Archive for June 2008

Thaksin “Makeover” (Read Purge) Continues at City as Mackintosh Departs

June 13, 2008

Few City supporters will be surprised to learn that chief executive Alastair Mackintosh has left the club; clearly his expertise was redundant in the wake of the recent hiring of Garry Cook. What it is a bit unnerving is the fact that Mackintosh’s departure has been pinned to his willingness to challenge Thaksin on the decision to sack Sven. Reports Daniel Taylor in The Guardian:

“Despite the widespread opposition to Eriksson’s departure, nobody else at the club had dared to bring it up with Thaksin, who is said to have deemed from that point onwards that Mackintosh could not be a trusted part of his ‘inner circle.”

Mackintosh has had his critics, and the uncharitable might be inclined to see this development as a fitting example of Mackintosh being hoisted by his own petard; the former chief executive, of course, played an instrumental role last summer in the move to sell the club to Thaksin. But his willingness to stand up for the vast majority of supporters and back Sven is to be commended, and his twelve years’ service to the club respected.

All this of course leaves one question: is there anyone left at the club willing to second guess the will of Thaksin?

Simon Hattenstone on the “New” Manchester City

June 11, 2008

Guardian columnist and lifelong City fan Simon Hattenstone has a hard think about what Manchester City has become under Thaksin Shinawatra, and has decided he just can’t take it anymore. Hattenstone is sure to catch a lot of abuse for his column announcing his intention to swear off supporting City until Thaksin is gone, but similar sentiments can be found on just about any City message board vocalised by a thoughtful minority of City fans who dislike the idea of their club becoming Thaksin’s plaything.

Apart from Hattenstone’s personal view, perhaps the most interesting bit in the column is the revelation that the club has decided not to give interviews to the Guardian because of critical press coverage of the club (read Thaksin) in the past. How dare anyone raise a critical question about a man accused of human rights abuses and other attacks on democratic norms as prime minister! Shut up and watch the football, or better yet watch the football and sing Thaksin an adoring song telling him how great he is and how grateful City fans are for his largesse.

Update: it’s rather interesting seeing the responses to Hattenstone’s columns, with some City fans defending Thaksin with reference to what he has done and is expected to do re results, while others are having a discussion about whether fans are morally responsible for their club’s ownership. All this ground has been discussed extensively in this blog previously; for a full summary see this post.

Garry Cook Interview; Signing Off (For Awhile)

June 9, 2008

New City executive chairman Garry Cook has given this rather informative interview to the BBC discussing Mark Hughes and transfer targets; Cook however sidesteps questions about Sven’s departure. The guess here is that most City fans will be impressed by what Cook has to say on the footballing front. On the commercial side, Cook makes it quite clear that the aim is turn to City into another corporate behemoth with global appeal, a development perhaps not every City fan will be entirely comfortable with.

With the situation at City seemingly stabilized, this blog will go on hiatus for a bit, barring any significant new developments regarding Thaksin and his ownership of the club.

Thaksin Lays Down Gauntlet For Hughes: Top Six or Bust; 50 Million Available for Transfers; Wide-Ranging Thaksin Interview

June 5, 2008

Mark Hughes has yet to be officially unveiled as City manager as I type this, but already word has hit the British press that the new Blues boss must finish in the top 6 and qualify for Europe next campaign if he doesn’t want to become Thaksin’s next managerial casualty.

Reports indicate that between 35 and 50 million pounds will be made available for summer transfers for the new manager, with 18-20 million of that already committed to buying Brazilian striker Jo. The Guardian suggests that David Bentley may come from Blackburn for 7 million, giving City needed balance on the right side of the midfield and another set piece threat.

Will all this be enough to prevent Richard Dunne and others from jumping ship? That remains to be seen.

As for Hughes’s position, at least he can’t complain about the terms of his employment being ambiguous. But there is a danger in setting such a firm target, namely that it might lead the manager to make short-term decisions that sacrifice the club’s long-term health. Hughes won’t be able to turn his attention to nurturing the younger players or have the luxury of buying players for the future; or to put it another way, if he does do that, he’ll be a saint. Rather, the pressure will be on to perform right away. There are lot of other clubs that want to be in the top six too, and some of them have the resources to match City (Newcastle, Tottenham). Hughes has his work cut out for him, but I suppose no one can call him a coward for taking on this particular job.

For more on Thaksin’s latest statement on City, see this lengthy interview conducted in China recently.

Some choice comments on last season from City’s owner: “‘I want this club to advance faster, much faster. Sven is a good football general, but we need more. We must play with more consistency, much more urgency. In the second half of the season, the slide was too bad, too much. We lost 8-1 at Middlesbrough! The shame of that.’

‘The team stopped playing! They stopped working! I could not take this. I understand you cannot win every game. A football is round; it does not bounce along a straight line. I can accept the unpredictable, but not such a fall. We had to make a change.

‘Mark Hughes is an excellent appointment. The players need to be motivated, instead of playing like people who are not being paid any money!’

Thaksin is also asked about the war on drugs under his watch. Thaksin’s reponse:

What about the reports of almost 3,000 killings in an aggressive offensive against drugs? ‘Sometimes, as a leader you must have an angry face. In the past, I have ignored these allegations published in the Thai media, with whom I have no relationship. The foreign media has since picked them up and this is damaging. Now you are asking me these questions and I am happy to answer.

‘These figures you have read are not true. They are figures created by the military. I was not a ruthless dictator. No. There have been investigations: The Premier League, for example, has ways of investigating these matters, I welcomed the Fit and Proper Persons Test for new owners for that reason.’

That’s a fairly preposterous response by Thaksin–in fact the numbers of those killed by the drug war were announced by his own government as the “war” unfolded.

“That Sometimes Means Making Ruthless Decisions”

June 4, 2008

I’ve been re-reading of late Duncan McCargo’s excellent study “The Thaksinization of Thailand,” published before the coup, which devotes considerable attention to how Thaksin managed and manipulated the media as prime minister of Thailand. There’s a lot to chew on there, and I continue to be amazed at the fact that leading British journalists don’t bother to give McCargo, who teaches at the University of Leeds, a ring to discuss Thaksin’s venture into English football. One particular item with direct relevance for today is an incident from 2001, when the Shin Corporation “purchased a controlling interest in iTV, an `independent’ television station with a reputation for strong and critical news coverage. More than 20 of the more outspoken iTV journalists were immediately fired; there was a general perception that scrutiny of Thai Rak Thai was subsequently toned down.” On a related note, a regular reader of this site has passed on information about a new documentary (“Truth be Told”) regarding a reporter for the Thai Post (one of the few media outlets willing to have a go at Thaksin during his reign of power) who was sued by the regime for millions after publishing an article suggesting the Shin Corporation was benefiting from Thaksin’s political rule.

Thaksin confirmed yesterday that this modus operandi has extended to his leadership of Manchester City; he finally provided public comment on Sven’s dismissal and the (now confirmed) appointment of Mark Hughes by saying “ “These are exciting times for Manchester City and I hope the supporters can understand that I share their goals. That sometimes means making ruthless decisions. Now we can go forward to a new era, with a new management structure and great hope and ambition.”

That statement has been enough to placate some City fans, but certainly not all. Consider this response from a fan on the Blue Moon message board:

Now please tell me how can any Chairman gain the full support and commitment of his fans whom he apparently shares our goals with when in less than his first year at the club he appoints a manger who by his own admission is world class, sets him a target which he achieves and possibly betters with European qualification and then sacks him and replaces him with an ex-Rag and not one that was wishy washy but one that was a complete arrogant obnoxious whingeing cheating twat of a player.

My question is how does he expect the supporters to be fully 100% committed and behind him when he has in two days split them apart by 2/1 or 3/1 depending on whom you believe in favour of this appointment. The man must either be completely unaware and seperated from the DNA of this club and its supporters or he has got some complete twats advising him or else he’s simply a f*ing lunatic of the highest order.”

Nonetheless, at the moment 82% of City fans are reported to be pleased with Hughes’s appointment, according to a Manchester Evening News poll.

My view is that Hughes is a very competent manager who if left to do his job might do well at City for a time. But even in the best case scenario, City won’t be able to keep him for very long (if he succeeds, he’ll be a natural to get snapped up by one of the traditional big four…including possibly Manchester United.) And, the fact that Hughes is probably a better choice than some of the other names (I’m convinced Big Phil would have been a disaster) bandied about in no way excuses or justifies the dismissal and overall treatment of Sven.

Moreover, on what evidence can we think that Thaksin really will now get out of the way and show the patience–over years–to allow the new manager to build a side with staying power? Yes, the new boss and his new executive Garry Cook have issued some glowing comments about Hughes and his ability, but for everyone of those there’s ten more that were offered about Sven last season when things were going well.

After what happened with Sven, Hughes will have to know that at City he will be on a short leash; he’d be best advised to do very well early on and then get out before Thaksin decides it’s time for another “ruthless” decision.

Sven Out, Hughes In; The Myth of Thaksin

June 3, 2008

This blog was initiated as a way to explore, as evenhandedly as possible, the pros and cons of Thaksin Shinawatra’s takeover at Manchester City Football Club in 2007. As a City fan who had watched some pretty dire football in the 2006-07 season, I understood full well the appeal of a fresh new investor with big promises about taking City into the top tier of English and then European football. The primary questions the site addressed in July and August of 2007 regarded the many ethical questions surrounding Thaksin as both a controversial politician branded by respected international organizations as an enemy of human rights and as a democratically elected leader recently ousted by a military coup.

In recent weeks as the Sven saga has unfolded, I’ve been analyzing events through a narrower perspective, namely the impact of the Thaksin regime on Manchester City Football Club itself. As has been stated here repeatedly, and again most recently on Saturday by the Independent, the club did appear to make genuine progress on the pitch for the first 8 months of the season under Sven Goran Eriksson, but has since fallen into a limbo that threatens to take City all the way back to square one.

What’s remarkable about recent events as how many City fans still are backing Thaksin, claiming that the club is in fact better off than a year ago, and that he must have some kind of plan to pull the club out of the current crisis into the bright promised future. After all, Thaksin has publicly promised City fans an awful lot–Champions League football by 2010/2011!–and surely he wouldn’t let Sven go if he didn’t know what he was doing.

What most of those fans don’t realize (or want to admit) is that you can’t treat Thaksin as a normal football owner engaged in an unwritten social contract with the supporters. Thaksin has made it clear he doesn’t really care what City supporters or those at the club think; he’s going to follow his own inscrutable logic.

That inscrutable logic at the moment has resulted in Sven Goran Eriksson being sacked, with the favored replacement the far less accomplished Mark Hughes of Blackburn. Hughes is a respected manager, but hardly possesses the worldwide reputation and contacts of Eriksson, or the experience of managing at the highest level. Hughes of course is also a Manchester United legend, and some City fans will find it difficult to swallow his apparent appointment. At the moment, reactions to Hughes’s candidacy on City message boards are decidedly mixed.

Others of course will hail Thaksin the genius and declare that the plan to lead City into the Champions League by 2010 is back on track. Those fans should be warned that Thaksin has a history of making extravagant promises that don’t ever quite get fulfilled. In 2003, while still prime minister Thaksin boasted that by the time he left office, drugs, social ills, and the mafia all would be eradicated in Thailand. Great rhetoric, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

As for the situation at City, after weeks of limbo and the plainly unprofessional treatment of Sven, some steps towards a resolution is welcome. But the logic of paying off a world class manager respected by fans and players who had delivered what was asked, and then having to make a second payoff to Blackburn to acquire a rather less accomplished manager, remains far from clear.