good young players in, therefore achieving playing success by other means, still using your resources that the rules allow. But it would take longer to actually build that club into a title-winning club. It might take a bit longer but it won't stop people. It might even encourage people to invest, knowing that everyone is similarly restrained.

"What you won't be able to do is come in and bring in more talent than you need. You can't be as profligate as some have been, warehouse talent that you don't require and have huge squads. It [investing in a club] will be done in a more controlled way."

Scudamore is one of the few in English football to have met Sheikh Mansour, the fortysomething owner of the club who has only attended one City game since he acquired them in 2008. "What I can say is that Sheikh Mansour and the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, when you look at all their other business interests, are committed to excellence," he says. "That's what comes through.

"Of course, they can afford excellence. Look at what else they do in their sporting world, in Formula One, and look at the investment into Abu Dhabi.

"What they do generally are things that are excellent. We are glad to have them in that sense because they bring quality and that is the impression you get whenever you meet them. They want to do what is right and what is good and what improves things. They don't leave a stone unturned and that has improved everybody; it means everyone ups their game.

"You look at what they have done for the infrastructure of the club, what they are doing with the academy, around the stadium with the fan zone, and the site itself, the [Etihad Campus] plans they have are fantastic. So the investments they have made aren't just in the playing squad."

The Premier League is a broad church, with 20 different clubs and 20 different approaches to achieving what each regards as success. Scudamore's priority, he says, is sustainability.

"Are those clubs going to be here today, tomorrow and the next day? It is not about whether they get relegated or promoted or win the league. Are fans going to have a club to support?"

Scudamore says Venky's played by his rules

The controversial owners of Blackburn Rovers, Venky's, the Indian poultry company, passed the Premier League's financial tests for club ownership easily, chief executive Richard Scudamore said yesterday. He argued that the league could not legislate for plain bad decision-making.

Scudamore conceded that in terms of their management of relegated Blackburn since November 2010, Venky's, run by co-owner Anuradha Desai, had "messed up". But he also said they had unfailingly provided the Premier League with the financial guarantees required from every club – a safeguard put in place after Portsmouth went into administration in 2010. Venky's have taken Blackburn into the Championship, the club having finished 10th the season before they were sold by the Jack Walker family trust. However, Venky's have fulfilled the future financial guarantees and passed the owners' and directors' test.

"I am not going to get dragged into criticising Venkys as people or as owners," Scudamore said. "They have behaved themselves as owners of clubs in terms of what we require of them."

Scudamore met the Desai family before their acquisition of the club to get from them the necessary guarantees of funding. He also points out that former chairman John Williams and former managing director Tom Finn, who sold the club to Venky's, are "no mugs" and went through their due diligence on the company from Pune, in western India.

The Premier League chief executive said that the Venky's approach from the start had been to cut costs and to try to run the club as close to break-even as possible, a not dissimilar strategy to that of Mike Ashley at Newcastle. "One has come off spectacularly well and the other, effectively the wheels have come off," he said. "How do I feel? I feel sorry for the fans at Blackburn because I feel sorry for any fans who are so disconnected from the people who are actually in control. I don't know any club where the fans agree with every decision the owners make but I have never seen a bigger disconnect from the start of the season in terms of what the fans wanted to happen and what [the club] was doing.

"I will defend the fact that our rules will only take us so far. They ask are they [potential new owners] legal? Is there anything to stop them owning the club? Is there funding in place to keep the club alive? We never test whether they [new owners] have got enough money to create Premier League champions.

"When they [Venky's] came along and said, 'This is the money we have got, this is our source of funds, this is where we are going to put the money and this is how much we are going to invest,' we all came away from that meeting knowing they weren't going to become champions but it's hard to say breaking even and not losing a lot of money is not a good plan."

All potential new owners have to demonstrate to the Premier League that they have a plan for the club staying in the league and one in the event of relegation, which would appear to give the lie to the suggestion that Venky's were not aware that clubs could be relegated. The Premier League is currently in a similar period of due diligence with the Russian Anton Zingarevich, who is in the process of buying newly-promoted Reading.

"Of course the decisions they [Venky's] have made and their strategy and their management clearly have conspired to relegate them but that has also been true of some very well-run football clubs," Scudamore said. "Wolverhampton Wanderers are an extremely well run football club. No debt. They have an extremely competent chief executive and chairman. The infrastructure is good. They got relegated. Jeremy Peace has run a fantastic football club at West Bromwich Albion and managed to get relegated twice."

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