Football owners and their grand mandates rarely sit well with the majority of supporters at the best of times, but the last week or so appears to have been a particularly bad one for club PR at the very top of the food chain.
Hot on the heels of Hull City owner Assem Allam proving he can be as painfully pedantic as those fans kicking up a fuss about his ‘Tigers’ name change plan by threatening to take his cash and ditch the club if he doesn’t get his way in the row, fellow surprise package Southampton look set to undo the hard work of recent years by alienating chairman Nicola Cortese and manager Mauricio Pochettino with their eagerness to capitalise on the club’s return to prominence with a quick sale.
And then there was Norwich City chief exec David McNally, who apparently failed to see the humour in the legendary Bill Shankly’s famous “Football isn’t life or death, it’s more important than that” soundbyte on Wednesday. McNally claimed that relegation “in a sporting sense is worse than death” despite representing a club who dropped down two divisions and began life in League One with a 7-1 home defeat before bouncing back, better than ever.
Perhaps McNally believes in re-incarnation, “in a sporting sense”, as well?
Of course, such an analogy feels slightly justified in the modern environment by the knee-jerk manner in which most supremos react if their club are indeed in danger of the drop.
But if you think that’s bad, the almost everyday occurrence of a hasty managerial scapegoating pales in comparison to some of the things some owners have decided to do over the years - even when they haven't been in a bit of a bind.
The Rundown specialises in highlighting these bizarre calls from above, and as such we have put together some of our very favourite acts of sheer lunacy from the archives for your reading pleasure/discomfort…
1) Venky’s – Blackburn Rovers
Remember former Premier League winners and top flight semi-stalwarts Blackburn? Chances are, you’ll mostly remember the chaos that ensued when Venky’s took the reins in 2010. Sacking Sam Allardyce and replacing him with first-team coach Steve Kean was only the beginning: Kean oversaw the club’s dismal relegation in 2012 and as the club began life back in the second tier their ‘global advisor’ Shebby Singh embarked on a rant that can only be described as anti-PR, claiming club favourite Morten Gamst Pedersen ‘has lost his legs’ and was ‘past his sell-by date’ before promising Kean would finally be sacked if they lost their first three games.
2) Kjell Inge Røkke and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten – Wimbledon/Milton Keynes Dons
Ah, who recalls when daft ideas such as relocating an over-achieving cult favourite London club to a man-made suburban black hole were more like an annual tradition than a day that ends with the letter ‘y’? The sad thing about Wimbledon's relocation to Milton Keynes is that so many people tried to shift the club away from its South West London base. Ron Noades was the first to see Milton Keynes as a potential destination, while Sam Hammam shopped the club around all sorts of places and even got Premier League approval for Dublin before the idea was vetoed by the Football Association of Ireland.
However, it was Norwegian owners Kjell Inge Røkke and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten, under the stewardship of chairman Charles Koppel, who finally sold the club to the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium. AFC Wimbledon rose from the ashes, of course, and are now just one division shy of the side they understandably regard as their most hated rivals.
While some head honchos make one particular false move which defines them within football, Ridsdale is renowned for multiple, less spectacular but sometimes even more fatal stints at various clubs.
His spell as Leeds chairman was particularly damaging to his reputation, and the club is still feeling the effects over a decade later. Leeds went from the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2000 to League One in just seven seasons, and it was in large part because Ridsdale borrowed £60m against future gate receipts - effectively gambling on Leeds qualifying for the Champions League in successive seasons.
At Barnsley the club almost went into liquidation before Gordon Shepherd and Patrick Cryne took over, while when he left Cardiff the club was £66m in debt and about to face a fifth winding up order over a £1.9m tax bill.
4) Michael Slater – Charlton Athletic
By the time a Slater-led consortium had taken over endangered former Premier League sweethearts Charlton at the very start of 2011, swift and brutal changes to personnel were actually quite commonplace in the sport. Nonetheless, Mr Slater’s ability to praise incumbent boss Phil Parkinson in his initial media conference for keeping the team in the top five despite a complete lack of funds, only to wield the axe 24 hours later when Parky suffered his first defeat under the new regime, was something special.
The Addicks went from three points off automatic promotion to finishing 13th. The Slater regime’s coup de grace was their parting shot before selling the London side to Roland Duchatelet was to cut the cash supply toward maintaining the Valley pitch, leading to a farcical spate of postponements due to a virtually-unplayable surface.
It all started so well for Morgan when he paid a token fee of £10 from Sir Jack Hayward in return for investing £30million into Wolves. Promotion followed in 2009, and contrary to expectations the side who would often drop back down at the first attempt remained in the Premier League for three seasons.
But when they fell – oh my, did they fall. After sacking Mick McCarthy at the tail end of 2011-12 to try and save the club, Morgan’s big Plan B was… Terry Connor. The promoter number two was destined to become ‘the Molineux Mourinho’, according to Howard, but may now go down as the worst boss in Premier League history. Stale Solbakken and Dean Saunders then underlined Morgan’s sheer inability to handpick an efficient first-team coach as the Midlands side made it two straight drops and now reside in League One.
6) Flavio Briatore – Queens Park Rangers
When finishing off a list about men who find it remarkably easy to assume total control and yet accept zero responsibility or accountability, there is no better place to conclude than with "Mr Four Year Plan" himself. To have a documentary of your most feckless autocratic orders and subsequent blaming of absolutely everybody else hit domestic screens is unprecedented, but that’s just how far Briatore managed to go.
Iain Dowie, Gareth Ainsworth, Paulo Sousa, Jim Magilton, Paul Hart, Steve Gallen, Marc Bircham and Mick Harford were sacked in short order with Briatore and club director Alejandro Agag freeing themselves of any guilt by decreeing they just had bad luck in “somehow finding all the incompetent managers out there”.
The one manager to escape his wrath, Neil Warnock, somehow escaped despite Briatore’s best efforts fire him after he had the audacity to lose his a game after a 20-match unbeaten run. Warnock went on to take QPR into the Premier League. Sporting director Gianni Paladini was convinced by Briatore to head to the touchline during one game and order Ainsworth to make a particular substitution, while the duo were also filmed branding managers as egocentric when Sousa admitted he had no idea why the club loaned out then-top scorer Dexter Blackstock.
It’s not exclusive to England, either…
We’re all familiar, of course, with David Murray, Craig Whyte and Charles Green – the three names that made all sorts of headlines in 2012 for managing to transform one of Scotland’s two seemingly-eternal superpowers into a liquidated lower-league laughing stock, somewhat lucky to still be in existence.
But the recent woes of Rangers struggle to match Italy for sheer comedic value (unless, of course, you are a Celtic fan). Take the case of Maurizio Zamparini, who has sacked over 20 (!) managers since taking over Palermo in 2002, and the justification of him taking Palermo to Serie A and into Europe has been undone by the fact they find themselves back down in the second tier this season.
Then there's Silvio Berlusconi, who has thrown Milan into a high-stakes realm of the unknown by sacking Massimiliano Allegri and replacing him with club hero Clarence Seedorf, who now oversees an underachieving European giant still in the Champions League. The fact that Allegri’s sacking comes on the heels of form sparked by Berlusconi’s own mass cost-cutting and player-flogging (Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva the worst examples) makes it harder to fathom.
- Sports & Recreation
- Premier League
- Peter Ridsdale
- Michael Slater
- Steve Morgan
- Steve Kean