Ranking Premier League owners by moral reprehensibility

Date published: Saturday 9th October 2021 5:35 - Will Ford

Bin Salman Gold Sullivan Radrizzani

Before we get going with this – yes, we’ve focused on the wrongdoings of these owners. This isn’t a ranking of them from good to bad, but rather it is based on their acts of moral reprehensibility. We start with the least repugnant, with net worth in brackets.

 

20) Burnley – Alan Pace (n/a)
He’s a Mormon. To be clear, there is absolutely nothing morally reprehensible about that. In fact, he’s irritatingly clean, possibly because he’s a Mormon. And interestingly, we suspect pretty much every other owner on this list would be cast out by the Latter-Day Saints for failing to follow the following rules of Mormonism: Do not view pornography (that’s definitely one down); no gambling (whoops); no dishonesty (oh dear); no alcohol or drugs (yeah, alright).

 

19) Brentford – Matthew Benham (£3m)
Mr ‘Moneyball’ has taken the Bees from League One to the Premier League. His name is sung from the terraces. We can’t find anyone to have said a bad word about him, ever. Even the managers he’s fired still call him a friend.

 

18) Crystal Palace – Joshua Harris (£3.36bn)
Just a good guy. Holds an equal stake with Steve Parish and David Blitzer in the club and spends a good deal of his money bettering the lives of others. He co-founded the Harris Family Charitable Foundation with his wife in 2014, whose goals are “to uplift communities in need, pioneer solutions and promote education and leadership development.”

 

17) Brighton – Tony Bloom (£765 million)
Six poker titles earned Bloom a reputation as a cold-blooded killer on the table and his nickname of ‘The Lizard’. He’s earned his fortune through gambling – betting himself and developing online platforms for others. *Hypocrisy alert* It’s far from the most virtuous way to make millions but he’s put money into the club he loves and the fans adore him for it.

 

16) Aston Villa – Nassef Sawiris (£5.3bn)
The richest Arab and the second richest African, Nassef Sawiris is CEO of Orascom Construction Industries, Egypt’s first multinational corporation and one of the world’s largest nitrogen fertiliser producers. As all you GCSE Biology experts can attest, nitrogen fertilisers lead to severe eutrophication and algal blooms in lakes and ponds. Sawiris, you son of a b*tch.

 

15) Norwich – Delia Smith (£23m)
She was accused of “betrayal” and “undermining her own credibility”; her ideas were described as “risible”. Delia had just released ‘How to Cheat at Cooking’, detailing the use of tins of Marks & Spencer minced lamb and Aunt Bessie’s frozen mash, and the people had made their disgust very clear while it became the fastest selling non-fiction book in history. Tongue removed from cheek, sales of various food items from specific supermarkets mentioned in the book did skyrocket, which is a tad suspicious.

 

14) Leicester – Aiyawat Srivaddhanaprabha (£2.9bn)
Son of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who tragically died in the helicopter crash in 2018, Aiyawatt is now CEO of King Power and chairman of Leicester. In 2017, Vichai and Aiyawatt were alleged to have short-changed the Thai government £327m from the company’s lucrative duty free franchise at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. King Power are said to have colluded with airport employees to pay the government only a 3% slice of the duty free takings when it should have been 15%. The case was later dismissed.

 

13) Wolves – Guo Guangchang (£4.5bn)
Known as ‘China’s Warren Buffett’, Guangchang is a Chinese business investor and co-founder of Fosun International. He was detained by police in 2015 amid a corruption crackdown in China. It was speculated that he may have been caught up in Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption efforts, in which the Party General Secretary vowed to extinguish “tigers and flies”. But reports suggest Guo was simply “assisting the authorities”.

 

12) Watford – Gino Pozzo (£93m)
The Pozzos own Watford, but they’ve been a football family since 1986, when Gino’s father Giampaolo bought Udinese. The Pozzo administration began with a betting scandal, which led to their relegation to Serie B and Giampaolo quickly earned a murky reputation for backroom deals. In 1990, a phone call between Pozzo and the Lazio president was alleged to be robust evidence of match-fixing, and Pozzo was banned from holding authority at the club, while remaining as owner.

Despite the saloon doors constantly swinging for new managers, Watford have thrived under the Pozzo administration, but Udinese have suffered through the Hornets’ success. With money pumped into their more lucrative asset in the Premier League, Udinese – a Champions League club in 2007 – now consistently flirt with relegation due to a lack of investment in the squad.

It’s a catch-22. More success for Watford means more money for the Pozzos and potential to increase their football club portfolio, leaving Watford potentially as the new Udinese.

 

11) Southampton – Gao Jisheng (£2.3bn)
Lander Sports Development, the company owned by former armed policeman Gao, was caught up in a sting to catch then Hangzhou vice mayor Xu Maiyong, who had skimmed more than £25m from real estate deals. Gao denied involvement and allegedly turned state witness before Xu was executed in 2011.

This caught the eye of the Premier League, but with the ‘fit and proper’ test akin to a policeman trusting a drink driver’s proclamation of innocence because they don’t have an open can of beer in the car or vomit all over the dashboard, Gao was allowed to buy Southampton. But it did lead the test’s stringency to be increased to include ‘disbarring an individual or group if it misleads the Premier League in investigations,’ which is perhaps telling.

Oh well, Southampton had a billionaire to pump money into the club. Having taken over in 2017, Darth Gao said: “I have said to Southampton: ‘I am now your father. But I am putting you on the right track: you need to feed yourself.'” Ah, balls.

 

10) Arsenal – Stan Kroenke (£6.35bn)
An owner of working ranches totalling 848,631 acres, Kroenke isn’t an evil man, just someone who doesn’t seem to even vaguely care about the fans of the various sports teams he owns. Which is his right. He moved his NFL team, the Rams, from St Louis to Los Angeles. Were he to move the Emirates the same distance, Mikel Arteta and the lads would be in Algeria. Count yourself lucky, Gooners…

 

9) Everton – Farhad Moshiri (£1.9 billion)
The Paradise Papers, released in 2017, which revealed the financial affairs of top business figures, contained some iffy documents relating to Farhad Moshiri and links to Alisher Usmanov. The papers claimed Usmanov had gifted funds to Moshiri to buy a joint 30% stake in Arsenal, before Moshiri sold his share to Usmanov in order to purchase a 49.9% holding in Everton.

That raised questions about who actually owns what in which club and whether they had broken Premier League ownership rules – which forbid any large investor from having holdings in multiple clubs. “Nah,” said the Premier League. “It’s all good.”

 

8) Liverpool – John Henry (£2.14bn)
Other deadly sins will be touched on later, but of the seven, John W Henry’s greatest transgression (perhaps only, to be fair) is his undoubted greed. In 2016 he attempted to increase ticket prices from £59 to £77, backtracked and was “troubled” by claims of greed. Then came the embarrassing furlough situation, for which they were again “truly sorry”. And to cap it all, they aggressively pursued the Super League, by which point any apology was hollow and completely meaningless.

 

7) Manchester United – The Glazer family (£3.5bn)
The controlling stake in the club is now split equally between his six children, but Malcolm Glazer – who died in 2014 – was once dubbed a ‘slumlord’ for making his billions through illegally preying on the poor and vulnerable. He made his money in real estate, buying up single-family homes, duplexes and commercial buildings, first in New York and then across America. A lawsuit was filed against Glazer in the mid-90s, in which residents of his trailer parks demanded $100m in punitive damages, after they were being forced to pay more money per month for pets and extra residents (referred to by some as children) in their homes. Glazer removed the extra payments.

 

6) Leeds United – Andrea Radrizzani (£344 million)
This wasn’t a good look…

Then we come to the Myanmar incident. He was heavily criticised for taking Leeds on a post-season trip to the Southeast Asian country, where a brutal and rigorous persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority – described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – was ongoing. Shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan labelled the trip as “morally corrupt”, adding: “No club should promote a country which carries out state-sponsored mass murder.”

Radrizzani responded: “I’m not a politician. Those who raise this issue should take care of this problem, not me. We are just here to play football and hopefully bring some joy to the fans who came here to watch this friendly game.”

A month later, Eleven Sports, owned by Radrizzani, landed the rights in Myanmar to broadcast Serie A, FA Cup and Chinese Super League games, as well as a number of other football competitions from around the world. But they were there to “play football and bring joy”, guys.

 

5) West Ham – David Sullivan and David Gold (£1.62bn)
“I’ve made a lot of people happy,” said porn mogul Sullivan having been released from prison in the early ’80s. “I was a freedom fighter.” Move over, Mahatma. Sullivan had successfully appealed his conviction of ‘living off the immoral earnings of prostitutes’.

He and Gold’s first venture was selling softcare pornographic photos, before expanding to sex shops, adult magazines and several low-budget blue movies, featuring Sullivan’s girlfriend Mary Millington as the main protagonist.

Sullivan used West Ham to avoid paying £700,000 worth of tax in 2018. Gold liked a Twitter post labelling Caroline Flack “weak” after she took her own life and he also posted a picture of Angelo Ogbonna with the caption ‘I am delighted to announce the signing of 23 year old midfield Pedro Obiang from Sampdoria. Pedro, welcome. dg.’. Not great.

 

4) Spurs – Joe Lewis (£3.6bn)
“We are going to defend the private property with the Winchester in the hands; with blood if needed,” said Lewis’ right-hand man Van Ditmer. The Spaghetti Western caricature was referring to the blowback occurring after Lewis bought up huge areas of land in Patagonia. Bribes to local, regional and national government in Argentina allowed him to spread across the area, intimidating locals, usurping water supplies and crucial energy resources. He’s one of a number of billionaires turning a once untouched and beautiful landscape into their own independent state.

 

3) Chelsea – Roman Abramovich (£9.6bn)
Redacted.

Thiago Silva and Roman Abramovich shake hands

 

2) Man City – Sheikh Mansour (£22.9bn)
The UAE is not a democracy: what the royals Sheikh Mansour Al Nahyan and his altogether more authoritative brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan – say goes. In its 2017-18 report, Amnesty condemned the UAE for unfair trials, a failure to investigate allegations of torture, discrimination against women and the abuse of migrant workers. The evidence isn’t as damning as that of their Saudi neighbours – they’re more likely to stick their fingers in their ears and turn a blind eye than outwardly promote the horrors occurring under their watch.

But then there’s the camel racing. This isn’t about the camels – the use of animals in such a way wouldn’t get them to second on this list – but the children that ride them. Parents from Pakistan, where the sport became popular after the Al-Nahyan family built a palace in the Rahimyar Khan region of Pakistan in the 1970s, allowed their children to leave on private planes organised by the Sheikhs with a promise of wealth and wellbeing in the UAE. Children are lighter than men – this was about competitive advantage rather than any desire to aid the poverty-stricken families of Pakistan.

Children from Bangladesh, India, Sudan, Mauritania were also trafficked to the Gulf. The young boys who spoke to Anti-Slavery International said they were underfed, beaten and sexually abused, while others described stories of being stung by scorpions and given electric shocks for attempting to steal food. Children were routinely trampled by the camels and some shot if they attempted to leave. It’s this, not football, that was the first Sport of the Sheikhs.

 

1) Newcastle – Mohamed bin Salman (£320bn)
Here he is: the misogynist; the sectarian, homophobic denier of human rights – ol’ money bags bin Salman. Friend of Donald Trump, he’s known as the ‘architect of the war in Yemen’ and was heavily linked to the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. This is a man who has backed concentration camps in China, where rape and torture are said to be commonplace and has reportedly created a group of assassins, called the ‘Tiger Squad’, to target Saudi critics inside and outside Saudi Arabia.

He calls for the beheading of human rights activists in his own country. He quite literally wants human heads to be removed from human bodies. Why? They ‘chanted slogans hostile to the regime’. His actions cause millions of people to lose their homes, their sense of self and their lives. He is as evil as he is rich.

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