They say money corrupts all, and even as I witnessed my team overachieve beyond my wildest dreams, I always knew that one day this would be true of the football club I held so dear. This week the Swansea City Supporters Trust issued a pointed statement, responding to a recent interview with club chairman Huw Jenkins accusing him of being dishonest about the conceited nature of the club’s sale to an American consortium in July 2016, and calling for his removal as chairman. The Trust insist they were left in the dark for most of the negotiations, only being made aware of the potential deal as late as March of that year.
It’s difficult to comprehend just how much times have changed. Swansea were once lauded as the model example of a modern day football club – fan-owned and well budgeted with some smart investments on and off the pitch. What made the Swansea City success story so special was the fans involvement in the ownership and direction of the club throughout this period. From the dark days in 2003 to the highs of Premier League and European football from 2011 onwards, this was a tale of community and passion. I consider the League Cup win in 2013 a greater triumph than winning the league itself, the vast difference in financial power of a club such as Manchester United is in stark contrast to the modest finances (by football standards at least) of little old Swansea City.
But it was only a matter of time that the club would be sold to the highest bidder and become a “commercial investment”. A product. The fans all trusted the board of local fans to ensure that when the inevitable happened, it would be on their terms and the club would be sold to the safest hands on offer. Enter, an American consortium.
The Swansea Takeover
It was announced in July of 2016 that Swansea City Football Club had agreed a deal worth £110 million with an American consortium headed by Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien. This deal acquired them a 60% controlling share of the club. Huw Jenkins would stay on as chairman, a move that was sure to please the locals. Particularly the sceptical ones. But things went south quickly – the unceremonious sacking of Francesco Guidolin and the frankly bizarre appointment of Bob Bradley, who lasted 85 days as head coach, left fans scratching their heads.
Paul Clement came in and performed something close to a miracle to steer the team out of the relegation zone to safety, but this season it was back to business as usual – lacklustre performances and bottom of the table at Christmas. In his defence, Clement was not backed during the summer transfer window despite a successful end to the 2016/17 season. Football is a cruel sport. Clement was sacked and another strange appointment followed – Carlos Carvalhal, released from his duties at Sheffield Wednesday just days before. Carvalhal has the backing of the supporters for now, who appreciate his knowledge of the game and desire to play possession based attacking football (what used to be affectionately known as the “Swansea Way”). But without serious investment in the team, it will very likely be a futile attempt to avoid the drop.
Will the new owners spend in the January transfer window?
Lack of Investment
During the six years Jason Levien has been involved in the ownership of DC United, they have spent a rather modest £4.6 million on players. In both the 2014/15 and 2015/16 campaigns they spent nothing, just as they did in the 2012/13 season despite stating they were “willing to spend what it takes to be competitive at the upper echelons of the league”.
At this point in the season, it is clear that Swansea must invest significantly in the squad during the January transfer window. That is, if they have any intention of preserving their Premier League status. So it will be to the owners that the fans look, expecting them to do what they promised – provide the club with the resources to succeed. “We will be relentless in our determination to continually improve this club – and we have the financial resources to do so”. This was one of many promises made by Levien at a press conference following the completion of the takeover.
With the sale of star players Gylfi Sigurdsson (£45m), Fernando Llorente (£12m) and Jack Cork (£10m) amassing upwards of £67 million, there was certainly money to invest during the summer of 2017. A collective £39.5 million was spent on the purchase of Wilfred Bony (£12m), Roque Mesa (£11m) and a club-record (and questionable) £16.5 million for Sam Clucas. Selling the clubs best players and only using some of those funds to replace them with lesser quality ones was not what Swansea fans had in mind when the takeover was announced.
So, why the reluctance to invest in the playing squad?
Swansea City Football Club are essentially owned by a hedge fund, consisting of 27 investors which includes former USA striker Landon Donovan and actress Mindy Kaling. Hedge funds in football – a somewhat jarring concept. For an example of how this kind of operation can go, let’s take a quick look at Coventry City and SISU Capital. Since their takeover of CCFC in 2008 they have lost upwards of £40 million, briefly relocated the team to Northampton and deliberately withheld stadium rent payments of £100,000 a month in an attempt to distress the operating company ACL into selling to them at a knockdown price. The saga continues at Coventry, with further court dates looming in 2018 regarding the sale of the Ricoh Arena.
Ultimately a hedge fund is interested in “commercial investment”, and that often seems to be to the detriment of the football club itself.
Lobsters Or Sardines
In a recent press conference, Carvalhal said “We have money for sardines and I’m thinking lobster. I will do my best to try and bring in the best players. I will look to the lobsters and sea bass, but if not we must buy sardines. But sometimes the sardines can win games”. Even the most rose-tinted of Swansea fans can read between the lines here. There will be funds available in January, and they will be limited.
The pot of discontentment and anger that engulfs Swansea City Football Club is beginning to boil over. It might come in useful if they manage to get their hands on some lobsters.