The new money pouring out of the region has made European teams the preferred plaything of Southeast Asia’s billionaires
Thaksin Shinawatra, Manchester City: What to do when you’ve been ousted from your homeland for alleged mass corruption and human rights abuses during your time as prime minister? Buy an English football club, of course. When Shinawatra rocked up with £82m ($164m) in used 1,000-baht notes in a leather suitcase in 2007*, nobody at the Premier League thought to question where the money might have come from. None of Manchester City’s fans did either, as the promise of a filthy rich foreign sugarcane daddy appealed greatly to the perennial underachievers. But the club failed to shine under Shinawatra and the man known as “Frank” by fans was soon making off with a tidy profit after selling the club less than a year later for a reported £200m. * The story about the used baht notes in a suitcase is categorically not true.
Vincent Tan, Cardiff City: Where to start with Vincent Tan? In four years as the owner of Cardiff City, the Malaysian billionaire has delivered a genuinely impressive list of chairmanship faux pas. Not content with sacking the club’s respected head of player recruitment and replacing him with a 23-year-old Kazakh who was on work experience, Tan followed it up by ousting the hugely popular manager, Malky Mackay, who got the club to the Premier League for the first time. Worst of all, Tan changed the team’s home kit from blue to red, despite the club having played in blue throughout its history and being known as the Bluebirds.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City: Leicester confirmed their return to English football’s top table last month following a slow and structured rebuilding process by Vichai. After paying £39m ($60m) for the club in 2010, Thailand’s duty-free king received a timely boost last July when increased tourism in his homeland helped push his estimated wealth from $240m to $1.6 billion in a single year. That’s a lot of ‘Amazing Thailand’ fridge magnets. Of course, nobody has bothered to ask where the money comes from… An allegedly state-allocated near-monopoly on duty-free stores, since you ask.
Tony Fernandes: Queens Park Rangers: When the AirAsia tycoon bought QPR just after their promotion to the Premier League, what followed was the definitive lesson that simply throwing money around is no guarantee of success. The club’s Macaulay-Culkin-in-Richie-Rich approach to financial prudence was confirmed when QPR signed Brazil international goalkeeper Julio Cesar… less than two months after signing England international goalkeeper Rob Green. Fernandes had certainly kept up his end of the deal by bankrolling the purchase of 16 new players. Unfortunately, the managers he appointed spent his Malaysian moolah unwisely, resulting in relegation after just one season.
Erick Thohir, Inter Milan: It’s not just English clubs that get to enjoy quality time with an obliging Southeast Asian. Inter came over all flushed when Indonesian media mogul Erick Thohir breezed into a Milanese trattoria and counted out €250m ($340m) for 70% of the club, so desperate was he to add to his sporting stable, which includes stakes in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and US ‘soccer’ team DC United. The jury remains out thus far, although Thohir is expected to pump shedloads of shekels into the fading giant in an attempt to regain recent glories.
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