Archive for March 2nd, 2011

02
Mar
11

Plymouth in trouble

Last week I focused on the current troubles at Plymouth Argyle for my Weekly Soccer Magazine column. Below please find the English and Japanese versions of the article.

Plymouth Argyle currently sit 19th in England’s League One but at the moment they are fighting for more than their place in the league.

The club were recently served with a winding up order after their Japanese investors – Yasuaki Kagami and George Synan of K&K Shonan Corporation – had reneged on an agreement to provide much-needed funds, and although they were just about able to cover their bills by the most recent deadline on February 9th, next time they may not be so lucky.

In December Mr. Kagami and Mr. Synan signed an agreement to provide £2,000,000 to the club in four installments, the first of which was due to be paid on the last working day of December and the second on the last working day of January. Neither payment has arrived.

Peter Ridsdale – the former Leeds United and Cardiff City chairman who has been brought in as an unpaid ‘football consultant’ at Plymouth – warned that fans should not get too excited about the club’s most recent escape, and highlighted how dire the situation is when he told BBC Spotlight that.

“It was good news in the sense that we’ve paid the petition debt and are up to date with the revenue, but that’s just the first hurdle we’ve got over. Today isn’t a day of celebration, today is just a sober reminder of the fact that we’ve still got a lot of people to pay money to.”

So how did things get to this point? Well, in April 2008 Mr. Kagami made his first investment into Plymouth – which was then a Championship club – acquiring 20% of the club’s shares. Then, In July 2009, he formed a consortium with Sir Roy Gardner (former chairman of Manchester United) and Keith Todd and increased his stake to 51% (Mr. Kagami owning 38%, while Sir. Gardner and Mr. Todd held 13% between them) – making K&K Shonan the majority shareholder.

This investment was purportedly to form ties between Argyle and football clubs in Japan and the U.S (Mr. Kagami’s co-investor Mr. Synan is American), to turn Plymouth into a Premier League side within five years and to complete the development of their stadium, Home Park.

To achieve an impact in Japan the club appointed the legendary Yasuhiko Okudera as honorary president – although he has declined to comment on his involvement at the club entirely – and soon set about trying to recruit some Japanese players.

While visa issues meant that this was far from easy (they failed in an attempt to secure Akihiro Ienaga, for example), they did manage to sign former Japan U17 and U23 goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi (who couldn’t be registered outright and so instead became the first (and so far only) recipient of the ‘Plymouth Argyle International Scholarship’).

Unfortunately things have not gone according to plan though, and, after three managers in as many years and experiencing relegation to League One, Plymouth now found themselves on the brink.

As fans of Tokyo Verdy, Oita Trinita and, of course, Yokohama Flugels can attest to, these are stressful times and you do all you can to help save your club.

With that in mind, Andy Hancock – a Plymouth supporter who studies in Yokohama – decided to take advantage of the unique position he was in and launched a petition to force K&K Shonan Corp. into paying up.

In just two weeks he gathered  6,023 signatures from fans of 69 different football clubs in 84 countries, but found nobody involved at K&K Shonan willing to receive it. He made numerous attempts to arrange for a civilised handover to either Mr. Kagami or Mr. Synan which were all rejected, then found nobody willing to accept the petition when he tried to deliver it to the company directly.

Indeed, the investors have been anything but familiar faces since they became involved at the club and when I visited Home Park in January 2010 a member of staff commented on the fact that Mr. Kagami had never actually attended a Plymouth game, something that is still the case.

As it stands, Plymouth – who have frequently been unable to pay players and staff on time of late – are due to settle their next tax bill on February 22nd but at the time of writing they are still to receive any of the promised funds from Mr. Kagami or Mr. Synan.

日本の企業に踊らされた!? イングランドの3部クラブ

今回は日本人の投資家絡みで、荒波に飲まれそうなクラブを話を紹介したい。イングランドのリーグ1(3部)に所属するプリマスのことだ。現在リーグ19位だが、残留以上の問題を抱えている。

同チームをバックアップしている日本の投資会社『K&K湘南マネジメント』の加賀見保明さんとジョージ・サイナンさんがクラブに一銭も払っていないのだ。2月9日、クラブは存続に必要な金額をかき集めたものの、財政面の支援を受けるのは難しく、最悪クラブは解散命令を通達されるかもしれない。

昨年12月、加賀見さんとサイナンさんはクラブに200万ポンド(約2億6000万円)を4分割で支払うことに合意。12月と1月末に振り込まれる予定だったが、どちらも未払いだった。この事実もありプリマスのピーター・リズデール会長は「2月に資金を得たからといって、喜ぶわけにはいかない」とコメント。BBC(英国放送)ではこう語った。

「一つ目のハードルを越えただけ。まだお金を支払わなければならない」

さて、なぜこんなことが起きたのか。08年4月、加賀見さんが当時2部のプリマスに最初の投資を行なった。クラブの株の2割を保有するというのだ。翌年の7月、彼はサ-・ロイ・ガードナー(前マンU会長)、キース・トッドと事業を始め、株の51%(加賀見さんが38%で、サ-・ガードナー、トッドさんが2人で13%)を担う運びになった。この投資はプリマスと日米(サイナンさんはアメリカ人)両国の力で、クラブを5年でプレミアリーグに昇格させ、新スタジアムを完成させる野望の下に始まったものだ。クラブは日本で名前を広めるため、あの奥寺康彦さんを名誉会長に指名、GKの林彰洋を獲得するなど「日本ブーム」に沸きつつあった。だが、ビザ等の問題で家長昭博の獲得を断念、クラブの運営は困難を極めた。以降、肝心のピッチでも結果を残せず3部に落ち、ファンもストレスを溜めている。

横浜在住のプリマスサポーター、アンディ・ハンコックさんもその一人。彼は地理的な利点を生かし、『K&K湘南』に資本金を支払うよう請願書を送った。その後2週間で84カ国のサッカーファン6023人から署名を集めたが、同社に受け取ってもらえなかったという。

投資家の連中はクラブに携わった初日から今日に至るまで「よそよそしい」としか言いようがない。昨年、僕がホームパーク(クラブの本拠地)を訪れた際、スタッフが「加賀見さんは一度もホームゲームを見に来たことがない」と言っていたけれど、それは今も変わらない。

クラブはこの号の発売日(2月22日)に、英国税務署に未払いの税金を支払う予定だけど、現状を踏まえると何とも酷な話だ。

02
Mar
11

Free Market

More Japanese players are making their way to the European leagues, but their departures often leave their former clubs with a gap in the first team and very little money with which to plug it.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce said, “I went to the cinema at 4pm to watch ‘The King’s Speech’. When I came out and saw what had happened, I nearly had a stutter too!” AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, meanwhile, thought it was ‘crazy’, while Arsene Wenger described it as ‘unfair’ (although he tends to think pretty much everything is unfair these days).

Yes, it was of course the ridiculous activity that took place in the final hours of the English January transfer window.

Things had already been progressing in a characteristically brash fashion throughout the month-long window, with Darren Bent moving from Sunderland to Aston Villa for £24 million and Man City exchanging £27 million for Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko. As the clock ticked down these deals began to look fairly modest, though.

First of all, news broke that Chelsea were set to buy Fernando Torres from Liverpool for a staggering £50 million. Before this information could be fully digested it was then announced that Andy Carroll – who had played just 41 Premier League games and scored 11 goals for Newcastle United – would be replacing Torres at Anfield for £35 million.

This made Carroll the eighth most expensive footballer of all time, despite the fact that he has just one full international cap and has only had half a season as a first-team regular in the Premier League.

In total, English clubs spent more between them than the rest of the top European leagues put together (£225 million) – and all this at a time when UEFA is attempting to cut back the gross overspending by European, and in particular English, clubs. Despite their best efforts though, as long as clubs can counter their losses with profits there is no actual limit on how much you are allowed to spend.

With the market not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon then, it would perhaps be wise of the J.League to reconsider the way that it conducts its own transfer activity.

Players here almost always move to a new club without a fee, by virtue of the fact that they are usually only on one-year contracts. This (and the vastly inferior budgets Japanese clubs operate on, of course) does prevent the crazy spending (and levels of debt) that occurs in England, but it also means that clubs very rarely make any kind of profit on players they are producing.

The disparity is most clear when Japanese players transfer from the J.League to a European club and has recently been highlighted by rumours that Manchester United and Atletico Madrid are considering £20 million + offers to sign Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund.

Kagawa moved to the Bundesliga last summer for a nominal fee believed to be about £300,000 – a payment that was seen as a ‘goodwill gesture’ by the German side, with Kagawa having a clause in his Cerezo Osaka contract that stated he could move to Europe for free.

Such exceptions are not uncommon in Japan and while I appreciate the gesture behind them (more Japanese players in Europe equals a stronger Japan national team and greater awareness of the J.League), it is time for a change.

In the past year there has been an explosion in the number of players moving from Japan to Europe, but almost all of the transfers involved no fee. How can J.League clubs continue to develop if no money is coming in to compensate for the departure of their best players? They can carry on nurturing young talent, but if European clubs then pluck them away a year or two down the line as well that is hardly conducive to the long-term growth of the J.League.

FC Tokyo are doing well to hold out for a fee for Yuto Nagatomo, and Omiya Ardija and Gamba Osaka’s shrewdness in tying Rafael and Takashi Usami down to longer-term contracts demonstrates that clubs are aware of the situation. With European sides taking an increased interest in Japan’s talented youngsters though, the practice should become more widespread, and fast.

A good place to start would be in Yokohama, and Marinos could do a lot worse than tie Yuji Ono down to an improved deal as quickly as possible. Seeing an academy graduate progress overseas is undoubtedly fulfilling but, unfortunately, it doesn’t pay too many bills in today’s game.




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