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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Football's "Sugar Daddies"

[In the last paragraph]

Sue Mott/Daily Telegraph - Sugar daddies target the Premier League

There was a time when all you needed to attract a sugar daddy was a well-turned ankle, a bulging lingerie drawer and a set of morals necessarily loosened by the onset of diamond earrings.
Now, as with so many things, the situation is slightly more complex. Now the legs need to be muscled and hairy, the underwear is more likely to be a jockstrap and, as for morals, they lie there like football rattles, hopeless relics of football's past.
[Photo:] Money men: Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone joined up at QPR
Sugar daddies don't just want blondes any more (otherwise someone would have snapped up Robbie Savage), they want the big, blousy balance sheet figures involved in Premier League football clubs.
It is not in private life they seek their thrills but in the up-front, out-there public arena, flirting - positively fornicating - with fame. The flood of sugar daddies into the highest echelon of British football has been one of the most significant trends of modern sport, especially as the Premier League's 'fit and proper persons' test seems to involve a check on whether the potential new owners have a pulse and a bank account with nine noughts on the end.
This season just closing has provided a rich seam of intrigue on the sugar daddy front. If Liverpool do reach the Champions League final, despite the loud, public and destructive arguments raging at board level between two American millionaires scenting blood and profit in equal measure, it will be enormous credit to Rafa Benitez, their manager, who has endured the situation manfully.
Co-owner Tom Hicks is now a hate figure on the Wirral as he wrestles financially and verbally with co-owner II George Gillett jnr. Since Gillett lists turkey processing among his lucrative businesses, maybe he would be better off with Derby. As for the players, they are either saintly in their ability to tune out the violent static in the boardroom, or too thick and rich to care.
But the plague of plutocrats has not been a complete disaster and if there was a Premier League table - sugar daddy division - it would make interesting reading. Unarguably at the top would sit Aston Villa, a team who have scored nearly as many league goals this season as Manchester United, and whose owner, Randy Lerner, despite being American, a former lawyer and involved in equity investments, all social faux pas in current football circles, is actually popular.
Admittedly, he has no co-owner to fight, but there is clearly something decent about a guy who can donate $5million to the National Portrait Gallery out of his $1.6 billion fortune.
Maybe the deal is that a portrait of Martin O'Neill will be hanging in there soon alongside Cardinal Wolsey. Both operators at the highest level.
In second spot you could go for Portsmouth benefactor, Alexandre Gaydamak, who - whatever the alleged involvement of his father in running arms to Angola, according to the French authorities - has presided over a time of relative greatness on the south coast.
Harry Redknapp's team may have defended like transfixed rabbits on Sunday in their 3-1 defeat at Manchester City, but they are in the FA Cup final where they may very well beat Championship side Cardiff.
As for City, they will finish the season in their highest ever Premier League berth, thanks to the nous of manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, and the cash of the Thai ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. That is the good news.
The bad news is that Shinawatra, accustomed to paying for results (in a good way - or maybe not, depending on Amnesty reports of human rights violations during his tenure as leader in his country) is cross that City did not cling to their early-season Champions League berth. The ex-England manager is clinging on to his job, or his redundancy package, depending on the outcome of projected talks next week.
Chelsea's place in the league is too hard to predict. There are two schools of thought. Either Roman Abramovich's man, Avram Grant, is a cruelly-maligned genius who will guide the Blues to a Champions and Premier League double or he is a monosyllabic gloom-monger out on his ear as soon as the trophy-less season draws to a close. Results against Liverpool tonight and Manchester United on Saturday will go some way to clearing the picture.
It may or may not be afflicting Abramovich that he is no longer Russia's richest man. He has been overtaken by two metals moguls. Note the names: Oleg Derpaska (£14.3 billion) and Alexei Mordashov (£12.25 billion). If one of them is not on the phone to Bolton before the season is out, it will come as a huge surprise to the fans and grim disappointment to the Premier League management.
Struggling to make ends meet on £12.25 billion, Abramovich would probably concede that Glazers United have had a better-looking year to date. But are they popular? Not really, just absent. The lure of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seems to be stronger to the Glazer family unless, funnily enough, they prefer the Florida weather to the more gushing micro-climate over Manchester.
Meanwhile, Mike Ashley's up with Newcastle, and Mohammed Al Fayed is down (more literally than he would like) with Fulham. Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has been static with West Ham since they decided their season was over last December. John Madejski is trying to sell Reading (lately plummeting through the sugar daddy league). As he says: "Millionaires need not apply". Too poor. You don't keep a troupe of luxury car-owning, offshore bank-accounting superstars happy on mere millions.
Finally, the greatest sugar daddy of them all is now playing footsie (index) with QPR along with his sugar uncle friends. The London-based, Indian billionaire industrialist worth £16 billion, Lakshmi Mittal, has bought into the west London club along with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and Renault owner Flavio Briatore and what has become of them? Fourteenth in the Championship. It is early days but while money buys you love, it definitely doesn't guarantee promotion. Telegraph

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