Lord Sugar interview: 'You can't force big clubs to give shares to fans'

·5-min read
Exclusive Lord Sugar interview: 'You can't force the big clubs to give out shares to fans'  - BBC
Exclusive Lord Sugar interview: 'You can't force the big clubs to give out shares to fans' - BBC

Lord Sugar's philosophy on football ownership has only hardened in the 26 years since he told Jurgen Klinsmann his shirt was unworthy of washing his car. Now, as he looks back on his decade running Tottenham and assesses how the current owners have tied themselves into knots trying to force through a European Super League, he wonders if he took it too easy.

The wall of silence from the 'Big Six' plotters since the deal collapsed has been "weak", Sugar explains, and it makes him wish he had been even tougher on the staff that failed him during a period of underachievement at White Hart Lane.

"If I had my time again, and I was the chairman and owner, I would talk," he tells Telegraph Sport. "I would say 'Mr Manager, I'm paying you this amount of money, and you're not doing very well - can you tell me why?' I'd also go into a press conference, and say 'put the pressure on him and put the pressure on the players'."

It is the meek behaviour of the Big Six owners in the past week that draws the most withering assessment in his critique of the Super League fiasco. Silence from the Glazers - even when doorstepped by TV crews - has fuelled the inferno of rage around Old Trafford, the 74-year-old explains.

Sugar, a street-fighting salesman since his upbringing on the old Woolmer House council estate in Hackney, says the American owners of United, Arsenal and Liverpool look weak. "I wouldn't be hung out to dry by any manager that's for sure," he adds, stopping short of name-checking Jurgen Klopp criticising the plot. "I think they're a bit weak, and I think they get all this flak, and I would talk up a bit more, I really would."

The life peer, who quit Labour in 2015, also has advice for the Government, FA and Premier League as they develop their blueprints to mend a broken game. He urges them to consider his old "prune juice" analogy, which he used in 2015 to explain how a then record £1.5billion domestic TV deal would have little benefit for the pyramid because it "goes in one end and then out the other". "It is the same now - that's why the Super League was so pointless," he said. "Any more money you give them just goes straight through on transfer fees, and players wages. The fans get no benefit whatsoever, other than seeing superstars being paid too much to perform. So what needs to happen really is a rethink of the industry. You don't need any more money."

Sugar when chairman of Tottenham appointing George Graham as manager - Reuters
Sugar when chairman of Tottenham appointing George Graham as manager - Reuters

The "rethink" he is demanding does not extend to Government proposals for a German-style 50+1 model or "golden share" voting powers for season-ticket holders. "That's a non-starter in the UK," says the face of the BBC's Apprentice reality TV programme. "I don't think that will ever happen in the UK because they can't gift 51 per cent of an entity that's worth billions. I'm afraid to say that's not going to happen in the UK, certainly with the owners that we have here."

Sugar knows better than most how to broker against the big clubs during a breakaway in football. It was in the months after he teamed up with Terry Venables to buy Tottenham after their last FA Cup success in 1991 that his involvement in the new Premier League TV rights carve up helped change football forever. In 1992, Tottenham were part of a so-called "Big Five", but Sugar outmaneuvered an ITV charm offensive with Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United by famously encouraging Sky to "blow them out of the water”.

During an often-tumultuous decade as majority Tottenham owner, Sugar often swam against the tide. He referred to foreigners coming into the Premier League at high wages as "Carlos Kickaballs", but after winning just one trophy - the League Cup in 1999 - he sold his majority stake at Tottenham to Enic in 2001.

These days, rather than the demands of overseas players, it is the ideals of Americans in the boardrooms that irk him most. "Look at the reason why this Super League was thought about," he adds. "It is very American driven. You've got the Glazers, the Kroenkes and Liverpool. Americans have got a different mentality to Europe, because in their games of football, it is quite common, when you consider the size of their country, that a Los Angeles Lincolns, or whatever they call themselves, get on a plane to the Boston Wranglers, travelling 1000s of miles every week to play their games. The American think 'well Europe's about the same size' so if Manchester has to go to Turin, 'so what, it's not a big deal'. What they've forgotten about is fans. Our fans are not going to go every week abroad like that. They don't mind going if our team is legitimately in the Champions League but not every week in, week out."

There is an easier way for the Big Six and the rest to improve their profit margins, he adds. "They don't need any more money - that is the point. If they want to sort the game out, they need to sort the agents out, they need to solve the wages out." The 50+1 model, he adds, is "an absolute nonsense, total nonsense. "It's all very well if you are, for example, a Billericay or Clacton-on-Sea, and you want to start a football club from scratch, and you say to the fans, 'Okay, if you have a season ticket, you will have a shareholding in the club'. But you can't force one of the big clubs to suddenly start giving out shares to people, and allowing fans discussion at board level. Basically every single fan in this country thinks he is the manager, thinks he knows best, thinks we should play this player, we should buy that player, we should do this, we should do that. There's absolutely no way you can have carnage like that."

While the tongue-tied Glazers continue running from the TV cameras, there remains no danger that Sugar, at 74, will ever mince his words.