Manchester City's Trumpian tactics highlight autocratic advance in football | city ​​of manchester


Here we are then, finally. The chrysalis has finally hatched. What was always going to be the thing has now become the thing. Welcome to a very first division kind of coup d'état.

When news emerged about Manchester City Potentially devastating legal case against English football's top flight It was tempting to see a kind of parable. Here we have a league founded by greed, for the future benefit of greed, which now finds itself threatened with an internal detonation by – yes – greed. Invite a tiger to tea and the tiger can be fun. But he is also still a tiger. And in the end he's going to eat you too.

However, this is not the whole story. Greed may have opened the door. Greed made introducing an ambitious nation state into its inner sanctum seem like a really cool idea with no potential downsides. But it's not greed that's going to pull the trigger. It's about control, hard power, and a quarter century of Wild West governance and oversight.

Allow hyperambitious nation states to buy up your sporting institutions and, well, you might end up with a hyperambitious and unhappy nation state on your hands. Not to mention the feeling that no one, at this point, has any kind of control over how this ends.

More immediately, when examining the public details of City's legal claim, it is difficult to decide which is the most repugnant aspect of the whole affair. Maybe it's the populism and the hot cries of City's lawyers and spokespersons.

See, for example, the deeply cynical Trumpian framing, the idea that this is a battle being fought against “the elites.” Here we have an inherited monarchy richer than God, owners of the most powerful football club in the world, who somehow present themselves as outsiders. When will the infinitely rich kings and princes of the upper class finally be allowed to take their seats at the top table? Apart from now and forever, in every sphere of life?

On the other hand, perhaps the most disgusting part is the libertarian free market nonsense, the “trade freedom” stuff that is often parroted around this topic by people who don't understand what a free market is. This relates to the absurd suggestion that allowing a propaganda entity to spend whatever it wants for non-commercial reasons is somehow “allowing the market to work.”

In reality it is quite the opposite, a distortion of the market through state subsidies and public relations objectives that have nothing to do with value or competition, leading to non-market results as dire as the sale of Neymar for 220 million euros. The ghost of Milton Friedman says: this is not capitalism. It is closer to the command economy.

Sheikh Mansour (centre), owner of Manchester City, is also deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Then there is the terribly silly phrase “tyranny of the majority,” used here to describe the most tyrannical of things: democracy. In its proper context, the John Stuart Mill quote is supposed to describe a state of mass rule, where no institution regulates the impulses of the herd. Not so much the richest guy at the table who can't get his way on a boardroom vote.

But of course, this is the lens of the autocratic billionaire. Ic'est nous state. And nothing should be allowed to interfere with the exercise of power. Does that really sound like sport?

It's important to remember that none of this is really in good faith. It's simply public relations, a way to provoke useful anger. Nor is it really “Manchester City” that pursues these goals, but rather the entity that owns and controls it, a government with a very clear political agenda.

There are no good elite football owners. Hedge funds and leveraged buyouts are their own kind of evil. But the basic issue here seems increasingly profound. Why, other than blind and stupid greed, would anyone want a government to own a football club?

Governments are not benevolent companies. The UK government sells weapons and kills people to protect its own interests. The US government is an imperialist machine. What exactly did we expect Abu Dhabi to do here? Play Well?

The direct analogy would be the British government buying, say, Royal Antwerp, wasting billions of pounds of its GDP on winning the Belgian league, while Antwerp fans say this is all great, and Antwerp thanks Grant Shapps , before finally suing the Belgian league into oblivion. for refusing to allow us, the UK government, to rewrite their rules.

And yet this type of ownership has been rejected at City. and Newcastle United, and remains explicitly preserved in the football governance bill. Although the possible consequences of all this could be disastrous for English football.

A key issue in the City's claim, the abolition of Associated Party Transactions rules, would remove any limit on the amount of money a state owner can pump into a club. This would destabilize every part of the game, destroying every lever other than cash. What is the point of forming a team or preparing players for anything other than selling them to the lords of their national state? Once an entity with bottomless pockets is allowed to deploy that wealth however it wants, it basically owns the stage.

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Erling Haaland lifts the Premier League trophy during City's open-top bus parade. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

In theory, there are two things that could be done to resist this. The first is that the Premier League could threaten to expel City. The league has the democratic right (sorry, guys, that word again) to expel any member who threatens its stability, for example by taking punitive legal action demanding damages for enacting its own rules.

The fact that there is no chance of this happening is equally telling. Basically, the league can't afford it. The product would collapse. Freed from the yoke of membership, the city would bleed it through the higher courts. What we have here is a club that in the end can do whatever it wants, because its budget will always be larger, because it is not a commercial entity but a state. Has anyone ever thought about this?

The other thing that could happen, but won't happen either, is that the government could become interested. We must ask ourselves again why it is considered unacceptable for a public relations-hungry state. own the Daily Telegraphbut it's fine for a PR-hungry state to own a Premier League club.

It can be argued that Manchester City is a much more important broadcaster than the Telegraph. They have 22 million followers on X, five times more than the Telegraph. They have global reach and a cult of loyalty. They will use it to project a message and at the same time take steps to destabilize a key British industry.

And yet, of course, given the potential trade problems, there will be no interest in regulation. The top flight of English football can be dragged to court by a foreign state, a clear tactic to diminish its power of resistance, and analogous to slapp demands the government is currently taking a stance against it.

But of course, there are so many structural elements in this that seem irreversible. This is not just the city and Abu Dhabi. The Premier League could soon find itself under attack from all sides, from disgruntled shipping magnates to disgruntled American hedge funds and soft power-hungry states. Invite an entire pride of tigers over for tea and, well, it might not end so happily.

More generally, the most depressing aspect is the broader problem with this whole public circus, illuminated by the willingness of football fans to participate, the vulnerability of people to this level of engineered tribalism, the feeling that the only thing What you really have to do is choose which “elite” to support, a failure of basics, meaning and agency.

Football's vulnerability to this is but a barometer of the wider swirls of digital rage, manipulation and post-truth politics. Go well, brave sky blue underdog as you enter the establishment's lair, concerned only with fair competition and fighting for the little man. For the first time you can see the end of a Premier League match here, and it's not very pretty.

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