the home of cult football
The last 15 years have seen football in this country change immensely. The reasons for why this has happened are numerous and varied. For good or ill English football is incomparable to what it was in 1992. Back then an Englishman was manager of the league champions, terracing was still widely used and roasting was for beef and chestnuts, not naive lasses in hotel rooms. Incredibly, the national team was enduring a miserable European Championship campaign. Inconceivable today as we take to the field for the big championships knowing we'll probably win it, or at least get to the final. But who are the men who have brought about this revolution? Here we list our top 10 of the movers and shakers who have steered top level football to its moneyed, endlessly hyped conclusion. And despite the best efforts of Karen Brady and Cheryl Tweedy, there are no women in our list.
Without doubt it was Murdoch who kick started football's road to the 'product' it is today. When Sky pitched in with £304m to wrench the First Division clubs away from the Football League, it was indeed a whole new ball game. Yet it's often forgotten that he took an enormous gamble and effectively staked the future of his pay TV operation on football. Yet it was a ruthless, brilliant coup. On the back of Sky's millions English clubs rebuilt stadia or erected new ones. They were also able to compete with Italy and Spain for the best players and thus fill them. Sky now dominate the industry in much the same way that the Premiership dominates English football and Murdoch's position as the most powerful media player in Britain, is stronger than ever.
United have set standards both on and off the pitch that has left pretty much everyone else trailing. Yet without the constant success provided by the great manager, none of it would have been possible. They have won more Premierships than everyone else put together. Sir Alex has been the overlord of this domination. He recruited players such as Schmeichel, Cantona, Keane and turned them into iconic figures. He launched the careers of those incredible youngsters back in the 1990s, and in the case of Giggs, Scholes and Neville, they are still there winning trophies for him. A giant of modern football.
When a little heard of Russian businessman bought a near bankrupt Chelsea in 2004, nobody really understood the impact it was going to have. Yet, a billion Russian petrodollars later he has changed the rules of the game forever. It wasn't long ago that clubs prospered or failed on the back of the revenue they generated. There was the occasional sugar daddy such as Walker or Hayward, but Abramovich made their generosity appear miserly. Now most large Premiership clubs feel the need to have some, usually foreign, owner to 'invest in the club'. Yet none of them can compete with the reclusive Russian. Chelsea can operate on a level that leaves the others trailing. Whether it's been for the betterment of football is dubious, but doubting his impact is futile.
Wenger's influence has extended way beyond Arsenal. British footballers traditionally drank too much for top athletes. And their dietary habits (pie, chips and pie anyone ?) left much to be desired. Yet, though not solely responsible, Wenger arrived at a club with a reputation for working hard and playing harder. He brought in young, ambitious foreign players and conditioning regimes that allowed the remaining British ones to extend their careers and range of playing skills. His teams have a deserved reputation for playing football as it should be played. Trophies have followed and aside from Ferguson, it's difficult to see any other manager having such powers over all matters concerning their club.
Bosman was a modest footballer who got embroiled in a transfer dispute between nondescript teams in Belgium and France. The outcome of his legal challenge to those contractual arrangements has had a profound effect on how footballer's contracts work. In turn this undermined the traditional transfer market. As usual the reverberations arising from his case have affected the smaller clubs more adversely than the biggest. Yet it's hard to argue with the Bosman ruling's basic premise - that footballers should have the right to move wherever they like at the end of their contracts, unhindered. Bosman meant that money that was previously spent on transfer fees now went straight to players (and of course, agents). The man himself saw little of it and did a series of self pitying interviews on the tenth anniversary of the case in 2006.
Until the spring of 2007 Dein was the key figure in the modern history of Arsenal. He joined the board at Highbury in 1983. Unlike many at the time, he saw football's potential to make money and increased his stake in the club over the years, positioning himself to become the central figure at the club. Dein, like Dave Richards, has also spent plenty of time at the top tables within the FA, Football League (in the eighties), Premier League and G14. He became vice-Chairman of the FA in 2000. Prior to that he had famously recruited Arsene Wenger to Arsenal, a move that was to transform the club and have a deep impact on the wider professional game. An irrepressible fixer, Dein was also the key figure in Sven Goran Eriksson's appointment as England coach. Dein was regularly accused of a conflict of interests over his roles at club and FA levels. He left Arsenal in 2007 over a dispute about a potential takeover (which he clearly backed) from American Stan Kroenke. It's doubtful that Arsenal and football have seen the last of him.
Richards would not be recognised by many football supporters (apart from thousands in an angry half of Sheffield) but he has been one of most significant figures in English football administration of the last 15 years. A largely undistinguished business career did not prevent him from becoming chairman of Sheffield Wednesday in 1990. Wednesday was a powerful force under Richards in the early 1990s but their subsequent demise has been mostly blamed by Owls fans on Richards stewardship of the club and the state he left it in. He was a key supporter of the creation of the Premier League in 1992. In 1999 Richards became the chairman of the Premier League, shortly before Wednesday's drop into the Football League. He also chaired the Football Foundation and the European Professional Football Leagues group, a sort of G14 faction but for leagues instead of clubs. He sat on the FA's board and was closely involved in the appointment of Steve McClaren. Thanks Dave. Yet it's difficult to see why this anonymous man became so central to the management of the game. How did he get so lucky to be appointed into these positions ? Anyway, "Wednesdayites" would certainly like to know what he brought to the wider game and if anyone has an answer to the question that has baffled them for years - "how the hell did he manage to get those jobs?"
The Israeli 'super agent' and close confidant of Roman Abramovich is a dominant figure in football's economic expansion. Zahavi is more than a mere agent. He is European football's ultimate networking agent, and has facilitated Abramovich's takeover of Chelsea and Alexander Gaydamak's purchase of Portsmouth FC. He was at the centre of the infamous Ashley Cole tapping up, and has earned vast sums of money from domestic and continental transfers. Zahavi represents a new breed of agent far removed from the traditional 'ten percenters' like Eric Hall. As top football's avarice continues to defy normal economic rules, the likes of Zahavi will continue to remove vast sums of money from the game.
Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, was a moderate player in the 1980s for Bolton, Birmingham, Blackburn and Bury. He also spent a year playing in America's NASL. He was appointed to the top job at the PFA in 1981 and rapidly gained a reputation for clear thinking, eloquence and intelligence, particularly during the darkest days of the 1980s. During the 1990s and beyond, some of Taylor's reputation has withered due to his unstinting defence of the worst excesses of his members, but more damningly, he has remained virtually silent on the huge financial inequalities that disfigure the game. The fact that his union charges a flat rate for all players no matter what their wealth, whereas most unions charge on the ability to pay, also rankles. Taylor also receives a huge salary, many times more than union leaders who have a million members, rather than his 4,000. However, he is still an influential figure in the corridors of football power.
Mr Popular as he's commonly known, Kenyon sprinkled magic dust wherever he went with his loveable ways. Back in the real world, Kenyon is regarded as ruthless operator willing to do his owners' bidding without question. Kenyon appeared obnoxious at times and for someone who is clearly interested in PR he had an appalling public image. Yet he has run the two biggest businesses in English football and has made a lot of money out of doing so. As far removed from the old school club secretary as it's possible to be.