I’ve been in the UAE for over four years now and as well as marvelling at their ‘relaxed’ attitude to education (I may share some stories in a later post), their policies and business-like attitude to football ownership and management, or lack thereof, has astounded me.
Let’s take one of the local teams here, Al Jazira, the UAE league winners in 2011 and the team owned by the same people that own Manchester City.
Al Jazira won the recently formed UAE Pro League (now Arabian Gulf League) in 2011 amidst a lot of fanfare and wild celebrations, including hiring International producer Timbalandto Dj at the stadium (at a reported cost of 1million AED – £180k) and various cars being modified to shoot fire from its exhausts, one of which later caught fire outside the stadium. True story. To help them achieve this, they built a great new 40,000 seater stadium, and acquired a team spearheaded by former Milan, Betis and Zaragoza player Ricardo Oliviera. You could say the end justifies the means because they won the league and have won a few cups as well.
However, I wonder what if your thinking would change if you realised that this is a club that makes absolutely no money at all, not in the conventional way anyway. In fact, they actually LOSE money each game. They don’t charge fans anything to come and watch matches and there is no club shop to even sell merchandise to fans. It is a recurring sight to see busloads of labourers and construction workers ferried to games and fed sandwiches and carton drinks with the intention of giving the stadium some atmosphere.
But it doesn’t stop there.
In the year they won the league, some genius in the marketing department decided that one way to entice fans to games would be to offer them the chance to win a 1millionAED Ferrari . Ten lucky ‘fans’ would qualify to have a chance of winning by having their ticket numbers called out at half time. They would take a shot into an empty net from the half way line. If they scored, not only would their name go into the hat to win the car, they would also take home a share of 25,000AED cash (about £4,500). This competition was held every single home game; seven games. I was never strong at maths but that works out at over £30,000 a season of cash giveaways for a club that doesn’t generate any income. This doesn’t include the random giveaways of Blackberries and laptops every game either! Incidentally, Lee Sharpe was the guest at one of these matches and he actually missed his shot from the halfway line at the first attempt, so I guess it’s not so easy.
It is comical and two years later, still unbelievable how they devised the final competition to win this Ferrari (see above). First, all past winners (those that had managed to do what ex England and Man Utd star Lee Sharpe couldn’t) were invited to the pitch on the last game of the season. They then had to kick their numbered footballs as far as they could. The people with the two furthest shots then had a sudden death penalty shootout against each other and the winner was the person that didn’t miss. That was it. That was all you had to do to win a Ferrari. A FERRARI for goodness’ sake!
The car was actually won by a chemistry teacher from a private school here. He had the option of keeping it or selling it back to the club for about 700,000AED (£125,000) and chose the latter. Who can blame him. Over £120k cash for having being able to kick a ball hard is a pretty good deal. It is worth noting that the next year, fans could still try to win a car, but this time it was a Nissan. They must have hired a new marketing team after reviewing their profit and loss sheet.
This frivolous use of money isn’t resigned to one team either; everyone is at it. The current champions, Al Ain, who have Ghana’s own and ex-Sunderland ‘star’ Asamoah Gyan playing for them, recently lost their title winning manager Cosmin Olaroiu to bitter rivals Al Ahli of Dubai, the team of World Cup wining captain Paolo Cannavaro.
You can sense that our top professionals have also sensed a theme here…
Rumours are to entice Mr Olaroiu to commit football sacrilege, negotiations began with a ‘gift’ of a car and a villa on the Palm, Dubai. Remember this was even before negotiations had begun! Who knows how far this generosity went in terms of wages and extras? Al Ain meanwhile just sacked Jorge Fossati, the man hired to replace Mr. Olaroiu after just seven weeks and two games into the new season. As naturally would be expected, Mr. Fossati insisted on a brand new car and brand new refurbishment of his villa as they were both used by the previous manager. Now he’s left, no doubt this means having to purchase a new car and new furniture at least to appease their next manager. I hope they got some sort of exchange or return promise on the car.
Remember, these teams make absolutely no money at all. They rely on their respective Sheiks to fund them, but I wonder how long this can carry on before they realise there is a massive non-correlation between expenditure and income. I remember applying for tickets to the 2010 Club World Cup final and finding out they were £5 each! Five quid! You couldn’t even get a can of coke and a packet of crisps for £5 at Wembley but you can watch Barcelona and Leo Messi in the final of a major cup final. It is ironic that in a country where citizens have more disposable income than most, there is so much that is free.
I guess it is true that the more you have, the more you are given.