Pakistani-born Shahid Kahn, Fulham’s new owner, made his fortune in the United States, where he lives for the past two decades. “I want to be clear, I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans,” he said last week. But when the dust settles, Khan is another billionaire snatching up a Premier League club, or, to be more precise, another American taking over an English soccer club.
The purchase of Fulham is yet another step in the takeover of the Premier League clubs by U.S. billionaires who are now far more dominant than even oil sheikhs and Russian oligarchs. It is somewhat ironic that the richest and most prestigious soccer league in the world is brimming with American owners, especially since the game, invented in England 150 years ago, has become the most popular sport in nearly every place in the world −− except for the United States. Fulham is the sixth club to be bought by Americans, who now own almost a third of the Premier League.
One can understand the Glazers, who purchased Manchester United, one of the largest clubs in the world, as well as the takeovers in Liverpool and most of Arsenal. But now Aston Villa, Sunderland and Fulham are also owned by the Yankees. Most of the of owners − with the exception of Joel Glazer who was mocked when he said he was an avid supporter of Manchester United − were honest enough to admit that they didn’t act out of the love of the game, and that don’t even understand it. John Henry and Tom Werner, the owners of Fenway Sports Group who purchased Liverpool FC in 2010, admitted that they know nothing about the game. They stated that they were attracted by the huge amounts of money earned by the league and the clubs for TV rights in Britain and abroad, and by the large fan base of the Merseyside club. Stan Kroenke, the major share-owner of Arsenal, who also owns several U.S. clubs, implied the same reasons for his takeover of the London club. It’s obvious that tycoons Randy Lerner (Aston Villa) and Ellis Short (Sunderland) were not lured by the beauty of the game or of any specific club.
But what about Khan? He made his fortune from automotive manufacturing company Flex-N-Gate, and is the owner of NFL franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars. He took no prior interest in soccer, so why invest so much in a small London club? His answer: “Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me.” All American owners are serious businessmen who respect their clubs and are good or at least adequate at running them. Still, the Americanization of English soccer, and the foreign owners at Chelsea, Manchester City, Hull, Cardiff and Southampton have resulted in a situation in which most of the Premier Leagues are owned by non-British owners, and the league has been transformed into a money making playground. Khan doesn’t really care how Fulham fares in the league. One can hardly expect to see him get as emotional as the fans after a victory over Juventus, or by reaching the Europa League finals of 2010. As far as he’s concerned, the only important question is the bottom line of the accountant’s report. This is yet another sad step in the evolution of soccer.
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