Suits say the funniest things…
A couple of weeks ago so much of what I hate about the English Premier League was summed up by one man in a suit. Gavin Law is his name and he is the group head of corporate affairs of Standard Chartered – the bank that this year became Liverpool FC’s shirt sponsor in the most expensive deal ever (20 million pounds per season).
The combination of the words ‘corporate’ and ‘football’ instantly sends a shiver down my spine but Mr. Law’s recent comments – when he suggested that the bank would like Liverpool to sign some Asian players for commercial gain – annoyed me, even by the standards I usually set for the bilge spouted by people in his profession.
He was quoted by The Independent and Liverpool Echo as saying:
“We would love the club to have players of nationalities from the markets in which we operate. They are not going to get them from all 75 but if they could sign some – if they could get a Korean, Indian, Chinese player – look what Park [Ji-sung] has done for [Manchester] United in terms of coverage in Korea.
“Liverpool are more aware than most other clubs we’ve spoken to of the commercial opportunity for them. If they can sell a million shirts with another Mr. Park on the back, why wouldn’t you?”
Mr. Law, please stop before you say something really stupid…
“The markets in Asia and the Middle East are so nationalistic, they are very proud about their countries. One appearance from a player, say from Dubai in the Premier League, and you’d have the whole of Dubai watching it.”
Ah, like that.
“The Kenny magic is all around the world, everybody believes Kenny can take the club (forward) and that means they stay focused and that means they stay in the newspapers around the world… we are looking for brand awareness.”
Let’s leave it there shall we?
Ok, the problems with these comments are fairly obvious, but let’s take a second to dissect them a little.
Firstly, there is the suggestion that the club could collect nationalities from Asia and the Middle-East, rather like Pokemon. Footballing ability appears to be a secondary concern, as long as they can catch them all (although Mr. Law seems a bit put-out that limits on squad size would prevent this becoming a reality).
Then the example of Park Ji-sung; a player who’s popularity in Korea – and Manchester – is such because he is a key member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. He was not signed because of how many t-shirts the club can sell in Korea – or Manchester – (they sold plenty without him), but because of what he brings on the pitch.
To assume that “Kenny” would gladly sign any old “Mr. Park” to increase shirt sales implies that Mr. Law is not as close a confidante of the Liverpool caretaker-manager as his casual first-name-terms approach would suggest.
Next up, the declaration that “the markets” – I guess in non-corporate-speak you could refer to them as “people” – “in Asia and the Middle East are so nationalistic”.
Mr. Law, let’s call him Gavin, not only suggests here that he is more than willing to exploit the fans in this part of the world, but he is also foolish enough to declare it publicly.
Furthermore, while supporters here are perhaps slightly more enthusiastic consumers than elsewhere, they are also becoming more cynical of the European clubs’ motivations – because of idiotic statements like those made by Gavin – and tend now to wait until a player achieves success before they get too excited.
Unfortunately, comments like these from people with no understanding of the game can only hinder the steady progression of Asian players’ in Europe. Just as the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo begin to establish themselves in the top leagues, attention has been rediverted to their commercial potential.
Rather than opening the door to the likes of Keisuke Honda – who is reportedly angling for a move to the Premier League – I would advise such players to perhaps take these views into account before deciding their next move, and to maybe join a club which exhibits a genuine interest in their abilities on the pitch rather than the impact they can have on the profits off it.