Finnish investor Thomas Zilliacus made some headlines this week with a proposal that fans would have a say in transfers, should his bid to take over Manchester United succeed.
He was immediately mocked, including by yours truly. However, just because part of his statement was ridiculous, the totality of his sentiment is anything but.
”Any sports club ultimately should belong to its fans,” Zilliacus said in a statement on Thursday. “The current development, where billionaire sheiks and oligarchs take over clubs and control them as their personal playgrounds is not a healthy trend.
“The current market value of the club is just under 3.9 billion USD. That means that if every one of the fans of the club would join in buying the club, the total sum per fan would amount to less than 6 dollars. My bid is built on equality with the fans.”
Sadly, this is not the part that got the headlines.
Indeed, this is an incredible statement by someone who seemingly wants to change the direction of a sport whose fans are increasingly an afterthought.
A fan ownership model?! In this economy?! Where do we sign up.
Of course, his idea to involve fans in club transfers was the thing that got the headlines. And that part is, frankly, ridiculous.
“Each fan who joins will have access to an app which the fan,” Zilliacus continued, “from anywhere in the world, can use to participate and cast his vote when deciding on footballing matters relating to the club. No decisions will be taken that are not supported by a majority of the fan base.
Fan ownership is a great idea, and it should be the future of the sport, not billionaire oligarchs and petrostates.
But—and I say this as a fan—fans absolutely should not be anywhere near the discussions on footballing matters. Leave the transfer business to the pros.
Indeed, that is the model that has been used by the Green Bay Packers, a franchise that is completely fan-owned. Fans own the club, and the club hires a general manager to deal with the personnel.
Zilliacus is now reportedly turning his attention to Liverpool, with his Manchester United bid expected to fail. However, Liverpool’s current ownership, FSG, are unlikely to accept anything more than a minority stake in the club. So his “bid” might be dead in the water.
Although fan ownership of Liverpool would be incredible, we definitely don’t want the fans deciding on transfers. And while crowdfunding a club seems like a workable solution on paper, it will do little to stem the tide of blood-soaked oil money coursing through the sport, and would likely but any clubs who are attempting it at an immediate disadvantage.