Tifo: Meet the Owners

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Arsenal FC majority shareholder Stan Kroenke ©Philippe Fenner.

Since the release of The Billionaires Club I have been working with Tifo, a new website that does amazing illustrated YouTube videos that tell stories about football. One series of videos we worked on was “Meet The Owners”: Stories from The Billionaires Club that lift the lid on who these mysterious owners are, how they got their money and what they want with your football club.

There are seven in total, covering Manchester City, Arsenal, West Ham United, Southampton and many more.

 

You can find all seven, and counting, videos here.

New Book: The Billionaires Club

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For the past few years I’ve been working on a new book, which is out now.

The Billionaires Club is about the one per cent; the super-rich, the billionaire class who now control football.

Once upon a time football was run by modest local businessmen. Today it is the plaything of billionaire oligarchs, staggeringly wealthy from oil and gas, from royalty, or from murkier sources. But who are these new masters of the universe? Where did all their money come from? And what do they want with our beautiful game?

While almost cloaked in secrecy, the billionaire owner has to raise his head above the bunker when it comes to football ownership – a rare Achilles heel that allows access to worlds normally off limits journalists and outsiders.

I criss-crosses the world – from Dhaka to Doha, from China to Crewe, from St Louis to London, from Bangkok to Belgium – to profile this new elite, their network of money and their influence that defies geographic boundaries.

The Billionaires Club is part history of club ownership, part in-depth investigation into the money and influence that connects the super-rich around the globe, and part travel book as I follow the ever-shifting trail around the globe in an attempt to reveal the real force behind modern-day football.

At its heart The Billionaires Club is a football book, about some of the biggest clubs in the world. But it is also about something bigger: the world around us, the global economy, where the world is headed and how football has become an essential cog in this machine.

The book is out now in the UK, and will released in Australia early September and the US October 24th.

In the meantime I’ve been putting together some YouTube animations with uMAXit Football called “Meet The Billionaires”. First up: Stan Kroenke at Arsenal FC.

 

Bleacher Report: Kosovo’s Rise

A FK Gjilani fan during the Gjilan Derby, October 2016. ©James Montague

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The Dawn of Kosovo’s Football Nation

Back in 2012 I met two men who seemed to be on an impossible mission. Fadil Vokrri and Eroll Salihu were, as they are today, the president and general secretary of the Football Federation of Kosovo.

We met in a roadside cafe outside Zurich. Switzerland was playing Albania in a 2014 World Cup qualification match. The majority of the players on show had Kosovar roots and the two men wanted the players to sign a petition calling for Kosovo to be allowed to play against other FIFA teams.

Up to then the Kosovo association, like the self-declared republic, was largely unrecognised by the world. So we snuck into the team hotel and met Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, who all signed.

It seemed a long, long way away from happening. But in May this year Kosovo was recognised by FIFA and UEFA, just in time to join 2018 World Cup qualification. I met up again with Fadil and Eroll and went on the road for their first ever competitive game, against Finland in Turku.

It was a historic match that was reflective of the still sensitive political situation in the Balkans. I wrote this long read for The Bleacher Report about the build up to the game.

A month later I headed back to Kosovo as they prepared for their next two games, and travelled on the road with them to Poland. You can hear that story on the BBC World Service’s World Football show.

 

Bangladesh, Portsmouth & Thaksin

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Armed guards in central Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. ©James Montague

It has been an intense few months, travelling to a dozen different countries gathering material for my next book. So far it has taken from The Netherlands to the US, France, the UK, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and, most interestingly, Bangladesh.

It is a cricket mad country, but I was interested in the huge number of migrant workers who leave the country to build the megastructures in the Middle East. Whilst I was there though, I managed to squeeze in some football, the 2016 KFC Independence Cup. It was a pre-season tournament of sorts. And who did I bump into? No less than Rohan Ricketts, the former Spurs and Arsenal player now famous for his globe trotting antics.

I did this report from Dhaka for the BBC World Service’s World Football show.

In the same episode I also reported from Paris. This time, it was to interview Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand. Most people in the UK also know him for being the owner of Manchester City for one season, during which he was deposed in a coup and had all his assets frozen.

I asked him about his time in English football, the coup and, of course, Leicester City (whose owners are from Thailand and whom Thaksin remains friends with.)

Finally, I also visited the south coast of England to see Portsmouth FC. In 2008 they finished in the top half of the Premier League and had just won the FA Cup. But a series of disastrous owners (one of whom they are still not sure actually exist) left the club on the brink of extinction.

The fans stepped in and it is now the largest club run by a supporters trust in the country. I went to watch their last game of the season to speak to the fans who saved the club, and to see if there is anything we can learn from them about the game in the era of rampant commercialisation. 

NY Times: Ou est Bob Bradley?

Anyone who has read Thirty One Nil (or When For Friday comes for that matter) will know that the former US men’s national team coach Bob Bradley and I have crossed paths several times.

After being fired from the US job he went on to coach the Egyptian national team during the aftermath of the January 25 revolution.

From there he ended up in Norway coaching Stabæk, a tiny team who were expected to be relegated. Still, Bradley was the first American to coach a team in one of Europe’s top divisions. In his second season they finished third and qualified for the qualification rounds of the Europa League.

Still, Bradley moved on again, this time to Le Havre, France’s oldest club, in Ligue 2. The big job he so craves has eluded him, but I went to the French port city to discover that his ambition and drive remain undiminished.

Here’s a profile I wrote for the New York Times about his time in France.

There is also this radio report for the BBC World Service. Listen out for the some of the chants by Le Havre’s ultras, The Barbarians.

The club has British roots and if you listen closely you can hear God Save the Queen. With an important difference…