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Aug 13, 2008

Premier League must shoulder Thaksin blame

It could only happen to Manchester City. Mark Hughes has been forced to distance himself from reports of an early exit from Eastlands as the club's erstwhile owner seeks political asylum in Guildford. The theatre of base comedy has plunged to a new low. Though few Blues will see the funny side, their despair giving way to wondering just how their club was allowed to collapse into this mess. And they could ask what football's authorities did to stop it happening in the first place. The answer is very little indeed. When former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra bought the club last summer amid much fanfare, many observers wondered just how a man on corruption charges who has long been accused of human rights' abuses was allowed to take over a Premier League club. Surely safeguards against such a thing existed? Yet Dr Thaksin sailed past the 'fit and proper persons' test supposedly set down to any prospective owner by the Premier League. Tuesday saw Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore say that his organisation is monitoring the situation at City closely. A classic case of bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Too little too late. The damage looks likely to be already done. With Thaksin having fled Thailand rather than answer charges of corruption and fraud, his wife also skipping bail from appeal after being found guilty of similar charges, City's chances of gaining access to Thaksin's £800m fortune became just higher than zero. Reports suggest that Sven Goran Eriksson's heavy spending of last summer is still yet to be paid for, with much of the money owed to European banks. There are scant funds for new manager Hughes to spend as the transfer window creaks shut. Young stars Verdran Corluka and Stephen Ireland were put up for firesale only for Hughes to cling on to them as both seemed destined for the Eastlands exit. Hughes has described recent events as a 'difficult week'; typically understated from a former Blackburn and Wales boss who also bears the look of a bemused man. Hughes is a fighter and will keep fighting, that is his nature. If only the Premier League had shown a fraction of his determination in a fight to keep bad pennies out of the English game. Questions have been asked of several owners over the last few years; Roman Abramovich had his doubters on his arrival at Chelsea and Sacha Gaydamak's ownership of Portsmouth was under heavy suspicion. However, neither of these Russian émigrés faced criminal charges at the time of their purchase of their respective club. Thaksin was able to seize control of City, despite it being public knowledge that a major proportion of his assets were being impounded by Thailand's government. This may also have begged questions whether he truly possessed the assets to buy and then run a Premier League club. Players Alan Smith, Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer have been withdrawn from England duty in recent years when facing criminal charges. No such action on ownership was taken by a Premier League too happy to count the cash and congratulate itself on becoming a global brand. Some of those, including outgoing chairman John Wardle, who received the £81.6m Thaksin paid for the club are said have expressed regret at making the wrong decision. Rumours of unpaid solicitor's bills arising from the sale abound too. The depth of City's problems is yet to be fully revealed. By then, with Thaksin said to have placed the club in the hands of his children via shell companies, there may be little that the Premier League can do to change the situation. Those likely to suffer most are the club's fans and Hughes, who seems set to be denied the chance to take the step to a bigger club he stated as his desire on leaving Blackburn. As a result of their inaction on Thaksin's takeover, the Premier League may suffer further loss to a reputation already sullied by the '39th game' fiasco. It would only be fit and proper that it did.

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