Manchester City’s new owners, who apparently have more money than Bill Gates and JK Rowling and the Queen and Roman Abramovich put together, tell us that after the capture of Robinho from Real Madrid, they will be turning their attention to Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal and Christiano Ronaldo of Manchester United, among fifteen or twenty other world superstars. Both of these players are expected to leave their current clubs at some point in their careers: Ronaldo clearly flirted heavily with Real Madrid over the summer, and Cesc, a Spaniard who has never played for a Spanish club, will surely return, almost certainly to Barcelona, although hopefully not for a few years yet. (He is also rumoured to be frustrated by Arsene Wenger’s determination never to spend a single penny on central midfield players ever, a frustration shared by every single Arsenal fan. Interesting fact: Wenger is yet to spend more than four and a half million on a central defender or a central midfield player.)
Over the next couple of years, we will find out just how venal footballers are. I think we already know how venal Robinho is: it was just about possible to see why he might want to go to Chelsea, now one of the strongest clubs in Europe, and managed by Robinho’s former national coach Phil Scolari. But he could have had absolutely no previous desire to play for City until he was told the size of his potential wage packet sometime on Monday evening, at which point he couldn’t get to Manchester quickly enough. Fabregas will not go to City; he’s too sensible, and he has already proved, by staying at Arsenal, that he’s not motivated purely by money. And as a Manchester United player, Ronaldo might rightly conclude that no amount of cash could compensate for the abuse he’d get if he stayed in the city wearing a blue shirt – that the one hundred and fifty grand a week he’d get from, say, Madrid is worth more than the two hundred he could squeeze out of City’s new owners. That shortfall, fifty thousand pounds a week, is more than twice the national average salary.
I have been watching Arsenal for forty years, but I’m beginning to feel stupid, cheering on multi-millionaires who, maybe even now, are angling to play somewhere else next season, and I suspect I’m not alone. The boos that greet Emmanuel Adebayor whenever he runs onto the pitch at Arsenal this season are surely a product of this same unease: Adebayor, who spent his summer in much the same way as Ronaldo did, is taking the flak for the two Arsenal players who did leave, Flamini and Hleb, as well as for his own cack-handed attempts to get himself a new deal. Manchester City fans might well end up regretting that this extraordinary stroke of good fortune has happened to their club; they know already that their star signing doesn’t really want to be there, and though they will have some fun watching him in the next few months, there are lots and lots of ways it can end in tears. Who didn’t like Manchester City last week? And how many people will end up loathing everything they stand for?
Here’s something to look forward to: sooner or later, every single Premiership club will be owned by multi-billionaires, and yet three of them will still be relegated at the end of the season. That will be funny – unless, of course, that’s when the Premier League decide to pull up the drawbridge.