Shinawatra Did It His Way And Failed

Sunday, August 17, 2008 by Editor

As Manchester City threaten to descend into civil war,'s Will Wood takes a closer look at the City of Manchester club. Will Thaksin Shinawatra stay at the club, or will Mark Hughes be left to pick up the pieces of a flirtation with the big time?

Little over twelve months ago, former Thailand Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, completed the purchase of one of England’s so-called ‘sleeping giants’; a club steeped in history, but one that found itself aspiring to sit side-by-side with Tottenham Hotspur and Everton rather than Manchester United and Chelsea. That said, he was controversial, at least for a while. “Billionaire,” people then said, and with one word the allegations of human rights infringements seemed to evaporate quicker than an football agent’s payment.

Chequebook Out

“Champions League”, Shinawatra himself said, and so the turnstiles at the City of Manchester stadium began to turn. In came former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, greeted by the same fans that surely vilified him as the national side’s boss, but who believed that even the cumbersome Swede could find success with the masses of spending money on offer at Eastlands. Then entered the likes of Martin Petrov, Valeri Bojinov and Elano, most of whom were hardly the household names that billionaires in football are expected to buy, but many of which came with sufficient price-tags on their head to suggest they were far better options than the likes of Danny Mills and Paul Dickov.

Three straight wins in the Premier League, including the 1-0 defeat of arch-rivals Manchester United, saw a mass-eruption of belief that the blue half of Manchester could enjoy the kind of successes usually reserved for the boys from Salford. Shinawatra spoke of his desire to win the league and the Champions League within five years, Elano was starring as his value rose to £20 million – his decline over the proceeding months a symbol of the club's own demise, but that's yet to come – and Eriksson had been embraced to greater lengths than at any point in his England career.


And yet it was all so delicate. As the cracks began to appear, and City secured just three league wins in January, February and March, Shinawatra refrained from unifying himself with his manager. Instead, he weakened the foundations of an already teetering campaign, refusing to clarify Eriksson’s position and instead citing the end of the season as the time for reflection. In other words, unless Eriksson miraculously turned round what looked remarkably like a sinking ship, the man that had appointed him just several months earlier would demonstrate the kind of impatience that makes Hearts’ Vladimir Romanov look nonchalant.

What ensued was one of the biggest farces in modern football as Shinawatra’s meagre attempts to have his cake and eat it backfired. Perhaps in the world of politics, where positions of power seem to come before dignity, Eriksson would have clung to his managerial hot-seat regardless of Shinawatra’s blatant thoughts for managerial change at the end of the season. Either way, Eriksson himself knew he was leaving, the club’s fans knew he was leaving and, most significant of all, the players knew he would be leaving.

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, my friendship with one particular City player allowed me an incredible insight into events at the club in the latter half of the season, and it is no wonder Richard Dunne, the captain and immensely popular figure, was close to joining Tottenham Hotspur upon the season’s end. While the 28-year old claimed earlier this week that City “won't be made weaker by business decisions,” he was speaking with his heart rather than his head. Nor is it any surprise that some of the younger, highly-rated players considered their future at the club as their tutor, Eriksson, was forced out by an owner whom they had shared little more than a greeting with spending less and less time in England.

Having already removed the well-respected chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh, and nullified Paul Tyrell, the director of communications, Shinawatra had free reign to mould his putty as he saw fit. City fans must have glanced south and towards Aston Villa, mouthing the words ‘what could have been’ as they saw a group of young, British players reminiscent of their own. While the likes of Ashley Young, Gabriel Abgonlahor and Nigel Reo-Coker helped Martin O’Neill’s side to sixth in the Premier League and developed what promises to be a new era at Villa Park, City’s own crop of promising youngsters, the likes of Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland and Micahel Johnson, could only watch as their club collapsed around them.


This may all seem very dramatic. The club have, after all, appointed one of the countries most highly-rated managers in Mark Hughes, they finished eighth last term and they have recently completed the £20 million signing of Jô. Yet crucially, the lynchpin of it all, Thaksin, still finds himself in a precarious position with regards to charges of fraud from his homeland, predictably accompanied by numerous bids for extradition by the current Thai government. His wife, Potjaman, has already been convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to three years, though she remains out on bail. How can a flourishing tree grow when its very roots remain weak?

Central to the club’s plight this summer was the fact that, in a Peter Ridsdale-esque fashion, Shinawatra reportedly secured borrowings to purchase the club against the £800 million of money frozen by the Thai regime when he fled the country for Britain last summer. Confident that the money would eventually be released, the 59-year old allegedly took out high-interest loans that are now bringing the club and its owner to their knees as he struggles to finance the repayments without full access to his excessive fortune.

Part of the downfall of Leeds came about when the club decided to enlist the help of Ray Ranson’s company, Registered European Football Finance, to recruit players without incurring the transfer fees. It worked both ways, however, and while the players’ values rose, the club’s precarious finances could not be resolved through the sale of the same players who had been bought in the buy-to-let agreements. Incidentally, Ranson attempted to buy City prior to Shinawatra taking over -how things could have been much rosier had he done so!

You need only read Hughes' comments last week regarding communication at the club to get an insight into the turmoil each and every employee is facing. The last thing a new manager should be concerning themselves with is an undermining of their authority. Yet that is exactly what the disciplined and outspoken former Blackburn Rovers manager had to do as representatives of the owner attempted to conclude the sale of Vedran Corluka to Tottenham Hotspur and Stephen Ireland to Sunderland to ease the finances for at least a few months.


Amid all the mayhem, the new campaign got underway as City hosted FC Midtjylland in the UEFA Cup second-round qualifying round. All of City’s efforts from last season were invested in the tie, but an abysmal performance saw the visitors from Denmark walk away with a 1-0 win. Their manager spoke of poor fitness levels and early season jitters, but then they were hammered 4-2 by Aston Villa and all of a sudden the gaps in their squad and beyond have been further exposed.

Granted, three of the goals came courtesy of Abgonlahor’s sensational performance which included a stunning seven-minute hat-trick, but there was an ill-ease about City’s performance that suggested that there was more to the defeat than a lack of player conditioning. The game with West Ham United next weekend takes on an even greater significance, and it’s hard to imagine Hughes and Hammers manager Alan Curbishley’s post-match drink will be anything other than a sombre affair as both take heed of their respective positions. A loss for City would send them into the second-leg of their UEFA Cup tie, as well as domestic games away to Sunderland and at home to Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Chelsea, on minus confidence.

As Hughes and O’Neill shook hands in the aftermath of Sunday’s clash, you could not help but feel that in the current climate, it was a meeting of two clubs heading in opposite directions. While O’Neill enjoys the understated support of Randy Lerner, Hughes is left to pick up the debris of Shinawatra’s ongoing battle with his former nation. A sinking ship can be stabilised, but it requires all hands on deck and an experienced and committed captain, and it is the latter than should concern City fans.